Note: This is a review of a PSP game, which is playable on PlayStation Vita consoles.
Fate/Extra is a Japanese RPG which was localised and released in North America during November of last year. Continuing their tradition of picking up JRPGs which have no European publisher, Ghostlight have just released Fate/Extra in PAL territories. The Fate game series is one that has had a limited release outside of Japan. It all started with the release of the original visual novel Fate/stay night in 2004. It was never released outside of Japan, and although the anime adaptation was distributed in North America, the series was rarely heard of until a fighting game called Fate/unlimited codes was released for the PlayStation Portable in 2009. Fate/unlimited codes was picked up for release, and was published in both North America and Europe. Since then, all has been quiet on the game front, but now Fate/Extra has finally come along to change that. While it does feature some of the characters from Fate/stay night, the game is set in a parallel universe where the events of the visual novel never happened.
Fate/Extra hinges on a simple concept, which quickly evolves into a well crafted story by Fate series writer Kinoku Nasu, and follows the same basic setup as the other entries in the series. The game’s characters are participating in a large scale survival game, within a virtual world, where the last person still alive at the end will have their wish granted. If you die in the virtual game, you also die in reality, since you’re hooked up to the system. It’s pretty much the same concept seen in the Matrix films. You’ll get to choose the gender of your character before you start, but they won’t be doing any fighting themselves, however. Each character is partnered with a fighter, virtual beings that are collectively referred to as Servants. Servants refer to their human partners as their Master, since they are subservient, taking orders directly from them and acting as their sole weapons during the contest. The number of competitors is quickly reduced by a series of one-on-one battles between their Servants, only ending when one of the Servants is killed. Master and Servant are connected, and the death of a Servant means immediate death for the Master. High stakes indeed. As the game begins, the first thing your character does is get him/herself killed. With a beginning like that, you can tell that things are going to get interesting, but I won’t spoil the drama for you. What I will say is that the game shows its visual novel roots by having a very strong focus on story, with many text heavy scenes.
Each Servant is heavily based on an important historical figure, such as Sir Francis Drake. Their personalities, appearances, and special attacks all reflect this to some degree. However, some Servants are based on notable mythical figures, and some have even had their gender reversed, which makes for a rather bizarre cast of characters at times. There’s some great character designs on show in Fate/Extra though, and it’s always interesting to see who you’ll meet next. It’s an intriguing concept, and an important part of the game’s flow is figuring out the true identity of your next opponent. Servants’ identities are a closely guarded secret. After all, if you know which historical figure they are, then you also know their weapons, strengths, and weaknesses by extension.
When it comes to exploring, the game is a fairly typical third-person dungeon crawler. You’ll be walking around various virtual landscapes as you progress through the game, with each one having a couple of different areas which unlock at certain points in the story. Enemies are visible on the field, and so encounters can be avoided, but when you do enter battle…things get interesting. Your Servant will face off against whichever virtual beast you’ve run into, with your character taking on a support role. He/she can use items to heal or enhance your Servant, or occasionally use a command that may stun the enemy, but that’s it. Battles are set up like elaborate versions of the classic rock-paper-scissors game. They are divided up into rounds, and further split into six moves per round for both you and the enemy. Once you’ve entered your six commands, the round will begin, with both your Servant and the enemy’s moves being played out simultaneously. You can command your Servant to either attack, break, or guard for each move. Each one is both strong and weak against one of the others. Attack beats break, break beats guard, and guard beats attack. If both sides use the same move, then neither party takes damage. It’s a system that sounds simple, but actually has hidden depth to it, since you can only see some of your opponent’s moves before they use them. Much of the game’s challenge comes from learning the move patterns of your enemies, since if you mess up too many times, you’ll suffer.
Graphically, Fate/Extra holds up pretty well. While it’s certainly not the prettiest game on the PSP console, the somewhat average graphics are partly made up for by the game’s great art direction. Character designs are detailed, and highly varied. Unfortunately, there’s not as many different environments as you might hope to see, but the ones that are there all look good. Sound wise, the game’s music doesn’t disappoint. There’s a full range of tracks to suit every occasion, and they all sound good. Fate/Extra’s two main battle themes are what you’ll be hearing the most, and they’re great, minimalistic tunes which suit the game’s virtual dungeons well. What’s not so good is the lack of any English voice acting. While the original Japanese voicing still remains, all it manages to do is add a little bit of basic emotion to some scenes. What’s surprising is the lack of subtitles during battles. The lines that your Servant says at the beginning and end of a battle are left unintelligible as a result, and it seems like this was a bit of an oversight during the localisation process.
In case you’ve been wondering, despite being part of a larger overall series, Fate/Extra is actually a good place to start. Since it’s set in a parallel world, prior knowledge of the series is of minimal benefit, it’s a game that’s fortunately easy for newcomers to get into. If you’re hungering for more Fate after enjoying Fate/Extra, there’s currently an anime called Fate/Zero airing in Japan, which is available to watch (with subtitles) on Crunchyroll’s website. It’s a prequel to the series, and easy to get into. Fate/unlimited codes, however, will make little sense if you aren’t familiar with Fate/stay night (and actually contains major spoilers for it).
In conclusion, Fate/Extra is a very enjoyable JRPG. The game features a great marriage of story and interesting dungeon crawler gameplay, which makes for a fun 25-30 hours until you finish the game. Even after you finish though, the game still has a good level of replayability. Shortly after starting a new game, you get to choose your Servant (out of three possible choices), and the game will change a little depending on which one you choose. Each Servant has a different difficulty attached to it (essentially Easy, Normal or Hard), and your character’s gender will change the way that your Servant interacts with them slightly. Each Servant plays a little differently, and will fight a couple of unique opponents over the course of the game, it’s a great bonus feature. Fate/Extra is a game that I would definitely recommend to anyone who enjoys JRPGs, and is looking a high quality title which does things a little differently.
Strong story | Great dungeon crawler gameplay | Good soundtrack
No English voice acting | Environments are lacking