Publisher: XSEED Games
Platform: PS4 and PS Vita
Release Date: January 17, 2017
ESRB: T for Teen
This review is based on the PS4 version of the game
I am by no means a world history buff. But, I am pretty sure that the Roman emperor Nero Claudius was not an eccentric blonde haired woman whom murdered thousands digital soldiers with a few swings of her sword while flower petals fall all around her. At the same time I am not necessarily raring to explain the history of the â€œNasuverse,â€ the complicated setup behind the popular Japanese visual novel Fate/Stay Night, and the various spin-offs it accumulated over time.
Thankfully, the newest spin-off on PS4/PS Vita called Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star is a musou game. So, technically, the main prerequisite before jumping into it is knowing how much one enjoys slashing up thousands of foes with Fate/Stay Night series fanservice sprinkled throughout.
Similar to the likes of Dynasty Warriors, Fate/Extella“s main gameplay is structured around somewhat strategically seizing territory and slashing up hordes of foes. Often boiling down to moving/warping to one short area and selectively killing one or multiple specific targets within it. How it tries to somewhat differentiate itself up is through some of the mechanics and the sort of tug of war nature of its main objective. Basically, capturing different points of the map have varying point values in order the finish primary objective of completing the "Regime Matrix." If the enemy completes it, you lose. If you complete it, you win and can usually face the boss of the stage in order to beat the level.
What is also used to loosely change gameplay up from its contemporaries are through some of the combat abilities. Sure, pretty much much every character has more than their share of crowd juggling skills full of Fate/Stay Night fanservice. "Nameless" Archer has the classic ability Unlimited Blade Works, Artoria with Excalibur, and so forth. Every character gets access to more light/heavy attack combos over time through level-ups as standard with the subgenre as well.
But, more universal skills like Extella Maneuver and Moon Drive sort of dictate the general flow. For example, by tapping the circle button allows any character to slash up all nearby foes depending on how many stocks the Extella Maneuver gauge has. If one were were speaking in Marvel vs Capcom 3 terms, it's like using "Maximum Spider" on hundreds of foes. Moon Drive on the other spectrum powers-up attack moves and for specific characters like Nero and Tamamo, they get entirely different movesets in this strengthened form, which is neat. Though, admittedly, it is disappointing that most others did not get the same treatment as Nero and Tamamo with the Moon Crux mode.
I will be honest here and say Fate/Extella will likely be disappoint those who come off of recent Musou releases otherwise. It hardly has anywhere near the polish of titles like Hyrule Warriors, and outside of the lengthy visual novel-like story mode, it will underwhelm those with its sparse variety in single player content in regards to playable characters or gameplay maps. With the exception of one needlessly obtuse character to obtain (Artoria), most players will struggle to see any longevity after the main campaign unless they actively seek to prove themselves on higher difficulties. Sure, I had fun at times at first with the flashy over-the-top nature and Fate/Extella, but I found myself quickly over it because of how little variety there was to gameplay.
That said, Fate/Extella actually has a very sizable chunk of storytelling and is arguably the most important component of it. By that I mean I quite literally spent more time reading walls of text than fighting during the main campaign. Heck, you can't even really touch the hack and slash part until you engage with what feels like twenty minutes of visual novel styled exposition. Which is fine by me, as it is secretly why I originally played the title, but can be off-putting for those not expecting it. Which, from that perspective, Fate/Extella is rather curious.
For one, it is technically a direct narrative sequel to a PSP RPG that most people did not touch called Fate/Extra. Also, the story mode itself is actually significantly longer than you'd expect with 3 story arcs centered around the three leads of Nero, Tamamo, and Altera, as well as one final closing one to resolve the convoluted overarching story.
Storytelling itself is inconsistent to say the least. Often times trying to throw complicated narrative jargon to mask an overall story and cast of characters that are not nearly as complex as they pretend to be. And frankly, it can be a slog at times, despite how it sneaks in some good moments. This is either due to pacing, many pointless harem fanservice anime-like scenes (so blatant that they don't even stop to calling you "husband" when you pick a woman), or some story modes clearly being much better than others.
Altera's part of the story, for instance, pretty easily has the most substantial amount of storytelling overall. It addresses most of the main narrative threads and intrigue, and she herself sees the most character development. Though, I admit, I do love Nero's overzealous antics, despite not being as fleshed out, which were made more entertaining through the lively localization. Basically, while I appreciate the storytelling being there, I don't think Fate/Extella really satisfies either niche that would want engaging storytelling or entertaining gameplay except in rather sparse instances.
Other than that, the presentation makes the rough edges of the title quite apparent as well. Clearly many compromises for the Vita hardware were made. Most jarring of which is when playing on the PS4 and seeing the enemies would pop out of thin air from a very short draw distance. The compartmentalized battle zones makes it pretty obvious as well. The audio is actually rather solid, however. They managed to retain what seems like pretty much all of the Japanese voice actors for familiar characters, despite how Fate/Stay Night is more than ten years old at this point. Music is also pretty decent as well, with some good remixes like to the remix of the classic fan-favorite "Emiya"'s theme.
At the end of the day Fate/Extella feels like it was made more to satiate Fate/Stay Night rampant fandom than anything else. It is not exactly noteworthy enough as a hack-and-slash to stand out against what feels like countless other musou games. The most substantial part to the entire game -- its surprisingly huge visual novel story mode -- is not consistent enough to stand on its own either despite having some good moments. While I don't regret my time with it as a fan, I can not say I would go very far to advise those that aren't already interested in the series to check this title out. Well, unless they really want to try a passable "Musou" styled game that isn't actually made by Omega Force.
+ Eclectic, albeit small, playable cast with very flashy special moves chock full of Fate/Stay Night series fanservice.
+Decent soundtrack. Cool remix of Emiya's theme? Check.
+ Lively localization makes the script more entertaining than it should be at times. Altera's campaign in particular has some standout moments too.
- Very, very repetitive. Small list of playable characters and even fewer stages does not help its case either.
-Characters have smaller movesets than even typical Musou games
- Draw distance is incredibly small to the point enemies will literally spawn in front of you out of basically nowhere
- Storytelling is very inconsistent. Often facing problems with poor pacing and awkward fanservice scenes
Overall Score: 5.5 (out of 10)
Existing more for fanfare than anything else, Fate/Extella is a passable hack and slash that barely escapes total mediocrity through its surprisingly substantial, though flawed, story mode
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.