The Fate franchise continues to rake in cash like nobody’s business. The latest feature-film anime entry in the series just raked in a cool half million at the American box offices, on top of a whopping $13.5 million back in Japan. Meanwhile, the popular mobile game spinoff Fate/Grand Order has pulled in over $3 billion worldwide since it launched. What started as a simple indie visual novel back in 2004 has blossomed into one of the largest multi-media franchises in Japan. There have been a bunch of different spinoff and sequel games over the years, including a rough but promising Dynasty Warriors-style entry titled Fate/Extella back in 2016. It was a rough game with some interesting ideas, and Fate/Extella Link aims to execute on those ideas better than the original ever did.
Fate/Extella Link takes place in a digital computer world, Tron-style, where humanity lives peacefully alongside intelligent AI lifeforms. Some of these lifeforms are Heroic Spirits, which are digital reincarnations of famous figures of history like King Arthur or Jack The Ripper. The game picks up right after the ending of Fate/Extella, which itself was a direct continuation of the PSP spinoff RPG Fate/Extra. There’s a lot of established lore and character information you need to be caught up on to make sense of the setting in Fate/Extella Link, so if you don’t know your SE.RA.PH.s from your Moon Cells, you might be in for a muddled, confusing time.
My biggest issue with the first Extella game was the story. On top of being nearly impenetrable for anyone who isn’t caught up with the lengthy narrative of Fate/Extra, it was also a bloated mess that focused more on fanservice and forced romantic entanglements than actually establishing a well-paced and intriguing story. The main campaign of Fate/Extella Link is a huge improvement over the original. It wastes no time in setting up a new conflict, with the mysterious Karl der Große kidnapping a bunch of servants and brainwashing them to do his bidding. Thankfully, a mysterious new servant named Charlemagne arrives to help you and the remaining free servants fight back and put a stop to Karl’s schemes.
Every story scene in the campaign is sharp and to the point, with barely any instances of lengthy exposition or drawn-out dialogue. The game knows what it wants to do it and it does it, wrapping up within 4 or 5 hours. I was much more engaged by the focused and concise story of this game, and even though the new character Charlemagne seemed like a bit of a perfect and over-powered golden child, he quickly developed a fun personality and an interesting backstory that had me turn around and become a big fan by the end of the story.
Unfortunately, besides Charlemagne and Karl, the story doesn’t spend a lot of time on anyone else. The cast of 24 other servants in the game pop up briefly as allies and enemies, but never get the same level of development or interaction that Charlemagne does. While there are side stories and bonus conversations for you to partake in with every servant, it would have been nice to see some of them be a bit more involved in the main campaign.
The improvements also extend to the gameplay and combat, which have been fine-tuned to provide an even flashier and more addictive experience than the last game. There’s an interesting blend between Dynasty Warriors style action and RPG-inspired progression mechanics at play that provides a fun gameplay loop that encourages constant change and experimentation.
Each character has a light and heavy attack that they can mix to do your standard hack-and-slash combo shenanigans with. There are also Active Skills, which serve as special moves you can unlock and equip as your characters level up. On top of that are the Instant Skills, which are a wide variety of buffs and bonuses you acquire through battle and equip on each character. Mixing and matching these skills to create loadouts focused on debuffs or raw damage or punishing skill combos is a lot of fun, and helps break up the monotony of map control and boss battling that Dynasty Warriors style games still suffer from.
Other minor changes to gameplay help make the experience a lot less of a chore than it was in the first Extella release. In the first game, you had to defeat a certain number of enemies in each zone on a map before the enemy generals would appear for you to destroy. Now the generals are there from the beginning in almost every zone, making it a lot less of a grind to capture zones and complete missions during battle.
Activating your Noble Phantasm attack is also a lot simpler as well, as it’s just a bar you fill up through killing enemies in your powered up Moon Drive phase, which you can activate pretty frequently. On top of that, hitting enemy Heroic Spirits with enough Active Skills in a row lets you activate a Rush attack that stuns your enemy and locks them into a continuous combo. It’s a rewarding ability that encourages you to use your skills smartly instead of just mashing buttons until you win.
While the improvements to the story and gameplay are great, it’s also worth pointing out the leap in quality that the visuals made. The original Extella game had choppy animations, flat lighting, and character models that barely looked like they’d push the limits of a last-gen console. Extella Link kicks things up a notch with redone character models that do a much better job of matching the sharp art style of their original designs. Lighting and shadows are also heaps better, although the maps you do battle on are about as repetitive and similar looking as they were in the first game. The Switch version of the game, unfortunately, lowers the quality of the shadows and drops the resolution a fair amount in order to maintain a solid framerate. While it still looks good on Switch, it certainly isn’t as smooth looking as the other versions of the game.