Review: Fate/Extra

The Fate series has been gaining traction outside of Japan, with the anime and manga being officially localized. Fate/Unlimited Codes was the first game to be released outside of Japan, but only on the PSN. Still, I didn’t hold much hope of this game coming here given that the PSP’s popularity is waning outside of Japan. When Aksys announced that Fate/Extra would be getting an official localization and that limited and standard edition retail versions would be released as well a a PSN version, I was excited, as I’m a fan of Type-Moon and Fate, and this game looked rather interesting (being able to have your own servant? Who wouldn’t want that?). Let’s see how it all pans out.

Fate/Extra
System: Playstation Portable
Developer: Type-Moon/Image Epoch
Publisher: Aksys Games
Release Date: November 1, 2011
MSRP: $24.99 (PSN), $29.99 (standard edition), $39.99 (limited edition)

In Fate/Extra, you play as a character who has no recollection of who he (or she) is and attends Tsukumihara Academy. S/he gets drawn into the Holy Grail War, the winner of which will acquire the eponymous Holy Grail and have a wish granted. Through the course of the war, not only does the protagonist fight to survive, but also to recover his/her memories and find a reason to keep going and a wish for the Holy Grail. Naturally, not everything is as it seems, and enough twists are thrown in to keep the action moving and the plot compelling throughout. The translation is pretty polished and even manages to toss in things like a bit of fourth wall prodding with a reference to “a book about sparkly vampires”, as well as a play on words with a character named Sharon Tips “want[ing] to strangle whoever gave me that name”.

The game is set in an alternate universe in the Fate/Stay Night universe, splitting off in the 1980s/1990s. Characters from Fate/Stay Night and other Type-Moon works like Tsukihime, Melty Blood, and Kara no Kyoukai make appearances. Even the way the narrative is presented is the style Fate/Stay Night’s was. However, the plot of Fate/Extra is self contained, and you can follow it just fine even if you’re not familiar with Type-Moon’s other works. Additionally, while they look the same, the characters from Fate/Stay Night are not the same ones that appear in this game (at best, they’re alternate versions). If you are, you’ll recognize at least some of the characters and allusions made, such as Archer’s comments when he’s first summoned or the rumor about Taiga living with a student.

Story scenes play out through in-game graphics, which look fairly nice. Characters don’t move their mouths when speaking, but that doesn’t detract much from the events unfolding. Battle animations flow well and make the exchange of attacks from both sides look fluid. Running around inside luminescent box mazes sounds like it would get old after a while, but the backgrounds vary enough to somewhat mitigate any monotony, and some of them provide particularly impressive views. The music is rather nice to listen to and highlight the mood of the current situations. I’m partial to Saber’s theme, which plays when her Noble Phantasm is active. As to be expected, the voices are left in Japanese, and they fit the respective characters. The only downside is not being able to understand the mid-battle quotes and exchanges.

Fate/Extra is divided into seven weeks, and during each week you gather data on your opponent and prepare to face them at the end of the week. The more data you have on your opponent, the more of their moves will be revealed to you while fighting them. You can review the information you’ve gathered through the matrix in the main menu. In addition, you also have to go into the Arena to find the two cipher keys, without which you will be unable to enter the coliseum to face your opponent and lose by default. During story scenes and while talking to someone, holding triangle fast forwards the text, and pressing square allows you to review the conversation at hand when talking to someone. When you’re in the school, square lets you warp from place to place. In the Arena, square lets you use items and code casts, circle centers the camera, and the two shoulder buttons rotate it. The game plays out much like a mix of an adventure game, visual novel (unsurprisingly, given where the series began), and dungeon crawler rolled into one.

The time management and school setting may draw some comparisons with Persona 3 and 4, as well as the ability to go instantly from place to place. However, that’s where the similarities end. You only have the school and Arena to explore, and the layout of Arena’s floors are not randomly generated, but rather stay the same each time. Only two floors are accessible during each week, and you can’t access previous floors once you progress to another week. The time management aspect is made a bit easier by the fact that you can elect to retry the match from the beginning of the week if you mess up somehow, but you lose all your progress if you use that option. The closest thing to building a social link in this game is developing a relationship with your servant, which whom you can speak with each day in your private room.

Speaking of which, you pick from one of three servants at the beginning of the game, and each of them have distinct personalities and styles of fighting. Saber is the most well rounded fighter with a love for opulence. Archer uses long range weapons and pair of short swords and tends to speak rather bluntly. Caster, as the name implies, is a heavy magic user and can be vindictive, but also has plenty of spunk and devotion.

Battles consist of six actions per turn, and there’s a triangle system similar to that found in the Fire Emblem series, except that the one on the wrong corner of the triangle doesn’t get to attack. Attack beats break, break beats guard, and guard beats attack. Because of this setup, battles are always fought one-on-one. Becoming familiar enough with your enemy’s attack patterns to predict their attacks is key to winning. If you land three blows in a row, you’ll attack again. Naturally, the same applies for your enemy, which is all the more reason to learn to anticipate their attacks. Masters don’t fight directly, but can provide support with code casts bestowed by formal wear (of which you can wear two at a time). While there are a few code casts that attack the enemy servant directly, your servant will deal far more damage, so the bulk of the fighting falls on them.

As long as you prepare well and reach the recommended level, you should be able to get through the boss battles fine. You do need to exercise caution while in the Arena because you can’t save while you’re there, and you can’t run from fights, meaning if a battle goes badly, you’ll lose that progress. Learning enemy attack battles can take some trial and error. Even if you do get the pattern down, there can still be times the enemy pulls out a different move than expected, but you’ll still fare much better than you would with blind guessing. If you lose a boss battle, the game simply lets you try again without having to reload. The game warns you to keep multiple save files for a reason, as making a wrong choice can result in a Dead End. While it’s usually easy enough to discern which choices will lead to a dead end, it could be worth seeing what happens if you don’t mind having to reload save afterwards. More difficulty modes to choose from would have been nice (there’s only normal and easy), though your choice in Servants does serve as a difficulty adjustment of sorts, and you could simulate a hard mode by playing with Caster on normal mode.

After completing the game for the first time, you unlock a bonus boss battle if you go through the game again with clear data loaded and you complete all of Taiga’s requests. When playing new game with clear data loaded, you carry over your money and formal wear but not your consumables. There’s also a fork about halfway into the game, and it’s worth seeing how both paths play out. Choosing another servant/ master combination to see how each servant reacts to the events at hand and interacts with his/her master adds to the replay value as well.

Fate/Extra has a strong plot and unique battle system, and I’ve been having an absolute blast with it. I would’ve liked a couple more servants to choose from, but the servants available each have their charm and advantages. I liked the gathering data portions, as my first time through the game there was that sense of wanting to figure out who the enemy servant was, and I’d read all the entries in the matrix as they unlocked. There’s not much variety in places to explore, but the action is quick paced enough that you don’t feel too confined by that. It’s well worth a buy even if you have no prior knowledge of Type-Moon’s works. Also, if enough people buy this game, the chances of the sequel, Fate/Extra CCC, being released here as well increases, so I’d recommend getting it if you want to see more.

PROS
* Engaging story and characters
* Battle system helps make grinding seem less tedious
* Good replay value

CONS
* Could use more difficulty levels
* Could use more choices in servants
* Lack of variation in dungeon design

FINAL SCORE: B+

Disclosure: A review code was provided by Aksys Games. At the time of this review, the game was completed once at 29:54 hours on Normal mode with Saber, and 3 hours with Archer on Normal mode played.

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About Aileen Coe