Fate / Extella is a single player action game based on the Fate series created by developer Type Moon. Starting as a visual novel geared towards adults, the series never quite took off in the west, only reaching a niche audience with its later spin off games. Back again, the series turns to the Dynasty Warriors games for inspiration by becoming a hack n slash.
The Umbral Star attempts to have a high focus on story telling. In fact, the story mode campaign contains just as much talking as it does battlefield action. Maybe those who appreciate the characters and world presented here will find that a good thing, but it just doesn’t work for me and I will explain why later.
At the beginning you can create a character in the very basic of senses. You choose between a boy or a girl and then decide a name. This character is the Master of this universe or something after winning a war in the past. However he doesn’t actually seem to be the master. His servant turns out to be the master, king, emperor, or whatever in this digital world. It literally makes no sense. But whatever, it’s crazy and Japanese. They’ve had worse premises. The story seems impenetrable due to there being lots of made up words and names . Maybe if you have followed the series before then you’ll get some of the terminology but the majority of it went over my head.
A messy plot I can just about deal with. What I can’t ignore is the frankly embarrassing dialogue between the master and servant protagonists. The levels of cringe are off the scale. They’re abrupt, shoehorned in and ruin just about any interest in the story of the characters. It genuinely got so annoying at one point I began skipping the dialogues altogether. The dialogue feels like it was written by a school boy who doesn’t know how real people interact. I know I let games like Senran Kagura pass freely, but that’s because it’s the joke of the game. It’s self aware and it knows what it is. I think Fate / Extella is taking itself seriously.
Considering the pathetic dialogue is about half of the game, you’re probably already deciding not to buy it. But don’t be hasty. Because there is a saving grace to Fate / Extella. The gameplay is excellent. It’s Dynasty Warriors at its finest. You press the square button to perform a normal attack and triangle for a heavy attack. Depending on which combination of these you mash together, your character will perform a unique move. It’s incredibly satisfying to play and lay waste to thousands of enemies in one stage.
Naturally, following the Musou series of games, the circle button performs a more powerful attack called the Extella Manoeuvre, but this needs to be charged up in segments by defeating enemies or picking up items.
Then there’s the Moon Crux/Drive. Again, if you fight enough enemies you will charge up a separate gauge which can the be unleashed by holding down on the D-pad and X. This is where you go into a sort of overdrive mode in which you become a lot more powerful and destroy everything around you.
The final weapon in your arsenal is the Nobel Phantasm which is gained by collecting three parts of a computer chip looking thingy. These are scattered around the map and are very scarce but are certainly worth seeking out since it will annihilate everything and is a big help during boss battles.
So how do battles work? Battlefields are divided into different sectors. Your army controls a certain amount (usually half) and the opposing forces have the rest. All in all it’s a territory war, an incredibly frenetic at that. You invade sectors while defending your own. The enemy AI is actually quite ferocious, especially at the beginning of each stage where they’ll quickly overwhelm you if you don’t achieve the objectives fast enough. To win the battle you need to accumulate enough points that’s calculated by the sectors you own. Each sector has a different value, some are worth 1 point, others 2 or 3. If you acquire enough points then the stage boss will turn up for you to fight.
I actually really like the battles in Fate/Extella. They’re fast and dynamic, with just enough difficulty to make you sweat a little. I like the territorial aspect too since it can be quite strategic. One minor nitpick is that since the characters speak Japanese, it’s difficult to follow the flow of battle sometimes since they’ll issue instructions and the only way you can read it is by looking at the lower right of the screen. But since the characters have an almost constant stream of things to say, whether relevant or not, makes it not the easiest thing to follow.
The stages themselves are really glorious. Colourful, weird and have a lot of life to to them. They can be fairly small but it works well. Compared to other recent hack n slash games I’ve played like Dynasty Warriors with the dull colours, and Senran Kagura with the cheap flat, sparse areas, Fate/Extella really is a step up in that area. Sadly there aren’t that many of them.
There are three stories to play through, at first you can only play with the “servant” Nero, after you complete her story, you unlock another character’s story, and then again another. Going by battles, each story is quite short, especially if you can’t stomach the dialogue like me and skipped most of those (over-lengthy) parts. Each story will last you a couple of hours, with only a handful of battles each.
It doesn’t sound like much but there are a dozen or so side-stories to experience with each of the main characters’ vassals, which are shorter, have less story (thankfully) and repeat battles already fought, but it’s nice playing around with them. I think there is enough content here to get your money’s worth.
Presentation wise, Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star is pretty smart. It looks great on the Vita. Character models are well done, the stages are excellent, the effects look great and the performance is top notch. It also translates well on the PlayStation TV. Likewise the music is great and I love the somber main theme, but then again I’m a sucker for pensive piano pieces. There is of course more thumping pieces for the battles and they are also really good.
Overall, Fate/Extella is an excellent and fun hack n slash game that’s unfortunately marred by an atrociously written story and dialogue. Thankfully that’s skippable and so can be excused, although not by those who do enjoy a good story. I thoroughly enjoyed playing this game and it not only scratched my hack n slash itch, but also made me desire even more of it thanks to the dynamic battles and smooth, satisfying combos.
Game provided by publisher.