What They Say
Waking up in a strange virtual world with no recollection of the past, the main character finds themselves forced to fight for survival in a war they do not understand for a prize beyond value; the opportunity to have one’s wish granted. With only an enigmatic “Servant” by their side, the protagonist will have to face both friends and foes in battles to the death in order to not only gain possession of a mysterious object known as the “Holy Grail,” but also to find the answer to the most important question of all: “Who am I?”
Created for the PSP, the graphics manage to pull off some pretty impressive visuals for the small screen allotted for the game with the most stunning of these being seen in the “arena” portion of the game where the backgrounds that are visible through the transparent walls and floor bring a lot of life to each level with their at times absolutely stunning themes on display and which frankly can be even more impressive that what one sees from the creatures roaming the floors which themselves aren’t slouches in their detail and imaginative images. Because of the size of the PSP screen, each of the images on it are tiny yet often very well created and have the appearance of nuance to them though there is an intentional genericness to the player’s character as well as others that plays into the games story (the supposed other participants in the Grail War), though Servants and the opponent characters the player will match up with have a good level of detail attributed as well.
Not all is perfect though as some character details- particularly when it comes to hands of characters- look really poor, almost as if these details and the rest of the character were designed with two different philosophies of what the final design style would use in terms of realism. In addition to this large graphics that go across the screen like the school building exterior can have some parts where the straight lines break as it the system can’t process the full image in one solid go and inside the arena as one goes up or down with the varying levels that the game has the various floors set on a wavering effect can be seen at the top of the screen for a brief moment.
The game’s soundtrack is a fairly decent which the PSP manages to bring across adequately with its built in speakers though listening to the CD that comes with this version of the game will link itself to the particular stage so the music has a bit of connection even if it isn’t necessarily one most people will throw into their player with frequency. In addition to this a good deal of, though not all by any means, character dialogue is voiced, though because of a combination of the limits of a UMD disc space available and the (relative) limited potential size of the target audience the only language track available for the game is the original Japanese one. A look at the voice acting behind this release reveals that while mot all of this game’s characters may be the same as the their visual novel selves, those who appear here and in the anime share voice actors for the most part though notably both this game’s Saber and Caster get new actors reflecting their completely different nature, but their actors will likely be familiar to, many anime fans as will many of the /Extra unique characters’ actors.
Fate/Extra is probably best described as a dungeon crawler that takes place in two different worlds, each sharing similar setup as the player navigates both types of screens in the same manner in order to obtain either information in the school setting or treasure/hidden items while combating the monsters that spawn in the arena portion. The set up for the events is that each level translates to a week where the player has 6 “days” in order to accomplish whatever goal they need to before making it to combat with the main opponent for that week and finishing off the stage. In those 6 days the player will need to collect 2 keys from the arena (the arena will be split into two floors that are accessed separately which will have attempted in different game days as leaving the arena ends a players day) as a minimum condition for each week or the player will face an automatic game over as the final stage floor for that week won’t open which along with some other things that can lead to a dead end reinforces the idea that having multiple save files is probably a pretty good idea.
The combat for the game is a rather simple one at first that contains both an element of luck and skill as the attacks initially are a simple Rock-Paper-Scissors set up with it being Attack-Break-Defend taking the place as Attack beats Break, Break shatters Block and Block does just that against Attack, though it also allows for the character to launch a counter attack. For the most part the winning option will cancel the actions of the loser, though one can still take an amount of damage while blocking based on the opponents strength versus their defense stats and the same choices being made by both player and enemy causes a clash with the offensive skills and can cause both to take damage.
Combat action choices are made in rounds with each round consisting of 6 choices that the player must input at the start of each round. Initially the is given a graphic displaying a number of blank boxes that represent the enemy’s upcoming actions during that same round (normally either 6 or 5 blank boxes), multiple encounters with the same enemy type will cause more of these boxes to be filled in that then take combat from a bit of luck and deduction based on the enemy type or perceived pattern to a certainty as their entire activity box can be filled once the player has had enough encounters. An additional word of warning is needed as once an encounter has begun there is no way to exit a fight other than to win so it behooves the player to keep an eye on their Servant’s hit points so they can heal freely between combat if needed rather than be limited to once per round when the fights commence. On the boss side of things their box can be partially filled by fully exploring all hints that are dropped as to the true identity of their Servant which is hidden from the player at the start of each level (as is the player’s own Servant’s true identity at the beginning of the game as well).
As the game progresses a few additions will be added to the action option as when a Servant has been leveled up they gain a set number of new skills unique to them that can be used in combat while the Master can use items to help their Servant in battle without taking up a Servant’s turn in combat and the Master can also obtain skills of their own to provide effects in battle based on the equipment they equip (up to two pieces) varying in function from affecting their Servant’s battle stats to gaining an edge when initiating combat against roaming enemies. One final combat twist relates to Servants as each one has the ability to summon a Noble Phantasm which is a special power unique to each Servant based on their true identities and which can massively effect the course of battle (the player’s Servant starts with this hidden and it only becomes revealed after certain events where the player learns the true identity of their Servant).
Leveling up of the player’s Servant is done in two ways as the traditional fighting of enemies to gain experience points for leveling up exists but in the case of this game leveling up provides a boost to the Servant’s hit points and magic points (used for skills) but instead of any other bonus to character stats awarded automatically the player gets Skill Points which can be used in a special room accessible from the school setting to manually decide which of five key areas to assess the points to in order to suit the style of play that the player chooses and various Servant skills are unlocked after a certain number of points are spent in total so one doesn’t have to experiment with raising a stat they don’t care about just to obtain a skill. Since the enemies on each stage respawn after a certain length of time a player can feel free not to waste a given “day” by just accomplishing the minimum requirements for that stage (though there are some stages where the player may face having to leave or having the path blocked on a given day requiring a visit later) but the game incorporates a soft level cap of sorts as each level up by the player’s Servant causes the surrounding enemies to be worth progressively less experience points upon defeat while the needed experience for the next level grows which can make an already somewhat tedious act of level grinding even more taxing if one is looking to provide a cushion over the minimum level suggested for each round.
In addition to the combat side of things, the player will also being given the opportunity to scour the school side of the setting during that same period to find information which may help with combating the end stage opponent which then will fills in portions of the boss’ activity bar (more on that later). Depending on the stage various blockades may appear which (artificially) create barriers that shorten the amount of time a player has to explore some stages while at other times the player may encounter the stage opponent in the arena and have to survive against them for three turns which allows the game to give a bit of flavor (though sometimes annoyingly so) to each stage to help distract from the repetitiveness of the progression redundancy.
The text for the game uses a white font for the most part that causes it to be fairly readable (well, as readable as the text on the small PSP screen can be anyway) and it uses a red color to highlight important words that may come up that usually play a part in the next part of the quest that the player will be undergoing. For the most part the text seems to be fairly accurate (as far as I can tell anyway) and it reads in a decent if somewhat stiff manner at times that seems to be written with an eye more toward a literal translation that adapting a flow for it. One of the things that is noticeable is that the text largely uses gender neutral pronouns for the Servants when they aren’t directly addressed by name allowing for a good deal of the text to be the same regardless of which Servant the player may have chosen.
The version used for this review is the Limited Edition release which contains the regular PSP packaged game that also includes a mini hardcover book that contains 6 double page images drawn for this release as well as a brief write up from franchise character designer and Type-Moon co-founder Takashi Takeuchi along with comments for the 6 art pieces by the artist who created them. In addition to this, the mini book also contains a CD featuring 10 of the pieces used for BGM in the game. This booklet is remarkably faithful to its Japanese version as other than the US cover being glosser there is only a slight difference in colors on the cover and CD and the US release translates the Japanese text to distinguish which release is which- though an upside to the US release is that the listing of the CD tracks are corrected as the Japanese release used some Engrish for some titles of the tracks.
The release came packaged in a thin cardboard box where the top flap opened to allow access to the materials which largely replicated the PSP case’s cover as it featured this game’s Saber in her red dress front and center with Rin to her left and Archer to the right. Additionally the extra space that the box provided allows for a larger image of Rin to be on one side while the game’s fox-girl version of Caster makes her only packaging appearance on the other side. The back of the box also allows for a couple more screenshots to be snuck in as opposed to the PSP cover, though the large image of Rin present there in smaller than the PSP’s in return. The game comes with a full color manual that uses both illustrations for its characters and screenshots to introduce the player to the various mechanics and it features a blue background similar to the cover for its pages.
Content (Please note that content portions of review may contain spoilers)
The idea that information is power may be more true in the cyber age than ever before as individual who are born with innate talents can stand beside or even above the dedicated but less gifted individual in the world of data collection and manipulation- and those who are born with special skills and the drive to do all they can to stand at the top of this mountain may have power that could make them virtual gods. Fate/Extra takes this concept to the next level as in its world when an invitation goes out to all these individuals it isn’t surprising that so many will be willing to risk their lives to obtain what is believed to be the ultimate prize which is dubbed the Holy Grail. Given the virtual nature that is the battle ground the Grail is obviously not the one from Arthurian legend but when the prize is the power to have any wish granted does it matter what form the power takes?
Set in the Tsukumihara Academy the player is introduced to a nameless, and rather generic character that appears to be the protagonist as he spends three days at the seemingly normal school only to discover that there are strange events going on with reports of ghosts and missing students hinting that there might be more behind the scenes than anyone is prepared to believe. As the character interacts with the school members an odd realization starts to form as encounters with some very stand out in their appearance students and some leading comments cause him to question the reality around him- a situation not helped when he starts having headaches and his vision becomes filled with static. With events spiraling will he learn the truth…and will that knowledge simply lead him to a faster death?
With the fall of the boy the player picks their character and moves forward from the event to discover that all that was presented before was a lie as they discover that the previous school setting was merely the preliminary round in a game that they entered in order to have a chance at the Holy Grail. The individuals in this school are in fact all a form of technological magi- people with an almost magic like ability to send their very souls into the virtual world to compete for this prize and they are willing to risk their very lives to obtain it, but do all recognize the price of losing in this war? In order to fight each other ,each of the 128 players to make it to this next round is granted a Servant- a historical figure with incredible powers- to aid them in there attempt to be the last player standing. In this world where knowledge and skill reign supreme there exists an anomaly- one participant has no memory to fall back on which should make them the weakest competitor on the field…but is perception reality in the virtual world or will this tabula rasa find the desire to survive no matter the cost and perhaps find them self along the way?
Fans of the Fate/StayNight franchise who embark on this story will find a tale that is both as familiar as it is alien as many familiar faces return from the original visual novel series though the personalities behind those faces are different- sometimes radically so. This decision to present a new reality separate from the visual novel one allows for a good deal of freedom on the part of the game staff to introduce a swath of new characters while making the game open to new players who are just experiencing the franchise for the first time as well as put a whole new spin on events that makes room to surprise franchise veterans as well.
The change in game mechanics from the visual novel origin of /Stay Night to more RPG/dungeon crawler game play that /Extra relies on opens up the field to those who don’t get the same rush from visual novels as more action oriented games though it does do this a bit at the expense of the time that Visual novels typically spend developing its characters and fully exploring the environment they live in. At times the trade off seems to work all right as the idea of the amnesiac protagonist makes for a perfect angle for the other game characters who may try to help them to explain the settings and some key facts that are necessary for following the story in a comfortable way without spending incredibly long periods dragged down in exposition and the action elements feel like they invest the player a bit fuller in the concepts of defeating- and thus killing- their enemy and all the implications this raises for the protagonist then the more passive visual novel tends to allow for.
The other side to this coin though is that not every concept is given opportunity to be completely explored which leaves a feeling at times that ideas are being rushed through in order to return to the action points as soon as possible (in addition to one of the most important explanations of the setting being placed in the manual rather than in the game which feels like a cheat) which can lead one to wonder just what is it that motivates certain characters, particularly later in the game when the explanations and time spent delving into opponents seems to be curtailed which might have been balanced out more if the game had incorporated a bit more of the explanatory nature that the original visual novel format the franchise was built on contained.
In addition the time needed to level grind has the ability to remove the player even further from the flow of events as hours spent fighting in between the expository parts has always been one of the places where RPGs need tread carefully at risk of disconnecting the player from events to such a degree that the player walk away and then fails to come back and /Extra’s attempt to balance this isn’t exactly the most sterling example of how to do this either. Throw in a confusing prologue that may tax a player’s nerves before the game even really begins and a protagonist whose situation makes for some rather vanilla dialogue and choices and the game seems to be mirroring its rock-paper-scissors combat approach by making sure that its strengths in some areas may also count as weaknesses when compared to other areas or games.
That isn’t to say that the game is horrible by any means, just that it is one that looks to be holding the player at arm’s length at times to keep them from really embracing the game and the world it inhabits through the methods used to create this world. Fans of Type-Moon will likely get more out of this game than the average gamer encountering one of their works for the first time here as there are a number of appearances by characters from some of Type-Moon’s other works to help provide a boost to the game enjoyment of their fans that just won’t translate to those unfamiliar with the company. While the game has depth to it when it comes to its story and the philosophy it presents, exactly how well portions of it are received by the player is likely to be more subjective than many other games on the market and its basic and repetitive combat isn’t going to be enough to really win over most casual gamers as this is largely a game that relies heavily on the Fate connections to carry interest in order to get past the somewhat mediocre combat sections and create a longing to see how events play out.
Fate/Extra takes some of the ideas and characters from the original visual novel and places its own spin on it by creating a new protagonist and moving events to a more technological than mostly mystical setup. While the generic nature of combat may limit the games appeal to some, the options present which allow for some variation in game play as well as different endings being present may allow for those who enjoy the game and its characters to get some decent replay out of its events. Fate/Extra is not the type of game that is likely to be a huge unexpected breakout due to its limitations but those who enjoy some solid game play with a fairly inventive story would be rewarded in giving it a look, though those who are already fans of some of the larger Fate/StayNight properties may get more of a kick out of the game then those discovering the franchise for the first time with this entry.
Content Grade: B-
Text/Translation Grade: B+