VIDEO GAME REVIEW
Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star
By Alexander O. Cuaycong and Anthony L. Cuaycong
The Fate series has always had its foot half in and half out of Western markets. Fate/Stay Night and its sequel Hollow Ataraxia never received an official English translation, their commercial success in Japan notwithstanding. Such is also the case with Fate Tiger Colosseum and Fate CCC and various other light novels and stories. That said, Type-Moon seems more than eager to reach its audiences beyond the Land of the Rising Sun. From Fate/Unlimited Codes’ release in 2009, to Fate/Extra in 2011, to even Fate/Grand Order on Android and iOS this year, the noted developer is taking steps to satisfy its English-speaking fans in the West.
With Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star’s release on the Nintendo Switch, Type-Moon goes one step further. Earlier this year, it made the English version of the game available on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita, and the reception was decidedly positive. No doubt, this spurred the developer to port it to other platforms. And there lies the question at this point: Will Extella have the same impact on Switch? Or will it be forgotten and seen as a blatant cash grab?
Right off the bat, Fate/Extella doesn’t hold back in the story department. A pseudo sequel to Fate Extra and the untranslatable Fate/Extra CC, Extella takes place in the same universe, on the digital constructs of the Moon Cell, a powerful computer capable of granting wishes. Set after the events of these games, players and their magical Servant and companion Nero Claudius have established dominion over the Moon Cell, but are threatened by outside sources. Using both brain and brawn, they need to go through three main story modes in order to find out the mystery of the Moon Cell, the story behind the Regalia each Servant holds, and the “true” story of what actually happened in the Grail War.
Fate’s grandeur serves as both a strength and a weakness. It’s not that there aren’t enough storylines to keep the game going. Rather, there are too many, and few details about each are given. Fans of the series will be able to keep up with the somewhat muddy tale, and appreciate the way it manages to piece things together with the use of already-established lore. However, a lot of what can makes Extella’s story appealing also hinders it as gamers new to the series will no doubt get lost with the terminologies it likes to throw around willy-nilly. What are Servants? What is the Moon Cell? What exactly can it do? What is the Regalia? Who are the character “officers” one encounters? What do they do? How are they connected with each other? Why does everything seem so random?
The answers to these questions, while they are tackled in Extella, leave a lot to be desired. A deliberate choice overall, it seems, as it tends to focus entirely on the relationship of the player with his/her current Servant and little else. While the story has its good points, it’s best appreciated by fans, and will likely confuse newcomers.
For all the confusion the story is likely to bring, the gameplay, on the other hand, is straightforward. Anyone who’s played Dynasty Warriors before will likely find Extella refreshingly similar. Find bad guys, beat them up. Cut through waves of goons, meet an enemy mini-boss or three, then overcome the enemy commander via a bunch of flashy, extravagant and over-the-top flips and slashes.
Choose from up to 16 servants available for play, each with a unique design and fighting style. While their overall number may seem low, the characters are decidedly distinct and unique on control. Some servants are better at clearing droves of enemies, while others are slower and more deliberate in attack, but hit much harder at a cost. The “Extella Maneuver” serves as a combo attack for all, giving the player the ability to perform free hits on large groups of enemies. The introduction of the Regalia Transformation serves as a “buff” power-up, giving players the ability to supercharge their character for a short amount of time, or even change their fighting style altogether. And then, through each stage, three “keys” exist that, once collected, allow the player to perform a Noble Phantasm, a powerful, flashy, and visually gorgeous finish move.
Overall, Extella gives the player a lot of tools to play with, tools that are, thankfully, fun, and this is Extella’s greatest selling point — and downside. How fun Extella is depends totally on how fun a given player finds button-mashing games to be. There is very little deviation from its core gameplay. It gives the player the tools to accomplish the job — and that’s it. There are no big choices to make, no multiple endings to go through. There is only one route — and only one objective in each stage. Beat someone’s face in. Rinse. Repeat.
The good news is that Extella on the Nintendo Switch runs smoothly. When played with the console docked, the game shows its graphical limitations compared to its PS4 sibling; nonetheless, there are no frame drops, and the varied controller choices and configurations actually make for more convenient access. When played on the go, it’s decidedly superior to the Vita version, and not just because of the bigger screen and more powerful engine.
Visually, a lot of effort went into Extella’s art design. The stages are gorgeous, ranging from giant stadiums to Japanese temples to great castles to archways with Roman architecture. Each stage is different, and the visual feast shows the painstaking care made to ensure its uniqueness. Character design is diverse, and each Servant stands out from the other, both character-wise and costume-wise. Even the generic enemies players face have different forms, from floating bird-like archers to great lumbering giants, interspersed with more humanoid-like figures of varying sizes and makeups. Yet, for all these little nuances in design, gameplay wise, it never changes. Extella advertised itself as a beat-em-up — and does just that and nothing else.
As a whole, Extella can be taken thusly: It’s a button masher under the Fate umbrella. Loads of fun, but repetitive. It does nothing genre-breaking and plays safe, gameplay-wise. It gives exactly what it says it would, but nothing more than that. Visually, Extella can wow the player at times; the Noble Phantasm segments where characters performs their own special moves are especially spectacular.
But overall? Fans of the series will appreciate the design and the story for how it is. Fans of the beat-em-up genre may find something nice to spend their time on, as the game sufficiently delivers in terms of content with its main story standing alongside several side stories. It may not break new ground, but it delivers on what it promises, and it does so smoothly and without a hitch on the Switch.
• Wonderful art style and design
• Fast-paced gameplay perfect for an adrenaline junkie
• Serves as “fan service” to established Fate followers
• Holds the Fate badge
• Has some “game-y” mechanics
• Can induce nausea when played on the go
• Confusing terminology for casual players
• Does not break new ground in terms of mechanics or gameplay