Review: Fate/Extra

Fate/Stay Night was an extremely popular visual novel-turned-anime from famed company Type Moon, which made it to the West not that long ago. Since then we’ve seen the release of the manga adaptation and spinoff fighter Fate/Unlimited Code. However, despite its multiple releases across different types of media, the Fate series is still relatively known to most people outside of its cluster of dedicated fans. For those peering in from the outside, the series revolves around “Masters” waging a war with summoned fighters “Servants” in order to attain control of the Holy Grail (not the same one you’re thinking of), which grants the user a perverse amount of power.

The PSP release Fate/Extra turns the anime/manga narrative on its head and starts down a completely different path. Rather than pitting you as one of the “main” characters from the anime, instead you are asked to choose between a Servant with which you’ll battle opponent after opponent. An in-game week will pass, through which time you’ll train with your Servant and interact with others in the school environment you’ve been plunked down in. It brings to mind the very essence of the Shin Megami Tensei: Persona series, namely Persona 3 and Persona 4, yet is utterly confusing to both newcomers to the genre and those who have not completed the series in its other incarnations. As you fight Masters and Servants week after week, slowly the tale will become unraveled, though it’s just as obtuse as it is in the beginning of the game.

Fortunately, the story adopts a visual novel-styled stance and is akin to some of the best text-driven adventure titles you may have played. It’s your typical Japanese RPG fare, but uncovering the secrets about your opponents and delving deeper into the plot with each week that passes is actually quite entertaining, especially the timed element of keeping within a week to prepare for the fight that will follow. Unfortunately, that’s where the game’s troubles begin.

Servant versus Servant battles are absolutely frustrating. Picture a rock-paper-scissors game of strengths and weaknesses. At the beginning of every turn (keeping in line with turn-based combat) you will choose six different actions your Servant will perform. Think of it as drawing cards in a Pok√©mon trading card game to keep a full hand. You “play” these actions, having chosen them without seeing what your opponent has, and the battle plays out that way. Either you’re going to hit them, miss, or perform a counter-attack, and there’s very little that can be done about it. While you’ll be able to see one of your opponent’s commands in their upcoming string of attacks, it isn’t enough for you to successfully guess the rest of their moves or effectively best them in combat.

In this, it can become downright impossible to emerge victorious from battle, even if you’re a fantastic player. Enemies hardly rely on the same attack patterns, either, so if and when you progress through the game nearing the end, by the time you get there they’ll have so many potential attacks in queue that even if you’re a good player, you’ll fall. Cheap deaths abound, and for the life of me I can’t understand why anyone thought this would make an acceptable battle system. You can cruise around as long as possible uncovering information about your next enemy and play the “school” parts without a hitch, but once you reach any sort of combat the game quickly melts into a frustrating mess that you’ll want to part with as soon as you realize you have no real control over your destiny.

It’s a shame, too, as the fantastic English localization and standout graphics make Fate/Extra an interesting play. Its mimicry of the Shin Megami Tensei series is interesting and hooks you within the first few moments of play. So when you reach a completely arbitrary battle system it’s a pity you’ll likely not be coming back to see how the story will unfold. With a fantastic fighter like Fate/Unlimited Codes, it’s strange that a similar battle system couldn’t have just been adopted here. If you’re looking to get into the franchise, I’d suggest simply playing the original visual novel or picking up the anime instead of diving head first into this release, as Fate/Extra is too much of a gamble to really satiate your JRPG appetite.

Comments are closed.