Fate/EXTELLA: The Umbral Star Review

Type-Moon is the secret overlord of visual novels in Japan, and with good reason. Though relatively young in the grand scheme of things, their enthralling and arguably verbose games have left fans of the genre spellbound, and even managed to rope in multiple other types of games into their fold. Melty Blood may be one of their better known titles, but the bread and butter of this brand remains with the Fate/ series. The animation and manga are widely known and hailed, and, being that they enjoy money, Type-Moon hasn’t been shy about dipping their Fate/ into other types of games as well. From 2D fighters to an RPG dungeon crawler, the world of Fate/ has expanded in all directions and, much to fan’s pleasure, Fate/Extella has finally made it to the Nintendo Switch.

The story of Fate/ is a long and convoluted one, but don’t bother researching and digging up tomes to learn the history of the game, as Extella is actually a parallel worlds story that has very, very little to do with the original. Even stranger yet, Extella is actually the second installment in this “what if” arc, so newcomers who didn’t play the original nearly six years ago on the PSP may be a bit lost joining in here, and rightfully so. Despite a crash-course in what happened from my companion upon first starting the main storyline, I still feel like I might have my ass on backwards. There’s technology that lets you beam your mind, soul and heart into a body on the moon, where Matrix rules apply and your death in outer space means you die for real. There are Servants, which are robots that have been given souls (so they’re technically alive but not…?) and you happen to have a Servant who is a clone of one of the original Fate/ characters. I guess you were the victor of the great Holy Grail War in the previous game, which means you now control the moon as well as the ability to grant wishes. Or at least you would, if it wasn’t for the fact that your soul is apparently stuck in a doppelganger body and being lead around by a different Servant who is kind of conniving. So now you gotta reclaim the moon and take back your soul so you can continue being Moon Emperor. Oh, and if you don’t get your soul back fast you’ll die, so that’s also bad.

Extella is quite different from the original Fate/Extra, which featured a turn based combat that was more akin to your traditional RPG approach. Extella favors the Musou approach that has been quite popular recently, which means it’s real time combat with your character versus tens or hundreds of enemy troops at the same time. It’s basically a multi-roomed game of king of the hill: you need to defeat enough grunts to make the commanders of the rooms appear, and then defeat them to claim that room. While this is going on, other characters on your team are waging war in different rooms and may need you to help them before they lose control. Destroy all the enemies, lay claim to the room, become a hero and take back another part of the moon. Act too slowly and you end up losing ground and, ultimately, the game. It’s somewhere between an all out brawl and a strategy game, and requires a ton of quick thinking and objectivity as the game progresses.

Your customizable main character (choose name, hair, eyes, etc) doesn’t go into the fray him/herself, but instead projects onto a ring that sits on your servant’s finger. As a result, you basically “control” what’s happening in the fight scenes but the game paints it like a beautiful pairing of souls and decisions, which I’ll get to in just a moment. You have your choices of light or heavy attacks, a lot of jumping and dashing, and an Extella Maneuver which is a blockbuster of an attack, taking out tons of troops in the process. You also use a form change that alters the way your character appears and fights, and can be quite useful for specific enemies and rooms.

If you’ve ever played any other Musou games (Dynasty Warriors, Hyrule Warriors, One Piece: Pirate Warriors) then I highly recommend setting the difficulty to normal or higher right out the gate. Marvelous, who won the rights to develop and publish this game, wanted to make sure players could focus more on what was going on between the fights and, as a result, the easy difficulty was born. Sure, enemies fight back, but it’s a half-hearted, almost insulting lack of combat that lets you plow through the game at a breakneck speed. Even five hours in, I could basically wade to the center of an enemy mass, wait for them to finally realize I was there, and then go ballistic with nary a scratch on my beautiful body afterwards. I often forgot I had an Extella Maneuver to use until I got to the actual boss of the level and, at that point, it dealt enough damage to make my advantage in the fight turn from unfair to unreasonable. But if you’re here for the story and the romance, good news, you’ve found the perfect setting.

I can’t stress this enough: Fate/Extella can TALK. You will read so, so much between fights and even during fights. The narrator has a ton of inner dialogue and needs to think for about five lines for every one someone espouses in his direction. Almost everyone falls into an anime trope (the overly-confident tough guy, the scruffy and goofy wizard/hacker, the female rival who also wants to bed you) and has a tonne to say about it at every avenue. My companion, Nero, is iconic from the Fate/ series (better known as Saber) and, as a result, also gets the most air time to talk. Nero did a great job of telling me what I had missed in my “coma” after the end of the first game, but then she also kept telling me about her every waking thought and feeling, especially when it came to how she felt about me and felt about my coming on to her. Oh, I didn’t really have a choice. A lot of the moments where I decided what to say fluctuated between “play hard to get” and “just whip it out.” Fate/ was, originally, an erotic novel, so it’s not surprising that we kept the tension hot and heavy, and there is incentive to maintain a strong relationship, as a high relationship level with your Servant means stronger upgrades, better combat and an overall increase in stats. The relationship conversations with other characters was significantly less awkward, but every single person seemed to want to express their thoughts to me like I was in a high school production of “Every Shakespeare Ever And We Want to Be On Broadway.” I think the style of writing that you see in a Fate/ game works best when it’s the only aspect to focus on, but I was chronically itching to get back into the fray and beat heads, and started caring less and less about how I made someone’s heart race.

There’s full Japanese voicing available and absolutely no English dub to sully the clear and powerful takes that were put into the game. Sadly, it looks like Xseed made a couple missteps and didn’t bother subbing certain takes out on the battlefield, figuring that they weren’t as important as what happened in The Bedroom (seriously, a ton of conversation takes place in my/our bedroom). While I agree it wasn’t as important, it was a little frustrating to hear boss enemies scream things at me and not fully get what they were saying. I doubt they’d be dropping clues as to who the shadowy force in my dreams was, but let’s not phone in the translation job.

Finally, this is a full release of a game that came out on the PS4 over a year ago and slowly got DLC, so Fate/Extella is in the same boat as Disgaea 5 Complete. Marvelous, however, was super proud to announce they had an exclusive extra for the Switch: Nero’s Unshackled Bride outfit. Picture a bridal dress. Now picture that the neckline plunges down somewhere around where the waistline should be. Also, add a padlock necklace like you’re doing a Sid and Nancy costume. Yep, that’s about it. Look, this is clearly appealing and interesting to someone, and I’m sure Switch fans who’ve never played this game before but love the idea won’t say know to some exclusivity. But I’m hard pressed to imagine a situation where I wasn’t sure if I wanted to buy the same game again, saw this dress, and said “All right then, looks like I’m going back to the moon.”

Once you crank up the difficulty and skip past some of the monologuing, Fate/Extella is a pretty decent Musou that brings some awesome character design and flashy magic to the game and delivers a ton of play content. You could seriously burn a full day on the main story alone, and I’m still trying to do all the side content. You have two different perspectives to take from the get-go and a third still that can be unlocked. Building the relationships shows new and exciting ways to battle and, yes, there are multiple endings and surprising twists that I won’t spoil, that’s the job of the rest of the Internet. If you are a huge fan of Fate/ games, then you know you’re buying this, it’s in your basket as we speak. If you are looking for a Dynasty Warriors type game to tide you over till Koei Techmo notices the Switch (beyond the Nobunaga series), it’s certainly not a bad choice, just a wordy one. As for the casual gamer just looking to fill out their library, I’d hold off and try either end of the game’s polarity in different formats. Still, the future is looking bright for the Switch and those hoping for more Japanese mainstays, and it former Vita owners should buckle up, because Nintendo is planning an even further journey for the little console that could.

Bonus Stage Rating - Very Good 8/10

REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to editor@bonusstage.co.uk.

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