Review: Fate/EXTELLA LINK (Nintendo Switch)

Reviewed by geoflcl, posted Mar 31, 2019
Played through the game's main campaign, unlocked an extra ending (there are multiple), played a smattering of extra missions, and some online multiplayer. Roughly 20 hours of gameplay total.
Mar 31, 2019
  • Release Date (NA): March 19, 2019
  • Release Date (EU): March 22, 2019
  • Release Date (JP): January 31, 2019
  • Publisher: XSEED
  • Developer: Marvelous Inc.
  • Genres: Action, Hack-and-Slash
  • ESRB Rating: Teen
  • PEGI Rating: Twelve years and older
  • Also For: Computer, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
    Co-operative
Fate/EXTELLA LINK is a game that's not meant for everyone, but that's exactly what gives it a unique, if divisive identity.
geoflcl
Introduction

Games today are often designed with a simple goal in mind: Deliver a fun experience to as many people as possible. There’s a problem, though: We humans are a notoriously fickle bunch, with each of us holding our own unique tastes and preferences. Thus, the struggle to make games with mass appeal has endured since the very dawn of the medium.

Perhaps that’s why Marvelous, Inc. seem not to have bothered with the idea at all. Unlike many of their contemporaries, the developers of Fate/EXTELLA LINK have made no attempt to attract a wide demographic, instead designing a game that is firmly, unabashedly niche, and seemingly intended for two groups, and two alone: Fans of Koei Tecmo's Musou series, and fans of visual novels. The game takes these two narrow focuses, stretches them into a 20+ hour campaign, and polishes it all to a lustrous sheen. The result is an experience that is stylish, charming, and admirably ambitious. Above all, though, Fate/EXTELLA LINK is profoundly divisive in nearly all aspects of its design, and for this, the game makes no apologies.

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A Novel Approach

One of the game’s most striking features is an emphasis on story and dialogue that is uncharacteristic of the hack-and-slash genre. Right from the onset, it becomes clear that LINK’s story and script have received extraordinary care. The game belongs to TYPE-MOON's Fate series, a franchise spanning dozens of entries and multiple media, ranging from video games, manga series, anime and even sound dramas. As such, the game has no shortage of lore to pull from, and Fate veterans will no doubt appreciate the nods to previous entries. Those new to this media behemoth need not worry, however, as LINK takes great care to bring newcomers up to speed, even including an extensive glossary of the game's in-universe terminology.

The story takes place on Earth’s moon, where humans and AI programs coexist in a complex virtual haven. When peace is disturbed, the call is answered by a motley crew of synthetic beings, all yours to command. Fate/EXTELLA's “Servants” are a trademark series feature, with LINK boasting 27 total playable characters from a variety of inspiration, ranging from historical icons such as Gilgamesh and Roman Emperor Charlemagne, to classic fictional characters like Robin Hood and Medusa. Not only do these figures all hail from radically-different source material, but their designs are charmingly, often outrageously stylized, with no shortage of liberties taken in regard to clothing, age, and gender.

Historical accuracy may not have been a concern in regard to visual design, but LINK’s characters still do an admirable job of referencing their source material, often alluding to their real-word history, or mentioning prominent events from their literary works. All this makes for an undeniably charming and colorful cast, providing a historical and literary charm that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Besides, I’d wholeheartedly argue that any game that lets Nero and Joan of Arc team up against Medusa has undeniable artistic value.

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Left: Astolfo, as depicted in Gustave Doré's "Astolfo and Caligorante"
Right: Astolfo, as depicted in Fate/EXTELLA: LINK

As mentioned, the game tells most of its story through scenarios which heavily resemble visual novel games like Steins;Gate and Danganronpa, which may surprise those drawn to LINK’s action-heavy gameplay trailers. Indeed, these segments make up nearly half of the game’s story mode, acting as lengthy bookends to each and every action stage. Those looking to get straight to gameplay can skip cutscenes without consequence, but doing so means experiencing only a fraction of what the game has to offer.

The story sequences do a great job of slowly unraveling the game’s lengthy plot, sometimes running several minutes in length but seldom dragging due to the quality writing. Dialogue is sharp, each character offering their own expressive monologues, waxing poetic about their own legacies, and their undying allegiance to the player. The game’s villain, as well, offers several deliciously-pedantic diatribes about his diabolical motivations, and each is a thorough joy to read. Though the presentation may be divisive, those willing to indulge in this lovingly-crafted story may find it to be their sole motivation for playing, and will certainly find themselves more fulfilled by the story’s end.

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Charming characters and dialogue make the story sequences worthwhile.

Grudge Mash

Whereas half of LINK is told through static character portraits and text boxes, the remaining portion is, in stark contrast, comprised of turbulent, blistering 3D hack-and-slash scenarios, filled to the brim with fast-paced action and a constant barrage of over-the-top explosions. These segments are comparable to Koei Tecmo’s Musou/Dynasty Warriors series, wherein the player must complete a series of missions while tearing their way through an incomprehensibly huge, screen-filling, endless sea of enemies.

These sections make a promising first impression. Control is smooth and responsive, characters dashing and leaping nimbly at your command. Actions are accented by fluid, stylistic animations and particles that provide a satisfying response to button presses. Light, Heavy and Special attacks are all decorated with increasing levels of visual chaos, with successful hits rewarded with a dazzling display of blasts and explosions. Droves of endless enemies populate every area, crowding around the player and patiently waiting to be undone. Within the first hour, you’ll be effortlessly slicing your way through rooms, slaying literally thousands of foes, and generally delivering a merciless onslaught of unrelenting, over-the-top visual spectacle. It soon becomes clear that LINK’s gameplay is intentionally simple, yet meticulously designed to bathe the player in a constant deluge of generous gratification.

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Fate/EXTELLA LINK's combat is all style and little substance,
just as the devs intended.


Thus, while shallow, there is certainly plenty of mindless fun to be had in these action sequences. Even after hundreds upon thousands of rapid button presses, the act of slicing through hordes of fodder gives a satisfying, intuitive feedback. Before too long, actions such as dashing through rooms, cutting through crowds, and unleashing screen-clearing special attacks all become second-nature extensions of thought. After hours of playing, one may find their attention gradually drifting from the game as their hands continue to play, their thoughts slowly peeling away from the onscreen chaos. Eventually, their minds may wander into a deep state of placid, instinctual reverie, unencumbered from the inhibitions of consciousness - ultimately inching toward the crest of a of calm, enlightened, zen-like meditation... Or, it could just be boredom.


Each character's "Noble Phantasm" attack has
its own
delightfully-overdone cutscene.

Though there are occasions where mild strategy and technique is needed, most of the game’s challenges can be surmounted through a combination of simple button-mashing, and liberal use of character-specific specials, regardless of difficulty setting. While initially novel, this brand of gameplay quickly and inevitably descends into a slog of repetition, a common and understandable criticism of the genre. After a few missions, LINK has shown all that it has to offer in terms of gameplay. Foes, locales and mission structure will vary, and unlockables are plentiful, but these do little to stave off the inherent repetition of the game’s design. For many, this formula will, understandably, be far from sufficient. Ultimately prioritizing visual flair and spectacle over substance, LINK’s gameplay loop is monotonous by design, and at times maddeningly one-dimensional. At every turn, however, the game rewards those who enjoy its deliberate, methodical repetition.


The Itch for Niche

One’s enjoyment of LINK depends entirely on their reaction to its gameplay. The game boasts a staggering amount of content to indulge in, a great deal of it locked beneath long stretches of tedium. Nearly thirty characters are unlocked through the course of the game, each with their own movesets and nuances. Story Mode, while fairly straightforward in its first few chapters, soon branches into multiple paths as the game progresses, eventually resulting in three possible endings, each one more difficult than the last (and each requiring more tireless grinding). Further enrichments include bonus scenarios, special attacks, item modifiers, outfits, and even character dialogue, all waiting to be uncovered through countless hours of pure, raw hack-and-slash busywork.

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Naturally, the obligatory Character Viewer is here, too.
Multiplayer is also included, allowing up to eight players to face off in a game of King of the Hill, as well as Class Tower, which is a variant on base capture. Strangely, a full-on Deathmatch mode is not offered, perhaps due to the unbridled, incomprehensible mayhem that would no doubt ensue. At this time of writing, online activity is woefully scarce, and matchmaking is a dismal affair as a result. Thankfully, the Switch version of LINK also includes ad-hoc local multiplayer, allowing eight friends to link, assuming everyone has their own console and copy of the game.

The fact that LINK is packed with such an immense assortment of extra content, despite its limited appeal, truly speaks volumes about the developers’ passion for their strange, ambitious game. Though only a select few will possess the herculean patience required to appreciate these bonuses, they are included nonetheless, placed as a labor of love for those that truly relish in the game’s unique identity. It’s a level of dedication that’s remarkably admirable, even if the game itself isn’t nearly as much.

This same doctrine can be found dripping from nearly every facet of LINK’s design. The game’s gentle, restrained method of storytelling doesn’t at all fit with its kinetic, flashy combat, but both are done so well that one can’t help but believe that the team at Marvelous Inc. had a clear vision of the experience they wanted to make. The juxtaposition is too brazen, and the execution too skillful to be an accident. It’s a game that was tailor-made for the enjoyment of its audience, however limited it may be. As such, LINK serves as a symbol of validation, affirming the important and oft-neglected notion that something doesn’t necessarily have to be enjoyed by all to have value. It holds fast to the idea that even if something seems inconsequential or trivial to most, that it may still be beloved by certain individuals, and that those precious few are important and valid in their admiration.

All things considered, Fate/EXTELLA LINK is a strange beast that delivers a very particular experience. While it's no means meant for everyone, the precious few who do enjoy it will find a lengthy, engaging experience that scratches all the right itches. Fate/EXTELLA LINK unashamedly wears its limited appeal on its sleeve, and it's all the better for it.

Verdict
Pros
+ Immensely satisfying combat
+ Charming characters and dialogue
+ Endearingly over-the-top presentation
+ Breast physics, you sicko
Cons
- Monotonous, divisive gameplay
- Visual novel segments not for everyone
- Content locked behind tedium, the reward is more tedium
- Undocked performance not the greatest
8 Presentation
The game's visual novel segments are presented with endearing character art and and dialogue. Gameplay is flashy and relentlessly stylish. Special attacks are preceded by lengthy, pose-heavy monologues. The whole affair looks and feels appropriately anime-esque.
6 Gameplay
Combat is classic Musou, warts and all. Lots of visually-resplendent hacking and slashing, but not much else. Intentionally designed for a very particular sort.
7 Lasting Appeal
For those who enjoy the gameplay (you glutton for punishment, you!), there is a remarkable wealth of content to unlock. Characters, scenarios, stats - it's all here!
7.4
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
Divisive in nearly every facet, Fate/EXTELLA LINK is a game that lovingly caters to its demographic, however limited it may be.


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