Fate EXTELLA: The Umbral Star PS4 [REVIEW] #musoumay

Ah yes, the Fate musous. Yes, Plural.

One that took surprisingly long, despite being one of the more requested crossovers with the formula, according to many japanese surveys results.

And oddly wasn’t snapped up by Tecmo Koei, but by Marvelous, which is both a good and a bad thing, for reasons we’re gonna get into later. But regardless, it’s nice to be reminded that these kind of games aren’t actually a patented formula…. at least i don’t think anymore, but still, this game is another proof that you can attempt a similar formula and Koei won’t sue off the back of their old, very vague patent.

I mean, they did make a “sequel” after this, so i’d think it’s safe to say that at least you can make “musou-likes”, if you so desire. And if the company that owns Senran Kagura can have more than a crack at it, you know the “low budget” excuse doesn’t quite hold as you’d expect and/or hope.

This one it’s based more on Fate EXTRA, described as a spin-off by Nasu himself… which it’s good because i haven’t played that one more than 20 minutes on the old PSP.

Though it’s one of those spin-off that might as well come out and say “you don’t need to have played that game to follow the plot of this one…. BUT boy it helps a lot if you do”, even with the story being somewhat kind in this regard, as it uses the good ol’ trope of the amnesiac main protagonist. Still, if you don’t have any familiarity with EXTRA or the Fate series as a whole you’ll wonder why you (as the protagonist Master) are being fought over by a literally foxy-demon lady and a pantless anime girl interpretation of Nero Claudius (yes, that Nero).

UMU

The gist is that you’ve won the Moon Cell Holy Grail War in Fate EXTRA, with Nero Claudius on your side, giving them the proof of victory in the form of a Regalia and control over the Moon Cell Automaton, basically a giant magical supercomputer set on the Moon that acts as this war’s Holy Grail, and it’s able to grant a wish.

The brief peace is rocked by Tamamo-No-Mae who also shows up with army and a Regalia in tow, and it’s made more complicated by the intervetion of the heroic spirit of Attila, Altera, and Saber (the blue one from Fate Stay Night) who wants to stop this new war, taking place in the SE.RA.PH., a virtual reality controlled by the Moon Cell computer, which houses digital version of the heroic spirits summoned as warriors (called Servants) by magicians called Masters (here Wizards, but still, the same thing).

If you never seen or played a Fate related piece of media, it’s basically what i just described, a wizard war for the possession of the wish-granting Holy Grail, with the spirits of heroes and figures from history (such as Hercules, Nero Claudius, Lu Bu even) summoned to fight for the masters that invoke them, split in various classes that describe their specialty or weaponry (Rider, Saber, Lancer, Assassin, etc). With often huge artistic liberties to the historical figure’s appearance and personality, as distinctive of the Fate franchise.

The story it’s written by Nasu himself, told over 3 mini-campaigns offering 3 different “routes” of the story, as the main plot points remain consistent, but each campaign focuses on a specific main character, has a different finale and some different events. There is a proper final route that countines from the third campaign’s ending, and unlocks only after you finished the others, which is a bit cheap but overall helps as there are many plot points, a good chunk of lore to dig into.

Overall, a fairly good Fate story, with the expected emphasis on fan servicey stuff (that’s actually not that shlocky) not eclipsing the qualities of the narrative itself.

Aside from the fact it’s actually internally developed by Marvelous itself and not handled to Tamsoft or Meteorise, in terms of gameplay, it’s Dynasty Warriors, down to having a verbatim “Charge System” combo strings set-up… but not quite.

There isn’t a musou attack per se, as the special attack here works as wide-ranged ensemble of lightning fast attacks, with extra blows requiring more “musou bars” as the special attack goes on, the ability to negate an enemy attack by timing it with your own, and there’s also Senran Kagura-style (it’s a Marvelous game alright) trasformations some characters can undergo, with slightly modified movesets and special abilities.

And as a nod to the Fate series, you have 3 usable “Command Magic”, acting as either a single use-resurrect, or you can blow all 3 at once for a full health recovery AND a notable time-limited increase in attack and defense.

That said, it controls and acts like a Warriors game (and you can often choose and swap between two characters on the fly), and guess what’s, the maps are designed with the objectives capturing territories, with each having one or more “officers”-like units, that often need to be dragged out by defeating lots of peons, Empires style.

To spice things up, the game puts emphasis on the territory capturing by having key bases net you a number of keys proportional to their level, with you and the enemy force competing to gain enough keys in order to win the “Regime Matrix” and lure out the boss of the faction. Furthermore, the game employs “spawners” units that will generate “officers” ad infinitum, which could have been a really infuriating choice if the maps weren’t designed as more compact rooms, making the traversal back and forth much faster than it usually is in Dynasty Warriors and its sub-series.

And on the plus side, the enemies are a bit more aggressive and the boss characters do put up a decent fight, forcing you to keep a good watch on your health bar, parry more and making these encounters feel more like boss battles, which isn’t always the case in this kind of hack n slash.

In terms of map designs, you’ll also find the usual objectives, with some locked routes forcing you through a certain path, occasional hidden switches to find, enemies to locate, rooms with traps dealing elemental damage, the latter you can counter with the right ability/skill in the loadout, with a very simple crafting system used to create the equippable loadouts (clothes in this case), dismantle them for resources, and a very simple power-up system that uses chips obtained in battle.

To be honest, i did expect better in terms of RPG elements here, especially due to this being spun from Fate EXTRA, heck, there’s a class system baked into the franchise that here doesn’t come into play at all (there’s no mount for Rider class type characters, for example), in terms of giving you more stuff to accomplish in order to grind the characters and tying that to more useful rewards or even justifying creating many of the loadouts (called Code Casts here), as very few will have practical use outside of the obvious attack buffs or resistances to elemental traps.

Heck, even on this regard some abilities have too specific, bordering on useless, like “dealing more damage/receiving less from fire enemies”, as the maps do have some areas where its shown an elemental trap will activate, but that doesn’t mean all enemies on that map are fire-embued, nor it does work like in Hyrule Warriors where maps give advantage to characters using weapons aligned with that specific element.

It’s a bit too much stuff for what the game has to actually offer, and it ain’t helped by minor nitpicks, like the rate at which you acquire new combo strings and moves feels slower than usual, and the Transformations are available to only 3 of the 16 playable characters, it’s like they run out of money at some point, that’s the feeling.

When you’re not in battle, you’re will have lots of visual novel style story segments to get through, with the occasional multiple choice, you can talk/interact with the heroic spirits in the My Room (the hub of sorts here) to deepen the bond with the Servant, which rewards you with more slots to equip ability chips, extra vignettes, and materials.

You can also deepend the bond by using healing abilities on the characters during battle, using them often, and by completing some extra objectives the Servants offer you before entering battle.

So if a roman emperor tries to seduce you, go oral. “Morel oral”, if you will.

On a technical term, it looks fairly good for what it’s clearly not a big budget production, the cel-shading for the character models it’s good, the locales looks honestly better than their usual joints, though it does have the common issue of the often incorrect lyp-synching which makes the characters feel more plasticy than it should.

Thankfully it’s not an huge issue as most of the game dialogue (original japanese VA only, as one would expect) is delivered via visual novel style cutscenes that use the indeed beautiful sprites in the same art style as Fate EXTRA and EXTRA CCC (figures, since it’s the same artist), which it’s definitely not short on fanservice, but also very strong and recognizable.

Music is also nice, very good sound effects and unlike in Senran Kagura, there’s a better audio mixing, so the music isn’t often drowned out by the character spouting random phrases,quips or just making noises or screaming gibberish. Good work.

Now, to address the main issue of Fate EXTELLA: the actual content on offering.

I’m not talking about the roster, 16 characters it’s a pretty decent-to-good number, especially for a first outing, sure there is the missed FGO representation, but still, aside from the stupid ass method for unlocking Arthuria Pendragon (aka “the Blue Saber”), so stupid they had to patch the game because you also had to perform the required steps between 3 and 4 PM. I’m not joking.

When i talk of not much content i’m referring to everything else, as it’s not a short experience to see the actual real ending (which requires going through the aforementioned 3 mini-campaigns), 20 hours, roughly, but you get the feel they put so much cutscenes and story stuff to make up for how the game reuses the same 6-ish maps (plus some smaller rooms that don’t qualify as a “map”) over the campaign, and even has a story loophole to justify how each campaign has you fighting the same mediocre final boss.

Of course each campaigns throws some variations to the objectives, the enemies, and they increase in challenge, but this recycle of maps and elements extend to the secondary story battles for the other characters, which reward you with little besides some cutscenes.

There’s also a free mode but – as said before – you’ll wish the game had a “grind mode” of sorts where to level up the characters or that they made new maps for the characters that aren’t Nero, Tamamo or Altera. So while there is stuff to unlock and do to complete the game and get more hours out of it, the way the game assures so it’s kinda cheap, and reminds me of how Senran Kagura games tend to strech themselves thin way too much for the sake of “content”.

We’re not quite there, as there’s replayability, it’s fun to go back to the game even without a big ass list of things to do, but – bottom line – it’s not what i would regard as deserving full price, especially since it’s a single player game only. No local co-op, even.

There are some costume DLCs, as overpriced as any other Marvelous published title, with 2 bucks for Archer in a frigging speedo and fanservicey stuff like that. Eh.

Still, it’s worth playing if you like hack n slash games of the Warriors variety and enjoy Fate and most of Kinoko Nasu’s stuff, it’s not bad, at all, quite the opposite, it’s surprisingly well done… it just very “bony” in terms of actual content, making one wish it was handled by a slightly more “wallet endowed” developer-publisher, instead of deserving a “get it when it gets on a big discount” type of gaming recommendation.

But a sequel did arrive later with Fate EXTELLA: Link.

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