Surprised is the first word that comes to mind when I think of my experience with Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star.
I feel as though there will be two kinds of players that play Fate/Extella on PS4. One kind will be those that are familiar with the Fate anime series, that has spanned multiple series, films and games. And then there will be players like myself, who have not encountered the Fate series before and so may find the whole thing rather strange, but ultimately very enjoyable.
A PS4 and PS Vita Exclusive, Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star is effectively a Dynasty Warriors clone. It borrows heavily from both the hack and slash combat style and the base acquisition gameplay. You play as multiple characters all with their own particular fighting styles and in between stages play out a sort of interactive novel that for the most part involves seductive jokes that are immediately followed by lessons on the importance of battle.
The first thing I noticed when looking into this title was how smooth the gameplay is. In fact, the title runs at a smooth 60 fps throughout with very few drops below this. Seeing hundreds of enemies fly into the air at 60 frames is a sight to behold and is as exhilarating the hundredth time as it is the first. The gameplay doesn’t offer much that’s new if you’re a Dynasty Warriors veteran, but what it does do is hone the experience. On beginning a stage your mini-map shows the areas that can be captured or battled for. Each area has a number indicating the amount of ‘Regime Keys’ that are acquired after controlling it and so best practise is to head straight for the largest numbered bases first as the goal of each stage is to be the first to collect 15 of these keys to complete the ‘Regime Matrix’ causing the ‘Boss Servant’ to enter the stage ready to pick a fight. The latest Dynasty Warriors title I have played is Hyrule Warriors, which, while an excellent game eventually a routine emerges where you find yourself running straight past the majority of enemies in the game without engaging whilst looking for various bosses to fight. Fate/Extella doesn’t change this but it hones it by actually getting rid of the pathways in between the stages. Instead, you get to the edge of the area, hit ‘X’ and you fly straight to the next area. This brings more immediacy to the combat and also means that enemies are huddled in closer together meaning that hundreds of enemies fly into the air with one sweep attack.
The story has apparently been crafted specifically for this game rather than being a simple re-hash of the series plot which should keep fans happy. All the dialogue in the game is in Japanese and translated to English via subtitles which is for the best in my opinion as anime can lose its charm when western voices are dubbed over. The only text that isn’t voiced is your characters inner monologue which tends to talk about the relationship that you have with your servant. I attempted at first to read everything the game had to offer but eventually found myself skipping it often as the scenes go on for a very long time. Of course any fans of the Anime would eat this up but as I’m new to the series I just wanted to begin battling it out again.
Character progression is a pretty standard fare, as you play your character levels up, the bigger guys you defeat drop upgrades and when you finish each level you’re given items to place in slots that give you elemental damage or increase resistance etc. You also get ‘Mystic Codes’ that can be deciphered into ‘Code Casts’ that are a set of items that map to the D-pad that effectively consist of health potions and such. This an interesting and random way to approach taking items onto the battlefield but I felt that without the lure of acquiring new weapons or items that change my playstyle, I wasn’t as interested in my end-game loot as I’d have liked to be. You’ll get your character to the mid 20’s by the time you’ll initially see the end credits, which happened after a couple hours gameplay. Don’t panic! It’s clear that this game is not one long campaign to trawl through, on the contrary there are three characters all of which have their own campaign, and side missions are also available which include many more playable characters. Completing this game 100% would take some time but within the first couple hours you’ll see the majority of what the game offers you. There are only a handful of stages that are recycled and although there are a lot of playable characters the basic gameplay remains the same. What keeps you coming back for more though is the fluidity of the combat. Starting the second campaign was a great experience as it was an entirely new character, that focused on slower close up damage as opposed to the widespread quick attacks I was used to. After being so comfortable with my setup it was great to be given this mix up as well as suddenly having a low level character to build up again. One gripe I did have though is the lock-on function is reserved only for the end-of-stage bosses while it would be useful to be able to lock-on to the mini bosses as well, too many times I activated
Musou Mode I mean my ‘Extella Maneuver’ and accidentally hit a random baddy, wasting my long saved energy.
The amination in this game seems very true to the series and does a great job of making you feel as though you’re part of the anime. Certain moves trigger character cutscenes and although they’re the same each time you likely wont skip them, triggering ‘Moon Crux’ gives a real feeling of being in control of an anime in it’s most integral moment. I haven’t felt like that since Dragon Ball Budokai Tenkaichi 3 on the Wii, where I held my Wii mote and nunckuck forwards and screamed Kamehameha at the TV, blasting poor Krillin into oblivion.
Fate/Extella The Umbral Star definitely has its target audience set for a great time. A fan of the series can enjoy an interesting storyline that spans multiple characters, and uses beautiful animation throughout. Though even a newcomer like myself can pick through the story trying to make sense of it all and still be left with a very enjoyable and beautiful game that manages to excite again and again.
“One to keep coming back to.”