Review: Fate/Unlimited Codes (Sony PSP)

Fate/Unlimited Codes
Genre: Fighting
Developer: Eighting
Publisher: Capcom
Release Date: 09/03/09


Type Moon is a fairly unknown developer in the US, but for import fans, they ‘re affiliated with two awesome franchises: Melty Blood and Fate/stay night. Melty Blood started out as a PC fighting game series that featured characters from various Type Moon novels and eroge visual novels (AKA adventure games with less interaction and more nudity) before making its way to Japanese PS2’s, where it achieved moderate popularity. Fate/stay night, however, followed a more complex path to success. The original game in the series was another eroge visual novel, but the game proved incredibly popular, so much so that a cleaned up version of the game, dubbed Fate/stay night Realta Nua was released on the PS2. A PC sequel, Fate/hollow ataraxia brought back the adult themes while maintaining many of the characters and the visual novel approach, and the franchise became popular enough to spawn an anime that found its way to the US. Having seen decent success with Melty Blood, Type Moon apparently decided to commission a fighting game based on Fate/stay night, dubbed Fate/Unlimited Codes, for the PS2 and PSP. The anime, also dubbed Fate/stay night, proved to be popular amongst US anime fans, which thus apparently inspired Capcom to localize the PSP version of Fate/Unlimited Codes as a downloadable PSP game, which, after much supposition, brings us to where we are today.

Got all that? Good.

Now, the Melty Blood games are generally stellar; Melty Blood: Act Cadenza was a fabulous fast-paced game that was quite easy to pick up and learn, and the recently released Melty Blood: Actress Again is even better, and you’ll be seeing a review of that just as soon as I get a chance, I promise you that. As such, Fate/Unlimited Codes has a pretty lofty pedigree to love up to; based off of a well-liked franchise and borne from a developer who has already shown their capabilities with fighting games, for the game to be anything less than good would be astonishing. In other words, developer Eighting had a lot to live up to from the get-go, and given their spotty track record (on one hand, Bloody Roar 3, on the other, Castlevania Judgement), the possibility for failure was high. Well, the good news is that Fate/Unlimited Codes manages to be quite good without much effort, as it’s a generally solid game that retains many elements from Melty Blood while still managing to be its own experience entirely, and it translates the world of Fate/stay night faithfully enough that fans of the franchise should be more than satisfied with the results. As PSP fighting games go, it’s not quite as robust as some other games on the console, but it’s generally a very solid game that portable fighting fans will have a lot of fun with.

So, assuming you have no idea what the story of Fate/stay night is, well… okay, the gist is that there’s this magical item called the Holy Grail, and every sixty years, a bunch of mages get together with their magically summoned servants to fight over the Grail, because it grants wishes. The mages are dubbed Masters, and the magic servants are their Slaves, with the idea being that the Slaves fight each other until they or their masters are defeated or dead, with the Master then claiming the grail as their own. The story of the game revolves around a kid named Shiro, who wants to be a mage to help people, even though he’s pretty terrible at it. One day, Shiro ends up almost getting killed in a fight between two Slaves, and when one of the Slaves comes to finish him off, a Slave known as Saber (the Slaves are named by their combat type, basically) shows up to save him before more or less declaring Shiro her master. From there, the pair essentially attempt to claim the Grail before anyone else can, though as you might expect, it’s nowhere as easy as it sounds.

Now, the actual story of Fate/stay night is significantly more complex than that, as there’s a great deal of backstory and explanation involved that really makes the storyline interesting and involved, though Fate/Unlimited Codes really only hits the high points. On the plus side, the story in this game is still pretty solid for a fighting game, thanks to the excellent source material, and there’s still a pretty good amount of exposition and storyline in the game, enough to make it interesting. As far as game modes go, you’ve got your standard Arcade Mode which doubles as Story Mode here, your Versus Modes, against the CPU and Human players, and your standard Practice Mode for learning characters, You can also Spectate, to watch two characters fight it out, a Tutorial Mode where you can actually learn how to play the game (THANK YOU), a Missions Mode where you can undertake various missions per character, an unlockable Survival Mode and Endless Survival Mode where you plow through enemies until you lose, and the ability to view Extras, such as cinematics and character art. There’s a lot to do with the game, especially for a hand-held fighter, which makes it well worth the investment from the get-go for fighting game fans.

Visually, Fate/Unlimited Codes eschews the Melty Blood style of 2D sprites, choosing instead to use 3D for the visuals, and the 3D in the game generally looks pleasing to the eye. The characters are well rendered and their animations are smooth and clean, and the battle special effects are flashy without being gaudy or overpowering. The backgrounds look nice enough, though some are prettier than others, and while there are some more impressive looking fighting games on the PSP, the style of Fate/Unlimited Codes is enough to make it enjoyable to watch in action, and the frame rate is pretty stellar, to boot. Aurally, the music consists mostly of electronic tracks with a few classical sounding tunes tossed in when needed, and the music is all pretty good. The sound effects sound appropriate for a game where magically infused beings beat the crap out of one another, and they work well to establish the impact of the associated moves. The voice acting is entirely in Japanese, so if you were hoping for an English dub, it’s not to be, but the voices are generally quite nice and are appropriately done, giving the characters a good bit more personality than they might have otherwise had.

Fate/Unlimited Codes, at first glance, seems like a cross between various Arc System Works titles and Mortal Kombat, astonishingly enough. The game is played on a semi-3D plane, as the com at takes place on a 2D plane, but characters can dodge into the background and foreground to evade or set up attacks. Your characters are given three attack buttons to work with, which are weak, medium and strong, and can be used in combination for multi-hit chains. The special moves should seem fairly familiar to fighting fans, as they’re done in a fashion similar to those of Mortal Kombat, IE forward, forward button or down, forward button instead of the normal fireball motions. This seems odd, especially after Melty Blood used standard rolling motions for its special moves, but it actually works very well with the PSP D-pad. The game is otherwise fairly standard; double-tapping forward or backward dashes, holding back blocks, pressing up jumps, pressing down ducks, pressing light and medium with forward throws an opponent, doing the same while pressing back switches places, and so on. Fans of the genre should be able to pick up the basics with little to no effort, as the game is quite user friendly in its design, and the game actually offers two separate tutorials on the game mechanics to allow new players to learn the game.

The game is so much more than its basics, however. First off, the game has a Reflect button, which allows you to essentially counter an opponent’s attack and counter if successful, at the cost of your magic meter. You can use it to counter attacks, or you can enable a Reflect Cancel while you’re attacking to cancel into new moves to keep the hurting on. Speaking of the Magic meter, it works as your Super Meter; you can build three levels up by attacking and blocking, though it’s used for a good bit more than simply unleashing Super Moves. You can burn part of it to knock an opponent back while blocking, dubbed Advancing Guard, to give yourself breathing room. You can also burn some to counter a blocked attack, called Guard Cancel, to turn an attack against your opponent. The character can also perform various Bursts by pressing all three attack buttons, depending on the situation. Magic Burst drains the Magic bar slowly, but in this mode, specials can be cancelled into supers, most characters gain additional super moves or other special abilities, and the Reflect guard costs nothing to enable in this mode, making it a good desperation action. You can also Offensive and Defensive Burst to change the tide of battle. The Defensive Burst can be activated when you take or block a hit, and knock the opponent back, while the Offensive Burst can be activated in the middle of an attack, allowing you to cancel a combo and start it over, let’s say.

There’s also the matter of the Holy Grail system, which essentially offers a chance for the player to do some serious damage or turn the tide of battle. Essentially, as you destroy each other, the Grail fills up in the center of the life bars. Whoever fills it to the top (that is, gets in the hit that fills it) gets Holy Grail Max, which by itself doesn’t do much. However, doing so when your Magic is at full and then enabling Magic Burst essentially kicks in a Grail Burst. This, too, doesn’t do much on its own… until you whip out your EX Super, which, if it connects, is incredibly impressive and wipes out a ton of health in the process, which you can use to either obliterate a foe or turn things in your favor. Fortunately, the game gives your characters two full life bars per round, for no adequately explained reason, which means that losing one bar still leaves you with a chance to come back in that round. You can also chain combinations from weak to medium to heavy in the game, dubbed Slash Rave, which can then in turn be chained into special moves, which can then be chained into Super Moves, meaning that you can essentially decimate an opponent with a good, solid combo. There are other interesting mechanics here and there, but the above covers the majority of what the gameplay offers, as it’s very in-depth and interesting.

The Arcade Mode is fairly standard; you face eight enemies in succession as the game explains the storyline of whatever character you’ve chosen to play, followed by a cute mini-game where Illya destroys skeletons… or something… with Reflect if you press the X button at the right time. Practice Mode allows you to practice your skills against a training dummy as you see fit. You also have a Basic and Advanced Tutorial to work with if you want to really learn the mechanics; the Basic Tutorial teaches you the basics of combat and how to play, while the Advanced Tutorial focuses more on Cancels and advanced special techniques. The Mission Mode is also a good place to learn the mechanics of the game, as it tasks you with performing various special moves and combos, which helps to teach you combos you might not have figured out or to learn the timing of various things, which is very useful for learning your favorite characters and determining what is and is not effective. The Versus Modes allow you to simply take on the CPU or another player with a copy of the game through Ad Hoc mode, though there’s no download play or online play specifically supported through the game. There’s an unlockable Survival Mode that tasks you with plowing through sixteen characters, and by doing THAT you unlock Endless Survival, which gives you an infinite amount of enemies to go through, if you want to really build your skills. The rest of the game modes, such as the Extras section that lets you look at artwork and cinemas, or the Spectate Mode that lets you watch a fight between two characters, are nice little add-ons, but they won’t see as much use as the other modes. There are also additional unlockable things, like a BGM test, costumes from Fate/hollow ataraxia and several hidden characters, and between the unlockables and the various modes, there are plenty of reasons to spend lots of time with Fate/Unlimited Codes.

The biggest issues against the game come down to the fact that it probably would have been better in its PS2 form rather than the PSP form. The game takes up around five hundred megabytes of space on a memory stick, and the only way to play it against others is if they’ve downloaded it to their card, which means you need to have friends with at least 1GB memory sticks who are willing to download it. Further, while the game is quite playable on the PSP, thanks to the more deliberate pacing of combos and the Mortal Kombat style special moves, the game generally feels like it would be better played on a console, as the PSP isn’t the best system for 2D fighting games, frankly. It might also be hard for gamers to swallow a thirty dollar price tag for a download-only title, as many physical releases cost that much for the PSP. Also, though the gameplay is mostly quite solid, the Holy Grail mechanic has the potential to be abused by fast attackers, as the Grail goes to the person who gets the final hit needed to fill the gauge, which is abusable in the right hands, and some characters, such as Saber Alter (one of the hidden characters) feel a bit overpowered when compared to everyone else.

Taken on its own merits, Fate/Unlimited Codes is a good fighting game for the PSP that’s well worth your cash if you’re even a little bit of a fan of fighting games, and while it’s not quite the best fighting game on the console, it’s still damn good. The story of the visual novels is condensed well enough to be understandable and is enjoyable to experience, the game generally looks good and sounds great, and the gameplay is easy enough to understand while being complex enough to keep you learning and practicing for hours. There a ton of gameplay modes to keep you coming back in single player, and a decent amount of things to unlock to boot, and you can play against a friend if they have the game downloaded themselves to keep things fresh. The game lacks online play and can’t be played against anyone who doesn’t own it, however, and due to its large size and notable price point, you might not find many people to play against at first. The Holy Grail mechanic is a bit exploitable, and some characters feel a little unbalanced in spots when compared to the rest of the roster. By and large, however, Fate/Unlimited Codes is a worthwhile purchase, and if you’re a fan of the visual novels, Melty Blood, or fighting games in general, it’s well worth your cash.

The Scores:
Story/Game Modes: CLASSIC
Graphics: GOOD
Sound: GREAT
Control/Gameplay: GREAT
Replayability: GREAT
Balance: GOOD
Originality: GOOD
Addictiveness: GREAT
Appeal: GOOD
Miscellaneous: CLASSIC

FINAL SCORE: GREAT GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Fate/Unlimited Codes is one of the better fighting games on the PSP, and while it might have been better off as a console release, it’s still well worth checking out if you’re even a little bit of a fan of fighting games, as it’s a generally well-rounded, enjoyable product. The story is enjoyable and captures the essence of the original visual novels well without dumbing them down or getting overly descriptive, the visuals are clean and technically proficient enough and look artistically, if not technically, pleasing, and the audio is generally solid across the board. The gameplay meets the challenge of being simple to learn yet complex to master, the game makes it obvious that it has every interest in teaching you how to play and be good at it, there’s plenty of variety and longevity to the game, and all in all it’s mostly stellar on those merits alone. However, the game offers no way to play against a person unless they own the game and are local to you, and because of its size and price, it might be hard to convince your friends to shell out thirty dollars for a five hundred megabyte download. The Holy Grail mechanic, though interesting, is also a bit exploitable in some cases, and some characters seem unbalanced in some cases. If you’re at all a fan of fighting games or the Fate/stay night series, however, Fate/Unlimited Codes is a worthwhile purchase, as it’s stylish, fun and generally worth its asking price in every way that matters.

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