Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star Review

Fate/Extella is an action game of the “Musou” variety, in the style of games like Samurai Warriors, Hyrule Warriors, etc. It’s hack-and-slash gameplay keeps the action moving and makes the player feel like a powerful, god-like action hero. The first thing you will notice is the game’s sense of style. I found the vivid, colorful presentation to set it apart from other games in this genre. It ends up getting deeper than I thought it would with plenty of characters to unlock, and skills to apply. Each character feels different and will leave you wanting to try each one out. The story is there for those who are interested, but honestly, outside of needing it to unlock additional content, I found myself avoiding story whenever I could, just because of it’s sheer length of dialogue to trudge through before you were thrown back into the action. Fast gameplay, slow story, meets somewhere in the middle.

Story

Okay, so the story is really for fans only. All the characters, terminology, and character relationships can leave you lost if this is your first introduction to this franchise. The story here takes place in a world called Extella, after a “Holy Grail War” had taken place. Which is apparently the war that took place in this franchise’s previous game. The characters here are fighting over dominance for a realm known as “SE.RA.PH”. The character you choose in the beginning is the “Master” of Nero (the blonde woman in red), and you both are the victors of that war, who are granted a “Regalia ring”, which grants them rule over all other characters in this realm. Those with the Regalia ring have control of this god-like computer program that can grant a wish. It is discovered however, that the antagonists also have a Regalia ring, thus putting Nero’s dominance in jeopardy. The character you choose in story mode is really just picking either a stock, generic boy or girl who has amnesia. Your role really has no value as the story is mostly played out between all the other characters, with your character chiming in at some points. Your character is really only there to explore the relationship between yourself and Nero, in the first storyline, Tamamo in the second storyline, and Altera in the third storyline. These relationships play out like a schoolboy’s fantasy of getting his first girlfriend. The women are completely infatuated by your character and treat you like the center of their world. They often boast, in rather poetic dialogue, about how much you mean to them and how enamored they are being in your presence. I even chose the female character and this was still the case, even so much as me being referred to as these character’s “husband”, while still every other pronoun referring to my character as female. These relationships have a small purpose however when choosing between dialogue options. At points you are given certain prompts to choose what to say to these women and picking the correct option will increase your bond level between characters which lets you apply more skills or perks to that character in battle.

Story mode is where you unlock all the extras that make battling fun. By progressing, you unlock more characters to play as (in other modes), new skills/perks to apply, and code casts to craft. However the story here can drag on and on. Especially if you have no real connection to the “Fate” series. You pretty much need to go into the story knowing these characters already, as there isn’t much in terms of character development after the brief introduction you are given to each one. I feel the story telling doesn’t mesh well with the type of gameplay here. The gameplay is fast paced and flashy, with loads of button mashing and combo stacking, but the story breaks up each match with long, drawn out cut scenes that sometimes last upwards of 20-30 minutes. I had often found myself dreading when a match ended because I knew I was going to have to sit through a slog of dialogue, as long as a tv show, until the next match was to begin. The cut scenes themselves are not really anything special either. They are mostly just the in-game character models standing there in an idle stance, while the dialogue plays out below next to each character’s portrait that will change expression with emotion. Nothing too interesting happens here other than a few special cut scenes that are few and far between. I feel these long cut scenes really are just there to lengthen the time you spend with this game, as there are only 6 chapters in each of the three main story lines. If you skip all the cut scenes you can probably finish the main story fairly quickly.

Presentation

This game shines in it’s presentation. It is loaded with color and bright, distinct atmosphere. Each character has a luminous color palette of their own, making it easy to choose your favorite. Being that this is a “musou” game with lots of enemies on screen at once, I was surprised that the frame rate never dropped, and stayed acceptably smooth throughout the whole experience. Attacks feel powerful with acrobatic and super fast movement, making you feel as if you are completely dominating everything in your path. This game does not shy away from it’s fancy, cinematic super combos that freeze the action and blow away a crowd of enemies all at once. Your arsenal of power-ups and screen-clearing moves is vast, playing out each battle with every anime trope you can imagine. You have your magical girl transformation scenes, barrages of projectiles shown from a distance, characters taking several moments to announce the name of their attack, and the camera panning around in a circle showing colossal explosions with enemies being blown away. I feel the colorful nature of the game makes itself distinct from other games in this genre that are usually drab and dreary. Also, the music fits the game’s ambiance when it needs to, and it’s fine for what it is, but it is nothing to write home about. It fits well with the action and sets the mood in the story and I have to say, it’s at least doing it’s job. Furthermore, the spoken dialogue is only in Japanese with English subtitles so prepare to read loads of text if you care about the story.

Gameplay and Design

The game’s battles are it’s best attribute. It’s fun enough to where battles that took 25-30 minutes, feel like you only spent 5 minutes on them. It has the hack-and-slash gameplay you know and love from the Samurai Warriors-like games, with your character plowing through crowds of enemies like a hot knife through butter. The way to win matches is to destroy “grunt” enemies until a bigger enemy, known as an “aggressor”, shows up on the battlefield. You are to then destroy as many aggressors as it shows on you HUD for that area. Once you take out the necessary amount of aggressors, you take over that area and it turns blue on the map. Each area on the map is broken up into separate sections that are all dominated by either your team, or your enemy’s team. You have to take over more sections than the opposition in order to collect enough keys to take on a boss character. Each section contains a different number of keys indicated by a number shown on the map, so it’s best to take on sections with a higher number. It isn’t necessary to take over the entire map, but it will grant you a higher rating at the end of the match if you do. Throughout the match, there are small objectives you can complete for bonuses and a higher “bond” level for each character giving you the assignment, if you complete their said objective. These objectives are merely just defeating a certain number of enemies in an allotted time, getting a big combo, luring boss characters to a certain area of the map, dealing a set number of damage, etc. Nothing that really changes the gameplay in any way, more like just passive objectives you may finish by complete chance just by playing normally. Some aggressors, are mini-boss-like characters that are more of a challenge than the regular, generic aggressors. All these mini-bosses and bosses are just other characters you’ve met throughout the story and it seems to be random as to which ones are a boss or a mini-boss. You can play as nearly all of these characters in the side-story or free battle modes, so there’s no real surprises here, other than the final boss in the story lines, but those are different kinds of battles altogether.

It isn’t just you on the battlefield. Your other cohorts (depending on which story line you’re on), are there on the map as well, fighting though hordes along with you in other sections of the map. This is sometimes frustrating however. The A.I. is rather weak and has a hard time defending their sections often causing you to come to their aid and abandon whatever it was you were doing, unless you want their section to be taken by the enemy. This doesn’t seem to be the case with the opposing side’s A.I. though, which can get frustrating. Your allies are merely there to just stall the opposition, even on the easy difficulty. I also had a bit of a frustrating time with the maps at some points, it is sometimes disorienting as to which exit you need to take to transport to another section as you are flying all over the place during combat, but it’s nothing you can’t figure out after a while and begin to get the hang of.

Every character plays differently and has their own style of fighting. You are bound to find a play style you like aside from the three main story line characters. All characters attack with square as a basic attack and triangle as a heavy attack. Combos are preformed by tapping a combination of those buttons, but it doesn’t get that deep. You learn more combos as you level up, but they are all really just pressing square a certain number of times before you press triangle to end the combo. It doesn’t really switch things up, triangle always ends your combo. Characters just do different things using those same button presses. I found it different enough to make it acceptable, as this isn’t a one-on-one fighting game where that wouldn’t work well. I find myself pressing the guard button a lot, but only because it sets the camera back behind your character rather than needing to block that often. The camera can get disoriented due to the way the action plays out. The right stick controls the camera but you often can’t take you finger off the attack buttons in heated battles, so it’s a good thing there is a way to reset the camera behind you. Another issue with the camera, is that you can only target the mini-boss/boss characters. You have no option to set a target on any other enemies during combat. This is good for when you are facing the mini-boss/boss as you usually need to focus on them when they are around, but when you are taking over bases, and trying to attack regular aggressors, you have no way to target them. It isn’t too big of a deal however as most attacks hit a lot of enemies at once, but it would be nice to be able to target what you want.

Conclusion

Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star is a hack-and-slash game that nails what it was trying to be. It’s fast, satisfying combat will leave you wanting to get right into a match after you complete the first. The story dialogue however severely slows down your gratification and doesn’t let you get right back into the action after you were all fired up and ready to go. If you are a fan of the Fate series you may not mind it, and will probably love to see your favorite characters interact and tell their story. Outsiders of the series will be relentlessly tapping that X button during cut scenes to get back into the game and slice through hordes of enemy forces. Free Battle mode is what I would suggest after you unlock the characters you want to play as. The combat is different enough that you will want to see every character’s super combos and special, screen-clearing moves. You aren’t short of ways to kill things here, and it hasn’t felt old yet.

Score: 7 out of 10

Fate/Extella has satisfying combat with a plethora of characters and skills to unlock. You will be driven to play more once you find the move set you love. The fluffed out story mode however will leave you aching to get back to the action.

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