Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star – review

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  • Format: PS4 (version reviewed), Vita
  • Unleashed: Out Now (NA), January 20th (EU)
  • Publisher: Marvelous
  • Developer: Marvelous
  • Players: 1
  • Site: http://fateextella.com/
  • Game code provided by PR

Who is Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star for? Fate/Stay Night fans, certainly. Taking place in the aftermath of the Holy Grail war we have wizards, Saber, Caster, and a whole shebang of familiar characters. The story is essentially self-contained and exclusive to this game so, even if you’re not familiar with the story arcs from the visual novels, anime or games (this is more or less a sequel to the PS3 title Fate/Extra), you can still have a reasonable grip on what’s going on. The factors involved in how much you will or will not enjoy Fate/Extella are a little more complicated than that, though.

Sticking with the story for now, things are a bit bumpy. Many existing Fate/ fans will probably be happy enough to explore a brand new arc, and that’s the end of that. For some though, and for those unfamiliar with the series, the script could do with some polish. Without going into spoiler territory, the overall plot – impending doom, ambition and betrayal, and of course the idea of fate – is familiar yet interestingly done. A few of the characters even show a little pleasing depth. Some aspects of the storytelling represent some of the more embarrassing anime stereotypes, though. Female characters wearing clothing that, well, isn’t entirely battle appropriate… female characters fawning hopelessly over male characters… although things are offset a little by the fact that the three playable characters kicking digital backside in the main story are all ladies. Ladies showing off significant cleavage and/or an awful lot of skin, but still.

This is Saber (red extra-booby version)

Your character (who you get to name – feel free to undermine or support the drama with this as you see fit) doesn’t engage in any of the actual gameplay. You have a ‘servant’ who, despite the name, is probably better thought of as a sort of battle companion that you have a relationship with. Like a cross between a Pokémon and a wife (there’s probably some disturbing fan fiction that explores this idea in ways we try not to think of). On a related note, there’s a reasonable amount of content here. The main story is told from three different perspectives in alternate timelines, and by the time you’ve completed them all you’ll have unlocked many side stories told from the perspectives of other ‘servants’ not tied to your character.

The story is told between levels with a mixture of visual-novel-style storytelling and in-game graphics. You can also prepare for battle before each stage, however, by crafting and equipping ‘code casts’. These are essentially sets of manually activated support perks. For example, you might bring into battle two charges for healing, the ability to switch between playable Servants, and a few decoys to distract enemies. If you think this hints at a tactical game, well… no, not really.

Gameplay is – and it would be dishonest to put it any other way – basically Dynasty Warriors. A slightly simplified Dynasty Warriors. If you don’t know what that means, the main thing it means is fighting literally hundreds of enemies in each stage and racking up hit combos that roar into four figures on a regular basis. Each Servant has unique attacks and combos, so kudos muchos for that. But, as a lot of you will already know, this type of game thrives on repetition. This type of game is still very popular, even though it thrives on repetition. The main thing to be aware of, though, is that this type of game thrives on repetition.

If the game came with an instruction manual, it would pretty much say “Kill All The Things”.

In fairness, there is a modicum of tactical thinking at play. The minimap constantly on display needs paying attention to. Each stage is split into sectors you travel between, and the fundamental idea is that your side needs to have control over the majority of the map before the enemy side does. You can invade enemy sectors to take over, and they’ll do the same to you. It’s game over if you die, but it’s also game over if they end up dominating the battlefield first.

There’s no issuing commands to your allies, and the sheer number of enemies doesn’t allow for an awful lot of careful consideration of your actions. It’s often button-bash city, with the options available to you generally limited to which combo to use, and when to activate your two gauge-powered special abilities (an unblockable super-combo, and a temporary more powerful form of your Servant). You’ll often have messages from your allies – that is, words of encouragement or cries for help. As the audio remains unchanged from the original Japanese release however most of these messages will probably go unread; it’s difficult to effectively divide your attention between mowing through dozens of enemies and reading the relatively small text box at the bottom of the screen.

The graphics, while not enormously detailed, are nice and smooth both static and in movement. That’s pretty important in a game like this. Don’t expect a huge amount of variety, though. The camera (which you can nudge manually) generally behaves itself, but it seems rather odd that the only enemies you can lock on to are the bosses. Taking over sectors and repelling invasions relies on quickly taking out specific enemies. These are at least easily identifiable by their height. And health bar above their head. And giant arrow pointing toward them when you’re not right in front of them.

If you’re a fan of Fate/Stay Night, you’ll probably enjoy yourself here. If you’re a fan of Dynasty Warriors, you’ll probably enjoy yourself here. If you’re a fan of Fate/Stay Night and Dynasty Warriors, you’ll definitely enjoy yourself here. Everybody else, bear in mind that while Fate/Extella holds together well, it’s essentially preaching to the converted.

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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