Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star Review

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Game Title: Fate/Extella – The Umbral Star
Developer: Marvelous, Type-Moon, XSEED Games
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Game Type: Vita
Download: 1.3 GB
NA Availability: Retail | Digital Download
EU Availability: Retail | Digital Download
PSTV Support: Yes

The new game in the Fate/Stay Night series is full of surprises that no one expected.  No one expected Type Moon to make a sequel to a turn-based RPG into a Musou like Dynasty Warriors.  No one expected said game to come to the West, considering Fate/Extra CCC which ultimately served as a prologue into said game did not leave Japan.  And this writer did not expect to stay up many hours after his usual bedtime to make a review of said game.

Yet the new Fate game is here on both the PS Vita and the PS4, ready for some musou action with lots of Fate twists and turns.  Not to mention a PS Vita musou that has a large focus on story.  The last 2 musou games I reviewed for the Vita had virtually no stories, being Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires and Samurai Warriors 4: Empires.

But enough of the introductions.  Here is my review of the PS Vita and PlayStation TV title, Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star!

Story

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Extella takes place not long after the end of Fate/Extra and Fate/Extra CCC.  The protagonist wakes up inside the Moon Cell, the virtual environment that exists on the Moon where the Holy Grail War took place.  Now, it is a location occupied by Servants, reincarnations of history’s most famous heroes.  Instead of fighting over the Holy Grail, they now wage war for ownership of the territories and the forging of new empires.

The protagonist then begins assisting Saber and Caster-class servants, completely unaware of a looming threat on the horizon that not only will affect the Moon but the Earth it orbits as well.

The story of Fate/Extella starts off extremely confusing.  The first 2 chapters skip over very important details and lack focus on the seriousness of what’s going on and instead focuses on a dating sim-like flirtation between the character and their chosen Servant characters.  Something that was not really there at all in the game’s predecessor.

That is not to say it doesn’t redeem itself.  The latter 2 chapters of the Main Story bring the focus to explaining everything and as convoluted as the concept of the overall storyline is, the latter half of the game is quite exceptional.  There is still a bit of the over-flirtation, but it plays out much as I’d have expected from the get-go.

Gameplay

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Fate/Extella is a Musou action game, much like Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors.  When you go through stages, you will fight off mass hordes of enemies, along with strong boss-like Servants that are essentially leading said mass hordes.  It’s got its own quirks, but the general flow of Dynasty Warriors is what the game follows.

The game’s modes are mostly divided between Story Mode, Side Story, and Free Battle.  In Story Mode, you play through each of the 4 arcs of the storyline of the game, with the completion of each arc unlocking the next arc.  As you clear Story Arcs, you also unlock Side Stories for each of the non-major Servant characters and are able to play as them in their own smaller story scenarios.  And finally, clearing Main Story arcs also unlocks playable characters for Free Battle, where you can create your own battles and just go at it for the fun of it.

For all intents and purposes, Main Story is where you’ll spend most of your time in the game.  Each Story Arc is set around a specific character.  When you play through the story, you will transition between a base of operations and actual missions.  At the base, you can talk with your servant, craft equipment, and install various skills you acquire during missions.  But that is minor compared to the amount of time you spend out in the field.

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When you’re on a mission, you get thrown into a large set of environments and play the typical Musou “Conquest” game.  While each mission has its own set of objectives, you will be invading territories and taking out enemies until you can claim it as your own.  Though this differs a little from the formula.  Every territory has “Assaulter” enemies that will spawn after fighting off so many pawns.  You must make all Assault enemies for the area spawn and then defeat them before you can claim said territory.

But that isn’t all you’re going to be doing.  Every mission has different objectives.  One mission could throw you in just to reclaim territories and make a Boss appear while the next has you hunting down Plants that endlessly spawn Assaulters and then leading a Boss through several environments to lay a trap for them.  It’s all very different, even though the basic synopsis of the overall battle is similar.

The combat follows basic Musou principles.  You have weak and strong attacks, with the ability to combine them for combos.  But a few major things come into play here.  First of all, your combos are limited until you fight enough enemies to level up your character to unlock new combos.  Second, you have Moon Drive and Noble Phantasms that come into play.  Moon Drive builds up as you fight enemies, letting you have a brief transformation that gives you completely different abilities and a heightened set of stats.  And Noble Phantasms are Ultimate Attacks only accessible once per battle and only if you explore enough to find each Noble Phantasm fragment before heading to the boss.

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The above showcases how the game stays fresh, but different characters also help that.  Some equipment you can find lets you freely swap between 2 playable characters in battle so you don’t always have to use Saber for an entire battle or Caster for an entire battle.  Along with this is how every one of the 17 playable characters play completely different from one another.  From attack speed, combos, and weapons, every character feels like their own special class.

The difficulty of this genre comes and goes, with many people calling musou games mindless button-mashers.  Extella tries to keep this from being a game where you just mash buttons for the entire experience.  Now, there is a feature in the game called Auto-Combo that lets you do exactly that.  Mash the square buttons and it will make complex combos automatically.  However, that does not make the game easy.  The combos are generated randomly and you will often find yourself fighting ground enemies while Auto-Combo takes you high into the air, performing combos against thin air.  It has uses, but it’s part of the strategy to know when to and when not to use that feature.

As far as length goes, each mission can take anywhere from 15 minutes to 35 minutes.  Even without touching the Side Stories, I would expect missions and story scenes for Main Story to last you at least 20 hours, if not more.  Ironically enough, it’s nearly as long as Fate/Extra was if you include Side Stories, despite not being an RPG.

Controls

The controls are pretty simple.  First of all, Fate/Extella is compatible with the PlayStation TV and makes use of the L3/R3 buttons.  On the Vita, locking onto a boss makes use of the touch screen as does initiating a Noble Phantasm.  On the PSTV, L3 and R3 are used for these functions.

Moving around is done with the Left Analog Stick and moving the camera is done with the Right Stick.  You can use “Code Cast” items with the D-Pad for healing/changing characters.  The R button is used for dashing.  Then come the face buttons.  X is for jumping and Circle is for mid-combo dashes.  Square is used for normal attacks and Triangle for heavy attacks.

It’s pretty simple once you get used to it.  The tutorial level does a really nice job of explaining all of this.

Presentation

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Visually, the game looks good.  I would probably rate the visual level around late PS2 era.  The big thing is that all of the character models are smooth and high-quality.  There are no jagged edges to be seen here.  From environments to close-ups of characters, everything looks great.

The music quality is very fitting as well.  There are a lot of songs that sound like they come right out of history, which fits Fate’s idea that all Servants are reincarnations of heroes from across the history of the world.

Now, performance.  Most Musou games on the Vita don’t have stellar performance.  Fate/Extella is an exception to that rule.  Load Times do run around 8-10 seconds a piece, but the frame-rate stays a steady 30 fps and never drops.  As too-good-to-be-true as many Vita gamers may think that sounds, I never once saw the frames drop or lag in combat.  It greatly exceeded my expectations of what the performance was going to be like, given how jumpy Koei Tecmo’s Musou Vita games have been.

Summary

Fate/Extella is a surprising, but fun musou set in the Fate/Extra timeline.  While the first half of its story is overly confusing, the fun gameplay, amount of series fanservice, and flawless performance on the Vita makes this well worth the purchase for Musou and Fate fans alike.  With the game compatible with the PSTV too, it’s hard to justify paying the extra money for the PS4 version with how well it runs on the go. 

9/10

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