The ‘musou’ style of gameplay has become a popular fit for anime series’ and Fate/EXTELLA: The Umbral Star is the latest series to tackle the Dynasty Warriors-style mechanics where you’re blowing away hundreds of enemies per battle.
It has been developed in-house at Marvelous rather than the IP being handed to developer Omega Force who specialise in these types of games, and it’s a good effort although it lacks the same polish. I’ll get into that with the gameplay though, as Marvelous have certainly put a lot of effort into telling a story but it personally didn’t grip me and, well, if I get called ‘master’ one more time I might actually lose the will to live — Fate/EXTELLA almost wants to be a dating simulator with how much some of the characters ask you to bathe with them or sleep in their bed, but there’s no dating to be seen here!
The story itself focuses on your character who is the winner of the Holy Grail War, and you’re fighting to keep control of the land as opponents try to win it back, and a new threat has arrived to threaten all of existence in SE.RA.PH. You play through 3 separate stories as Nero, Tamamo no Mae and Altera with many intertwining threads and whilst there are a lot of unique characters in each of the 3 routes, there is retread ground so you may get a sense of deja-vu every now and then.. There’s a lot of talking which I feel could’ve easily been trimmed down as very little is actually being said, and there’s a lot of fan-service that’ll either please or disappoint long-time fans of the series — unfortunately, Fate/EXTELLA is unlikely to convince people to check out more of the Fate series as the game’s plot and characterisation is rather underwhelming and most of the characters only feature in minor roles in the main story. Those who are die-hard fans will likely enjoy being able to play as their favourite characters though, and it’s clear that this was made with Fate fans in mind rather than to make new ones.
If you’ve played a musou-styled game before then you know what you’re getting here as it takes many cues from them. The mechanics are solid and it’s very easy to play through, but the mission structure isn’t quite as nice as it could be. Whilst stringing attacks together by mashing the face buttons is satisfying I feel that the missions outstay their welcome, especially as there tend to be several big enemies you need to defeat before you can claim an area — they end up feeling like artificial padding because they’re not particularly challenging, and take a large chunk of time to defeat. As in other games similar to this, you have to capture several areas before fighting the big bad and claiming victory.
The map and navigation is straight-forward and although your character runs pretty slow, you can do long dashes that’ll get you where you need to be in seconds. On PS4 this game runs smoothly with very little issue, although there are a lot less enemies on screen on the Vita version which leads it to feeling rather barren, and the visuals and performance are notably worse — I definitely recommend the PS4 version for Fate/EXTELLA, although cross-save makes continuing from where you left off a breeze if you’re looking to buy both.
The story mode will keep you busy for a few hours and then there are several side-stories focusing on other characters providing plenty of content, although it can become rather repetitive — if you enjoy the game though, then you’ll find dozens of hours worth of gameplay to plough through. The gallery to see character models is a lovely addition, especially on PS4 where the character models are smooth and look great, and I dig the general aesthetic even if some of the maps feel quite similar to one another. As mentioned earlier, the PS4 version is far superior with smooth gameplay and more detail, whilst the Vita version looks rough around the edges and the enemy count is far smaller which isn’t a pro when defeating hundreds of enemies is the aim of the game. It’s far from a bad game on Vita but PS4 is undeniably where you’re going to get the best of what the game offers. The 2D artwork, however, looks fantastic on both systems!
Many Japanese voice-actors and actresses are reprising their roles for Fate/EXTELLA which is exciting – I love it when voice talent return to reprise their roles, and I know that it can greatly enhance the experience for fans! There’s no English dub but fortunately the subtitles are large, clear and easy on the eyes, and I found them easy to read during the heat of battle too. The soundtrack, particularly the menu theme, makes for an enjoyable listen and fits the fast-paced gameplay well, and there are a few more light-hearted tunes for the abundance of time spent playing around with your primary Servant.
Fate/EXTELLA: The Umbral Star is far from a bad game on whichever platform you opt for but there’s a lot that Marvelous could learn from Omega Force, and a sequel could really shine if they tighten the gameplay so it doesn’t feel as if each area takes unreasonably long to claim — I understand there’s supposed to be an abundance of enemies and I enjoy that aspect, but the balance between the game being genuinely challenging and its length is skewed, making it feel like a chore after a while. I’ll definitely return to play more in the future and Marvelous are certainly on their way to creating great games in the Fate universe, but this effort is unlikely to create new fans and even long-time fans might be a little disappointed with it. I’m overall pretty torn because, again, it’s far from a bad game but it grew dull relatively quickly with its uninteresting story and lengthy battles — there’s fun to be had, but it makes you work for it.