What is Fate/Extra?
Fate/Extra is a PSP RPG based off the Visual Novel (and anime, and manga) Fate/Stay Night by… uh… Nasu. I’m honestly blanking on the rest of his name, and I figure you all deserve to see how professional I am sometimes. The rough concept is that every now and then there is this competition called the Holy Grail War, in which a bunch of magi get together and fight to the death to claim the Holy Grail.
To conduct these battles, at the beginning of the war, they summon servants to fight for them. These servants are legendary souls (heroes and mythological figures) who are roughly divided into seven classes (Saber, Lancer, Archer, Caster, Rider, Assassin and Berserker). These servants are all in possession of Noble Phantasms, items of power that are intrinsically tied to the servant and grant them amazing powers. Typically, throughout the Holy Grail War, the magi strive to keep the identity of their servant secret as, once their identity is known, other magi will know what to expect from the servant.
While Fate/Stay Night takes this idea and applies it to present day Japan, Fate/Extra places a distinctly more sci-fi spin on the matter. For those curious, this takes place in a separate continuity from other Nasu works, so, while you’ll see cameos and the like, this is not officially tied to Tsukihime or Fate/Stay or any of that other stuff.
The gameplay is pretty simple and takes heavy cues from Persona 3/Persona 4. Each “week” you have an objective (in this case, to learn about your opponent) and you have several days in which to accomplish it while also making sure to find some time to grind in the dungeon to make sure your combat performance is up to snuff.
Combat, similarly, is rather bare bones simple. Each round of combat consists of 6 Rock-Paper-Scissors style attacks (or Suikoden duels, if that works for you). The more information you have about an opponent, the more of their attacks you’ll know. And, of course, enemies tend to have patterns, so you learn through actual observation as well. As you progress through the game, you’ll also gain skills that overwrite the standard combat dynamic, giving you a little more flex and strategy in battle.
Stylistically, the game is actually pretty close to a visual novel. You run around, you have fights, but the main draw is the writing which is quite competent. Nasu is a little long-winded with narration (and can get a bit repetitive), but he has solid dialogue and his concepts are good. The opposing magi and their servants (particularly the interactions between them and their servants) are fantastic and I actually wish they got more screentime. Unfortunately, as duels to the death tend to end with either you or your opponent being dead, there is a distinct limitation to the time you’ll be spending with a given magus and servant pair.
What the Game Does Wrong
I think, on the whole, the game’s biggest failing is that the writing isn’t quite strong enough to hold up the fairly linear and false choice laden storyline. Despite a notable plot split and some various choices that can be made, you can generally tell that the flow of the game… besides a lot of the dialogue and character interaction to be strictly fair… is the same. The narrative is written in the same way that Catherine is, where you can tell it is kept interchangeable in a lot of places.
In general, I actually feel this game, at least as structured, could have benefited from angling after a more WRPG style and have plot flow and main character characterization guided by the decisions you make. This would have leant far more strength to the main and his relationship to the other characters. As an amnesiac trapped in an alien situation, the main is fairly bland and your inability to “control” them stands as a disappointment, especially since there are so many strong characters to potentially bounce off of.
I’m also going to go ahead and say that this game really squandered its setup. The fact that the new magi tend to show up on the week they are introduced is a massive cop out. The game would have done well to have far fewer faceless NPCs and give character to the people hanging around, participating in the war. It would have also added more pressure towards the end, as later characters you have to fight are those you’ve frown familiar with, or characters that you had started to like suddenly disappear.
Finally, delving into minor peeve range, running around campus every day, checking every nook and cranny? Really irritating and a massive waste of time. The localization shows that this was a budget title as the only thing translated was text. All battle text and the like are left unsubbed (although the practicality is debatable, this is still annoying to me, since I like to know ALL of what is said in a game) and I hear it assists with boss patterns). ArcSys also has some quality control issues with localization in general and you’ll catch some spelling errors, grammar errors and general errors cropping up here and there.
What the Game Does Right
Let us get this out of the way fast. Characters are solid, all around. They aren’t perfect and many could have done with more screentime, but, in general, they are all solid and fill their respective roles well. Dialogue is punchy and enjoyable, with the post-boss scenes being the best among them. I also can’t speak much for Saber or Archer at this time, but Caster was very strong, personable and an absolute blast to have as a partner.
The game improves HEAVILY on the basic formula of Persona 3/Persona 4 by adding a lot more structure and event into each day. You’ll always be doing the same basic things (walking around campus, dungeon crawling) but it throws up enough little quirks and events that you don’t really feel the tedium creeping in like you do in some of the duller stretches of the Personas. This is how this sort of game structure should be done.
Combat, despite its simplicity, is relatively enjoyable and does force you to apply your brain just a bit. There is some definite frustration to be had when a random clips you right at the end of a run, but, with resource management and care in battle, you really have no one to blame but yourself.
Don’t want to go too much into it here to keep spoilers at a minimum, but I thought the ending was quite well done.
Did I Like It?
Yeah. While there are some noteworthy flaws that grated at me, and while it certainly isn’t game of the year material, I really enjoyed this one. I’ve always like the core conceit of Fate/Stay, so this was obviously right up my alley. It isn’t going to appeal to everyone by far, but if you have a PSP and anything I’ve said sounds interesting, I recommend giving the game a look. I went out and BOUGHT a PSP (well, scrapped together a lot of credit, a few bucks and the like) to give this title a spin and wasn’t disappointed.
The game shows an amazing out of potential for the formula and I’ll definitely snap up the expansion(?), Fate/Extra CCC, if it makes it to our shores.