Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star Review


Developed by Marvelous
Published by Marvelous USA
Reviewed on PlayStation 4

The Fate series was one I showed up fashionably late to. The series takes place on Earth, where mages are plentiful but not particularly well known around the world. But they exist and thrive in modern society. The main focus, however, is on the Holy Grail War. Seven mages are chosen to summon a heroic spirit known as a servant. The mages and their powerful allies duke it out to win the Holy Grail.  I have seen Fate: Zero and Fate: Unlimited Blade Works, but beyond that I have very little knowledge about the series or its expanded canon. So based on that, how does this drop into a warriors style game play out?

The answer is somewhat mixed, but mostly positive bag. The game play is the true heart of a warriors game so I’ll start here. From a control stand point, the game has few peers. The control is extremely tight, responsive, and makes Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star fun to play. You have your standard array of button inputs, light and heavy attacks, dashes for dodging and mobility, and blocking. Then you have additional options such as using a health recharging item, triggers for bonus effects, and unleashing your ultimate techniques via a collectable item. Cutting through huge hordes of enemies is a very smooth experience.

The difficulty level on normal can be a challenge starting about halfway through the game, but is fair overall. I could never blame any failures on the controls because chaining combos is fairly easy to do and if you react in time you can either dodge your enemies entirely or block the attack. But while the controls are never an issue, there is a very steep learning curve. Normally most warriors game gives you a chance to acclimate to the control style and teach you a handful of things at a time. Extella gives you your first steps and it’s right off a cliff. The intro level is chaotic, much like the rest of the game, but it tries to teach you way too much way too quickly. I played through the intro sequence about three times before I felt I had a decent enough of grasp to keep the slaughter train rolling. The gameplay itself isn’t actually over complicated…but unless you wade through it a bit slow at first you may not get a chance to realize it. A short tutorial mode or slower first level would have alleviated a bit of the whiplash. Basically it comes down to going to each area that has a different ranking, capture that are to accumulate keys, and then use those keys to unlock the boss chamber. Defeating the boss for that area then grants you victory.

Add in huge swarms of enemies, protecting territories you’ve conquered, navigating the complicated terrain, character transformations, and you have a moderately deep game. The only other thing that holds the game back in combat is the amount of combo chains each character can do is limited to mostly three or four combos and one or two combos in the air. This can be partially mitigated because of the wide variety of characters available and their unique styles. If you know anything about the fate series servants then you’ll get a pretty good idea about what they can do. The two things every playable character has in common is a pair of ultra-techniques called the Ex Maneuver and Noble Phantasm. The Ex Maneuver can be used when you fill up a gauge by killing mooks, giving you the ability to target a tough team of enemies to help you control the field. The Noble Phantasm is a room clearing ability that is flashy to the max. You can use it by gaining three pieces from boss level enemies and it is almost always a guaranteed way to end a fight or a section. You also have the ability to customize each character with equipment and items but they are for stat boosting and gaining advantages with no visual changes on the characters.

Visually the game is very colorful, making a good use of different color palettes that really jump off the screen. I found the cybernetic world of the battlefields and their cyber warriors to be very interesting. In terms of character designs there’s really only two characters I didn’t care for design-wise, that was Karna and Attila. They’re not bad characters and their play styles are not something to easily skip over…they were just a bit odd for my taste.  The voice acting for the game is all in Japanese and has English subtitles. I didn’t find any of the voice cast grating or ill fitting for the part. In fact many of the voice actors who voiced characters in the past have reprise their roles which is almost always a good thing. The only downside is seeing some of the characters talk during combat means you have to read what’s being said instead of just hearing it.

Finally there’s the story: there’s three main arcs and a separate individual arc for each character. The story has a certain level of intrigue pertaining to the cyber world and the fate of earth in the not too far flung future. There is too much terminology and lore for me to keep going without getting lost. The visual novel style of story telling is here in part as well and that slows the pace a bit as well.