Musou games are becoming a bigger and broader genre every year. For a long time, there were only games like Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors playing in that field, but recent years have seen Koei Tecmo have been crossing over with every series imaginable, from Zelda, to Gundam, Dragon Quest, and more. It’s a great way to bring the flash mind-numbing action of Warriors-style games to new fans, and Marvelous have decided to latch onto this trend with their own take on the genre, Fate/Extella.
Fate is another one of those massive multimedia franchises from Japan that’s gained an overseas following of late, and it’s been a big name in anime for the last 10 years. What started as a visual novel in 2004 has spread and developed into multiple anime series, manga, video games, novels and more. You might recognize the name Fate/Grand Order, a mobile game from a recent article which outed it as being more successful than Pokemon GO in Japan.
Fate/Extella falls into a weird place in the franchise, which might end up putting off a majority of fans, especially fans who’ve only experienced the anime adaptations. Normally, Fate is about people practicing magic arts in real life society, called Masters, who use historical relics to summon famous historical figures as Servants to aid them in a battle royale to obtain a Holy Grail.
Fate/Extella, however, takes place in the unique world of Fate/Extra and Fate/Extra CCC, a pair of PSP RPGs in which these Holy Grail mage wars happen in a Tron-like computer simulation. Extella is a direct sequel to the parallel events of Extra and CCC, though CCC was never actually officially localized outside of Japan.
All of this adds up to a narrative that is guaranteed to be obtuse and impenetrable to a vast majority of the people who might be interested in the game. Within the first ten minutes of the game, you’re subjected to a slew of terminology, and if you aren’t familiar with any of it via Fate/Extra, you’ll have to spend a few hours getting pieces of backstory and information drip fed to you before you can understand the setting and the characters, let alone what’s actually happening.
Even once you do get a grip on things, you’re left with 3 lengthy story modes that, for the first two thirds, feel like little more than romantic self-insert fan fiction. Fate/Extella has you controlling the Master from Fate/Extra, who is suffering from a severe case of amnesia after his or her consciousness was split into pieces by an unknown higher power. The different campaign segments each see you controlling a different fragment of this persona, accompanied by a different servant in each, who all happen to be ridiculously hot and bothered about you 24/7.
The Fate franchise has always dabbled in romantic subplots, but it’s at its worst and most overwrought in Extella. Your Servant and Master are also “married”, and this romantic connection is brought up, backed up, and shown off in every single cutscene. All the two characters seem to talk about it how hot and perfect the other is, and the game does all it can to imply that they’re getting down and dirty, short of actually showing it.
It’s a shame. Not only is the story of split consciousness and Tron-like takeover by machines pretty interesting, but both new characters and those from the rest of the franchise have neat designs and interesting backgrounds. They’re given a fraction of the time that the gushing Servant and Master are, and while the second half of the game does bring the meat of the narrative to the foreground, it’s simply too little, too late.
It’s also disappointing how graphically unimpressive this game is. Character models feel dated and animations in cutscenes can be a little stuff. This out just a month before Koei Tecmo’s Berserk musou game, but Fate/Extella simply cannot match up. It’s an identical experience on the Vita, running just as smooth as the PS4 and with nearly identical graphical quality. It’s an impressive experience on the Vita, but it just isn’t anything special for a PS4 title.
Thankfully, the gameplay connecting the messy narrative and visuals manages to make up for many of these low point. In traditional Musou fashion, Fate/Extella sees you battling away in third person hack and slash action, working your way through a large map split into sections, a little like in Monster Hunter. It’s a battle between two armies, with the victor decided by fulfilling certain conditions, clearing out high-ranking enemies and claiming the most territory.
This is all tied together by simple, yet involved, character combat. You have normal and special attacks that can be chained together in a number of unique combos, and you also have a meter-relient rush attack that makes quick work of large groups of enemies. On top of this is a special power up mode (the main 3 female characters get unique transformations and new costumes, while everyone else just glows orange), and an ultimate attack that can only be used once per mission.
It’s a lot to take in if this is your first proper Musou experience, especially once you get into all of the smaller systems. I was a bit overwhelmed on my first mission, but after a few, I started to piece together how to read the map, how to most efficiently get from one location to the next, and after a while, the mindless action turned into precise, calculated decision making. Missions can run for 20-30 minutes on regular difficulty, and completing them will level you up to boost your stats and unlock new combos, as well as unlock new skills for your Servant and new buffs that can be used at any time in battle.
Everything adds up to a satisfying experience, and mowing down hordes of enemies, despite the limited visual variety, rarely got old. The only place it falters is when you take on a single boss character. Landing hits on a single, small character is more difficult than it should be, and enemies tend to abuse a guarding mechanic that is impossible to negate unless you happen to be in your brief powered-up form.
Fate/Extella will be a hard sell for most fans of the franchise. If you come into this expecting a setting, cast or narrative similar to any of the anime, you might be left disappointed and confused. It’s still a fun, addictive game with the flashy combat you’d expect from a Warriors-style game, but you might have to tune out the story in order to enjoy it. In a franchise where story is so key, that’s a huge bummer.