The Fate series has developed quite a storied history; not only in anime and manga, but also the gaming industry.
Sure, the most memorable successes have proven to be in the form of some rather gorgeous fantasy violence anime in Fate/Zero and Fate/Unlimited Blade Works, but one cannot forget that it all started with a game. Or a visual novel to be exact, as Kinoku Nasu’s Fate/Stay Night was released on the PC back in 2004. 25+ releases later, Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star hacks and slashes its way into the timeline.
Unlike Fate/Zero and Fate/Stay Night, Fate/Extella does not take place within the ‘Holy Grail Wars’, unfortunately. For the uninitiated, the central plot of the series is that every few years, a war takes place which involves Masters (often, but not always, capable magi) and the warriors they can summon. With names and faces stripped right out of history, these servants and their lords battle it out to the end to see which pair is the last one standing. The victors receive the ‘Holy Grail’, which grants them a single wish each.
Each servant fits a certain gaming character stereotype – Sabre, Rider and Archer, for instance – and each has their own special move which they can trigger in battle. Although the first anime adaptation of Fate/Stay Night was rather lacklustre, the following series that spawned proved to contain some of the best action scenes ever animated. Honestly, they are incredible to watch.
Fate/Extella exists within the Fate/Extra universe, an alternative timeline to Fate/Stay Night, and takes place after the conclusion of the war. Nero (Sabre) and her Master, Hakuno Kishinami, have won the war and are in control of the Moon Cell Automation computer, which can grant their wish. They are given the Regalia Ring to wear, as a demonstration of their kingship, which allows them to rule over their enemy servants. Not to give away too many spoilers, but fans of the series will surely recognise the majority of the faces here.
Unfortunately, things do not go to plan for Nero, as two challengers to the throne face her in the form of Tamamo no Mae and Altera. What ensues is a battle for control over the Moon and a slow-building story with a very obvious mastermind who is determined to use the three servants as their pawns. The story is divided into three chapters, with each being told from the perspective of one of the three rulers. The other servants are unlocked at a timely pace, with the exception of Arturia (Fate/Zero), as the story progresses.
Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star is best described as a Musou game. If you have ever played Dynasty Warriors, Samurai Warriors, Pirate Warriors or any of the other dozens of games available in the genre, there really will not be any surprises in store for you. Fate/Extella is as responsive as any of the above-mentioned games – and considerably more so than some – but doesn’t do anything noteworthy to stand out from the crowd.
More often than not, I found my characters surrounded by a seemingly never-ending wave of fodder, and I can happily say that slowdown was never an issue. Fate/Extella plays and feels as good, but considering the visuals aren’t exactly pushing the boundaries of the PS4 – this is clearly just a port of the PS Vita version – a solid frame rate is the least we could expect. It is colourful and rather vibrant, but the textures are rather low-res and the character aren’t exactly anything special.
That said, the visuals are never the most important aspect of a Musou game: it’s how the characters control, and just how fun each one is to experiment with. Each character gets their standard weak and strong attacks, combo moves, a special attack and a transformation skill. Unlike the Dynasty Warrior titles, the strong attacks do not trigger combos, so often you will find yourself bashing square/square/triangle.
While Musou titles are largely centred around repetitive gameplay, Fate/Extella felt monotonous almost right out of the box. Although characters do gain new combos as they level up, it is a rather paltry amount and the fact that there is only one special attack per fighter means that you’re constantly watching the same visuals. It becomes tiresome pretty quickly.
Most of the missions demand that you travel from zone to zone, clearing out enemies to regain the balance of power. These areas are filled with the same mindless crowds to slash through, and once in a while a servant will show up for a battle. These boss fights are actually surprisingly entertaining and challenging, making them easily the best part of the game.
Besides the main story, the other servants can be used in Free Mode and Side Stories, but with the exception of a short static intro, these missions are the same as the ones found in the main story. It all feels too copy-and-paste.
Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star is not an easy title to recommend. It offers mindless fun, sure, but there are a slew of other Musou titles also available on PS4, and nearly all of them are superior to this. That said, if you are a fan of the genre and familiar with the Fate series, then by all means consider Fate/Extella. There’s a decent story to enjoy, and a good 15 or so hours’ worth of gameplay at least; just perhaps wait for a sale.