When discussing their collaboration with Koei Tecmo on the Wii U’s Hyrule Warriors, Eiji Aonuma of Nintendo compared the crossover title’s cast with that of Marvel’s Avengers – two ensembles of otherwise unconnected heroes who banded together to confront a common threat. Featuring a pantheon of heroes from across Type-Moon’s expansive Fate series, playing through Marvelous’ Fate/EXTELLA: The Umbral Star leaves me with a similar sense of awe and bewilderment – for better and for worse.
There’s one more unavoidable comparison to be made with Fate/EXTELLA, because although Koei Tecmo had zero involvement, this game has all the hallmarks of their Warriors franchise. Hacking and slashing your way through hordes of enemies, territory control is the aim of the game – leading your army to secure the majority of a map’s zones before your opponent does.
Enemies swarm the screen in breathtaking numbers but they really do personify quantity over quality, as their AIs are incredibly basic. to the point where I can often run through enemy strongholds without so much as a scratch – that is, unless there’s an Aggressor or General present. Acting as gatekeepers summoned as an area’s last defence, Aggressors are standard enemies with a little more brain and brawn that can take longer to bring down, but the main threat you’ll face are the enemy Generals – other significant characters who are more of a challenge to fight and can even follow you into other zones! I must confess to falling to an enemy general on more than one occasion, which is where the Command Seals come in. A staple of Fate lore typically used to relay an order overwriting a servant’s free will, their use here is effectively a “life” system; should you fall in battle, invoking a seal revives your servant, while using all three boosts their strength too. In my experience, most losses you incur will be territory-based, leaving few opportunities to independently use all three seals.
Without the means to objectively measure, the only judgements I can make on Fate/EXTELLA‘s technical side are based on my own naked eye’s experience – which are largely positive. Despite the ambitious number of on-screen enemies, I wasn’t made aware of any slowdown and everything runs smoothly. My only gripe is that you can only lock-on to Generals, adding a slight annoyance to keeping tabs on Aggressors – sometimes, I’d be ploughing through enemies before realising that they’re now behind me! One interesting curiosity, is that one of the game’s key boss fights features gameplay strikingly similar to the Egg Golem from Sonic Adventure 2.
To explain the story of Fate/EXTELLA would imply that I actually understood it, but unfortunately, it’s all a bit of a mess. Following the events of Fate/Extra (PSP, Ghostlight), the Roman Emperor Nero Claudius and her master have been declared winners of the Holy Grail War, with the Regalia on her finger proving her right to rule the Moon Cell Automaton, a digital world on the moon that pre-dates the Earth (Yeah…). However, it quickly becomes clear that something is amiss. Following a surprise ambush, Nero’s beloved master has had their three aspects of self (mind, body and soul) split – with one third residing beside Tamamo-no-Mae, who also bares a Regalia! Together, you and Nero must now unite the divided Moon Cell Automaton under your rule, to prepare for a greater threat to come.
The problem with Fate/EXTELLA‘s large cast is that very few members of it seem to have a significant sense of purpose, outside of those who receive a route’s top-billing and a couple of notable exceptions. The expanded cast do receive Side Stories that slowly unlock parallel to the main routes, but their chapters are notably scarce compared to the main event. The narrative is easily Fate/EXTELLA‘s weakest aspect, prone to drawn-out info dumps that just bewilder and even cringe-worthy fawning. With my most viewed article here being a list of Senran Kagura characters by bust size, I doubt anyone would call me a prude, but the way the lead protagonist and servants constantly gush over each other makes even me blush – although everything is written rather than visually shown, I was still at times wondering how it was awarded a PEGI 12 rating.
The story of Fate/EXTELLA also commits what I consider the gravest gaming narrative sin by utilising the incredibly over-used trope: the amnesiac main character. Seriously, Japanese developers, lay off the amnesiac characters for a while, okay?
Your overall mileage will vary depending on your feelings towards Warriors games, but with stellar gameplay and a lacklustre story, Fate/EXTELLA: The Umbral Star ultimately comes across as a rather mixed package. If you’re a fan dreaming of ploughing through mobs of enemies as Gilgamesh, just be ready to jump through all the hurdles to unlock him.
Title: Fate/EXTELLA: The Umbral Star
Certificate: PEGI 12
Distributor: Marvelous Europe
Platform(s): PlayStation 4, Vita.
Version Reviewed: PlayStation 4
Released: Out Now!
Disclosure: A copy of “Fate/EXTELLA: The Umbral Star” was supplied by Marvelous Europe, the distributor, for the purposes of this review.