The Fate franchise is by far one of my favorites, at least when it comes to the anime’s, set in a unique world where historical figures known as Heroic Spirits (Servants) battle each other to win the infamous Holy Grail, which will grant the Heroic Spirit and their master’s any wish they desire. What started off as a visual novel called Fate/stay night quickly captured the hearts of consumers, and the Fate franchise has since spiraled into stardom with mangas, animes, and a plethora of video games, Most of which haven’t released outside of Japan.
Fate/EXTELLA: The Umbral Star is the sequel to Fate/EXTRA, a game which released back on the PlayStation Portable. The Fate/EXTRA series was specifically created for video games and is set in an alternate timeline to the original Fate/stay night. Now I won’t go into detail about the story of stay night or even that of EXTRA simply because it’s just too complicated and it confuses me just trying to explain it.
The Umbral Star takes place after the Mage (those who can summon heroic spirits) and their Heroic Spirit have already won the Holy Grail War and have been granted access to the Moon Cell Automation Computer. This computer is pretty much the Holy Grail. In the EXTRA series, the Holy Grail War is fought in a virtual world, much like the Matrix, as the mana that the Heroic Spirits and their masters use has dried up on Earth. Along with access to the Moon Cell Automation Computer, they are given the Regalia, Ring which allows the victorious Heroic Spirit to command other Heroic Spirits.
Before they can bathe in their victory, it’s revealed that they are not the only ones who have access to a Regalia Ring. War between the factions to claim all the Regalia Rings begins there, but the story soon spirals out of control which involves a planet-consuming evil planet and some twist that you will have seen coming by the first chapter. The story is told through the perspective of three different Servants, and you experience the story from their different perspectives, much like the original stay night did as a visual novel.
The Umbral Star is a huge departure for the franchise, and it’s in this departure that fans of the Fate franchise may feel as disappointed as I was. Rather than focusing on the one-on-one duels between the Heroic Spirits, Marvelous Entertainment chose instead to simply make an action hack’n’slash title in the vein of Dynasty Warriors.
Borrowing heavily from Koei’s own Dynasty/Samurai Warriors franchise, The Umbral Star gives you control of your Heroic Spirit to decimate waves and waves of your enemies. Across the five different chapters you will lay waste to thousands of generic enemies who don’t really fight back. Players are able to combine attacks with regular strikes and super moves. During combinations, you can mix and match what moves you pull off, some focusing at launching your enemies into the air to juggle them or sweeping attacks that take out as many enemies as possible. It’s as simple as it gets, and it works just fine.
You do get some nice additions to your arsenal though. By building up an orange gauge, you are able to go into a transformed state, which sees your character transform their fighting style and clothing. This form change ability also increases your power and allows you to do some seriously massive damage. The other special ability you get is called the Extella Maneuver and sees you teleporting around the zone, hitting as many enemies as you can by tapping the Circle Button quickly, consuming small blue squares which also act as another gauge. This move finishes off with a massive group of enemies exploding in the background as you strike a fancy pose. Both of these gauges can refill from defeating foes and collecting drinks and food dropped by enemies and destructible boxes found throughout each zone can regenerate from combat and picking up items dropped by enemies. Your character’s Noble Phantasm (A Heroic Spirits Ultimate attack) can only be pulled off once in a chapter and only if you collect three chips located on the map. The Noble Phantasms are awesome to look at, but the hassle of getting them just feels unnecessary, especially since you only get one use for your efforts. Just let me have it and let me choose when to use it.
It’s not simply just killing everyone on the field, but boy do I wish it was. One of the game’s biggest problems are your generals, they literally don’t do anything. Their AI is so bad that I would rather have gone into a mission alone. Your generals, who are other Heroic Spirits, are constantly losing and always asking for your help. At one point, I was around thirty seconds into the mission before one of my Generals told me he was losing ground and needed reinforcements.
Each mission has you capturing zones. The more zones you have and the more Aggressors (Zone Captains) you eliminate, the higher the chance you have off winning the battle. The problem is that you never–I do mean never–feel like you are actually winning or making a difference in battle. The reason you never feel like you are making a difference is because the enemy produces units so fast that you can’t clear a zone fast enough before they have already retaken two of yours. Your generals lose ground almost instantly, forcing you to return to a zone you just left just to keep from losing more ground. I failed more missions simply because I couldn’t kill my enemies faster than the game would like to produce them. Missions that should have taken me no more than fifteen minutes dragged out forty five minutes for no apparent reason other than a failure in my team’s AI.
Other objectives require you to defeat other Heroic Spirits. This is the only time the game actually feels challenging. The Heroic Spirits who act like bosses can take a beating and enjoy blocking your attacks a lot. At first these were fun but I quickly learned that they simply act like a more aggressive AI that require you to block their attacks.
It’s a shame that they became so easy to exploit. Simply wait for them to attack block and then counter attack. They will at times try and hit you with their Noble Phantasm, which will be indicated by a glowing purple aura. As long as you are able to interrupt them while they are charging it, they don’t really pose a big threat. Even with these battles, every mission at the end of the day requires you to capture zones and eliminate the enemies Aggressors.
Besides combat, you will spend a lot of time in personal conversations between the Mage or their Heroic Spirit. These conversations are like reading a romance novel and delve into the relationship between the two. It’s nicely written and is in spirit of the franchise’s origin. Outside of the romance, this downtime will allow you to select sidequests from you generals which simply require you to kill X amount of enemies or complete an objective in a certain amount of time. You can also craft upgrades in the form of items. You don’t actually get to pick what items you want to take, but rather you have to equip an accessory that comes pre-set with items. Up to four can be used on the D-Pad and range from simply healing items to swapping your Heroic Spirit with one of your generals.
As far as game modes go, you don’t really get much variety. You can play the story mode, side story that allows you to experience a personal story of the various Heroic Spirits in the game, and Free Battle, which just lets you go in and lay waste to enemies. There is an expansive wiki about the Fate/EXTRA and EXTELLA series so you can catch up on the story and better understand what’s going on in this world as well as character biographies, music tracks to listen to and plenty of more unlockables.
One of the most amazing aspects of the Fate franchise is its use and interpretation of real life or mythological people doing battle against each other. Think of it like the show Deadliest Warriors but with famous characters. The franchise has been good in portraying these characters but some of the Heroic Spirits in The Umbral Star just don’t make sense in the way they’re portrayed. For example Elizabeth Bethany for those who don’t know is considered one of the worst female serial genocidal killers in history but in Fate/EXTELLA she is portrayed as an adolescent girl wearing pink who is also an Idol. Fan favorite characters like Nameless from the Infinity Blade Works series and Iskandar from the Fate/Zero series also return if for nothing more than fan service.
The Fate franchise has a massive following and that following deserves a videogame to match its awesome battles and intricate storytelling. That’s not to say Fate/EXTELLA is a bad game, it’s simply just an OK game. Fans of Fate and newcomers will find something to enjoy in The Umbral Star, it just doesn’t hold up as well compared to its competition.