Review: Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star (PlayStation 4)
- Release Date (NA): January 11, 2017
- Release Date (EU): January 20, 2017
- Publisher: XSEED
- Developer: Marvelous
- Genres: Hack 'n Slash
- ESRB Rating: Teen
- PEGI Rating: Twelve years and older
- Also For: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation Vita
Single playerLocal MultiplayerOnline MultiplayerCo-operative
A not-so-Marvelous game
The Fate franchise is a long-running series, that initially started with a visual novel titled Fate/Stay night in 2004. More than a decade later, there has been a plethora of Fate-related media, spanning many anime adaptations, and video game spinoffs in multiple genres. Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star is one of these spinoffs, using the “Musou”, or, “Warriors” style gameplay as its basis. Of course, it still retains the things that most fans have come to expect from the series; warring sides, heroic spirits, and a world full of all sorts of magic.
Fate/Extella expands upon the lore of 2011’s PSP title, Fate/Extra, taking place as a direct sequel to the events of the last game. A hazy flashback shows the protagonist succeeding in the previous war that they were tasked to fight in, and winning against the enemy. Then, a mysterious figure appears, telling you that your memories have been damaged. Before you can even try to understand what’s going on, the scene flashes to the main character sitting on a throne, beside Fate series staple character, Sabre. Confusing terminology and phrases are thrown about, as a massive amount of text attempts to explain what’s going on. Extella tries its best to use this amnesia plot point to make this entry approachable for newcomers to the series, but even a returning fan, such as myself, ended up being a bit baffled by all the dialogue and terminology.
In terms of gameplay and combat, if you've ever played a Dynasty Warriors game, you'll know exactly what you're in for. Hundreds of enemies are scattered across the area, and it's your job to mow them all down. You combine heavy and light attacks in order to strike down the mobs of foes, and clear each room of opposing forces until you win. It's a simple concept, which, in most cases, usually has some sort of unique spin on things in order to keep the gameplay interesting. Regrettably, Fate/Extella lacks that flair. Combat is mind-numbingly basic, there are 16 different characters to play as, but in the end, they all feel the exact same, as you can easily find a button combination that will take down any enemy, even the bosses, without a hitch. There's also a lack of weight to any action going on, and the controls feel floaty at times, making everything feel like more of a chore than it actually is, especially when the enemies don't hold their ground, and wind up being smashed into the corner of an arena, causing the camera to jolt about. If that's not bad enough, levels have the same objective, and the same types of enemies each time. "Aggressors" are akin to minibosses, where you must defeat enough of them in order to claim that part of the map. However, they appear at complete random, causing frustration, as you can't progress until they are beaten. This unnecessarily slows down the combat, and wastes valuable time, as you must be able to defend your own areas of the map as well. You have AI captains that will help drive off the Aggressors, but for the most part, these computer controlled allies are inept and incompetent. By the time you've managed to traverse the map to get to where you need to go, you'll most likely have to backtrack, as your ally is on the brink of death. Stages will take upwards of 40 minutes to complete, on average, and in order to unlock the other characters and side stories, you'll need to beat each level with the same character multiple times. You can level up and equip skills, but these things largely don't affect the core mechanics at all, besides minimally cutting down the time it takes to do the same thing for the thousandth time.
Although this is a “Musou” inspired game at heart, the game clearly shows its visual novel roots, having expansive amounts of text in-between each gameplay segment. However, the game both assumes you know the general idea of mechanics from the Fate series, while also giving you overly-wordy descriptions of what’s going on after every scene, as to attempt to make things remotely understandable for first-time players. It comes off as awkward, especially since the translation feels a little bit stiff and stilted at times. Players are told who the bad guys are, yet the game doesn't try to explain why some characters are even there, or the purpose of the very important “servants”, which are the main characters and allies. Most story scenes are vapid, and the contents could be summarized in a single sentence, but instead, these sections drag on for much longer than necessary. Characters drone on for pages of dialogue that ultimately have no bearing whatsoever on the plot, while the characters themselves don't have much depth either, despite how much they ramble on about things. The most interesting concept here lies within Extella's pseudo-dating sim moments, which occur after each level. Here, you get some sections with each character, where you can answer with certain responses to get on good terms with your allies. Depending on what you say, or which servant you try to focus on, you can get some fan-servicey moments, and each choice leads to a specific "ending" scene. This seems to be where the most attention to detail was spent, in both the original Japanese version, and in the localization. Unique CGs and well-written conversations, a contrast when compared to the rest of the game, exist in these moments. Despite this, it's still not worth the hassle of getting through the rest of the game strictly for these scenes.
Another swing-and-miss comes in the form of the art style and visuals. In the case of the PlayStation 4, Extella looks dated, as if it belongs on previous-gen hardware, with character models looking slightly like plastic toys. It’s acceptable, but it seems like there was a clear compromise for the sake of the PlayStation Vita version. Speaking of which, the Vita version runs well, but attacks and effects look horribly pixelated, and are very distracting. The stages and arenas that you play through are garish, with conflicting color palettes and such oversaturation that one may have to turn their head away from the action onscreen, because there’s just too much visual information at once. There’s nothing outstanding about the music, either, with the soundtrack consisting of forgettable tracks, along with one or two decent remixes of songs from the Fate series.
Unless you’re a hardcore fan that needs to experience every Fate title, Fate/Extella is something that is best skipped. This is a game that tries to cater to both Fate and Warriors fans, yet fails to capture what makes either series fun.
+ There's a semblance of an interesting mechanic in the form of the "bond" system and their related character endings.
- The story segments are too verbose, and that makes it difficult to care about the plot.
- Enemies can be taken out with the same attack combo without fail.
- Highly repetitive, even for its genre.
Garish-looking levels and character models that look a decade old on current gen hardware means that this game doesn't look good aesthetically nor graphically.
Repetitive to the bone, Extella manages to take the typical Warriors/Musou genre, and make it even more so. Battles become a chore, as you traverse uninteresting and relatively small maps, while your AI allies can't manage to be of any use. There are some interesting concepts here, but all of them fall flat and fail to make the game into anything noteworthy.
For those that can overlook all previously mentioned grievances, the game does have a fair chunk of content. Battles take a while to get through, and there's multiple difficulties and rewards for going back and re-doing certain stages. Many different skills exist, and there's a good amount of characters to play as, each with slight differences to one another.
out of 10
(not an average)
Fate/Extella is clearly made for hardcore fans of the series. It's a hard sell to anyone that's not well-versed in the Fate franchise, and even then, the repetitive, clunky combat system and overly wordy story sections will likely drive off those that have any interest in the game.