Inside Pulse 12

Review: Fate/Extra Limited Edition (Sony Playstation Portable)

Fate/Extra Limited Edition
Genre: RPG
Developer: Image Epoch
Publisher: Aksys Games
Release Date: 11/01/11

The Japanese Fate series (not to be confused with the US Fate series of Diablo clones) is one of two notable franchises from Japanese developer Type Moon to make a name for itself, with the other being Tsukihime. While Tsukihime has thrived almost exclusively outside of the US with several sequels and expansions associated to it, as well as the surprisingly popular Melty Blood franchise, Fate has managed to make some headway in the US market, albeit slowly. The anime series has been brought to the US market, Fate/Stay Night has somehow managed to carve out a decent fanbase despite not actually having an official US translation, and Capcom even saw fit to bring us Fate/Unlimited Codes on the PSP, even if it was only in download form, all of which are more than Tsukihime can claim (though I would kill for a US release of a Melty Blood game). As such, it kind of makes sense to see Aksys translate and bring over Fate/Extra, in the sense that the brand kind of has some name recognition amongst the hardcore set, and the PSP library at this point is dwindling rapidly, which brings immediate attention to anything that comes out for it. However, Fate/Extra isn’t simply a part of the franchise, but is, rather, something of a weird reimagining of the events of the series, acting as a sort of futuristic alternate world take on the Fate universe. Further, it’s unlike anything the franchise has ever done before, acting more as a weird sort of Persona 3 meets rock-paper-scissors sort of game than anything else, and while that’s certainly interesting, it’s also kind of a risk for all parties involved. Whether or not that risk was worth it will really be up to the player, however, as Fate/Extra is certainly an interesting game… but whether that interest translates into enjoyment is another story altogether.

The plot of Fate/Extra follows the base concept of the franchise: a bunch of people knows as Magus’ join together to fight in a tournament known as “The Holy Grail War”, but instead of fighting directly, they instead summon Servants to fight in their stead against each other. Whoever wins the tournament when everything is all said and done ends up being granted access to the Holy Grail, which is an instrument that, by all indications, can grant wishes, which is why so many of the players involve are willing to participate in a tournament that is likely to spell their demise. However, in Fate/Extra, the scenario is changed around a bit: this time, the tournament seems to be taking place in the future, in a sort of virtual reality world, and everything associated with the tournament is based in that virtual reality rather than the “real” world. Your character is the nameless protagonist in this world who is drawn into a situation they don’t wholly understand, but unlike in the normal story, the reason for this is because the virtual reality integration process involved has indirectly failed to restore your memories upon your successful passing of the initial test to prove your worthiness to enter the tournament. Since participation in this tournament is wholly voluntary, as it happens, your entrance was voluntary, but you no longer remember why, or anything else for that matter. The plot is a good bit more involved than that, of course, and is quite interesting as a result, as the Holy Grail War concept itself is interesting and the way this game handles it is even more so. The dialogue is well written, both for your antagonists/allies and for the introspective musings of your main character, and purely on a writing level, it works and is interesting enough to carry the story along.

That said, however, one of the more positive elements of the Tsukihime and Fate products was that, while the stories were (obviously) centered around the conflicts the characters faced, there were generally multiple pathways to follow and more positive endings one could achieve. Fate/Extra does not do this. The story itself is very morose in thought and deed, which starts almost immediately from the point where you realize that any of the actual human characters, IE those that are not AI constructs in this world, are basically going to die by your hand at some point or another, and goes forward from there. The point of the plot, to be certain, seems to be aiming toward the futility of war using the Holy Grail War as a catalyst, but while this is a fine concept, when the execution of your concept basically pays off with an ending that basically tells you that your efforts were mostly futile, that seems kind of counter-productive. The game makes no secret that the world outside of the Holy Grail War AI is rough, to be fair, but when the game presents the player with what is honestly kind of a harsh revelation at the end of the first week of battle and no one cares, that basically just sets the tone for what is, frankly, a depressing tale with a pointedly sour ending, especially if one considers all of the events up to that point and the fact that anyone who loses in the tournament is forced to die, for example. It’s clear that there was something of an underlying message here, and that’s fine, but it’s not a message that everyone is going to like, as, frankly, it’s a bitter one that, at the absolute most, offers a tiny bit of hope for the future amidst a tragic tale with no real resolution provided or forthcoming.

Fate/Extra makes good use of the PSP’s processing power, as its visuals are technically interesting, though on an artistic level, the game is somewhat awkward. The named characters all look pretty good, featuring plenty of strong animations and personality to spare, and the school area looks appropriate to what one would expect of a traditional high school environment, if nothing else. The Arena is also constantly changing as you change from week to week, and while the detail in the Arena is very much meant to look like that of a virtual reality world, the aesthetic changes made between weeks are interesting and give the game more of a dynamic feel. On the other hand, the enemies you face outside of the Holy Grail War battles, IE the generic enemies that populate the Arena during day to day combat, are fairly generic data monsters that are occasionally patterned after real-world animals, and the designs for many of them repeat from week to week, which ends up making the core dungeon exploring kind of rote after a while. The game features an interesting soundtrack tat mixes plenty of powerful orchestral bits with the odd pop and jazz sounding tunes that help keep things feeling interesting, and the music is actually rather good across the game. The voice acting in the game is sporadic, with the odd bits of voiced dialogue in cutscenes and a decent amount of dialogue in battle, but it’s generally fine and works well, though it’s Japanese dialogue only, for those who might find this disagreeable. The various audio effects in the game are perfectly fine, all in all, both in and out of combat, though some are a little more pronounced than others, such as the breaking glass noise that accompanies a successful Break attack action.

Once you get through the surreal introductory segment of Fate/Extra, the game basically boils down into a simple pattern. At the beginning of each week, you’re told which Master you’ll be matched up against, and you’ll spend the next several days hunting around the school and fighting through the Arena to glean information on the Master’s Servant and increase your Servant’s abilities before the big battle at the end of the week. The controls are fairly simple to wrap your head around, whether you’re in school or the Arena, and the game offers a good amount of explanations and tutorials on how everything works. The D-pad and analog stick move you around, the X button acts as your default interact/confirm button, and the Circle button acts as your default back up/cancel button. Triangle allows you to bring up the game menu, from which you can change gear, look at items and check your stats, while the Square button acts as a sub-menu button, allowing you a location change menu in school and an item/skill use menu in the Arena and combat. The triggers mostly just cycle through menus and rotate the camera, though you can only really change the camera angle in the Arena, and you can use Circle to center the camera behind you as needed. Nothing is terribly overbearing as far as the controls are concerned, and you should be able to figure out how the base gameplay works in a few minutes, as it’s really not at all complex to understand the basics.

During the day, you’ll spend your time wandering around the school, trying to scare up information on your next opponent, so the school acts as a sort of hub or “town” where you can talk to NPC’s, improve your skills and acquire goods. You’ll spend most of your time talking to NPC’s or interacting with the environment, of course, as the school sections often offer important information about your upcoming battles, and finding this information is of vital importance. Interacting with the various NPC’s and needed items in the school is as simple as walking up to them and pressing X, though in many cases choices will pop up as a result of this that you’ll have to pick. Many of the choices are just about character development and seeing dialogue branches, but more than a few are important for getting the information you need or simply for not dying, so when the game recommends you should save routinely across multiple files, it means that. You can also talk to your Servant in your private room, either for general conversation about them and yourself or to discuss acquired information about the opponent, depending on the circumstances. Aside from searching and talking to people, however, the school also houses the Commissary, which acts as the shop, the Chapel, which allows you to level your Servant up, and the odd side missions you can take from Miss Taiga on the first floor if you’re so inclined.

The shop is fairly self-explanatory: you can buy new equipment and items from there, to be frank. Items are your standard one-and-done consumables that buff stats or replenish meters, among other things, but equipment is a little more involved. Your Master can equip two items at one time, each of which can come equipped with two boosts of some type. Often, one of the two (if it comes with two) buffs is an MP increase for your Master, but the other is likely going to be some kind of skill you can use to buff/heal your Servant or screw with the other enemy/Servant in battle, making each piece of gear useful in its own right, so you’ll have to weigh what you want to equip against the skills of the enemies before putting on your gear. The Chapel and the associated leveling system are also a bit more involved than you might think. Basically, each time you level up in battle, your MP and your Servant’s HP and MP increase, and you also receive Skill Points to dump into their abilities. You’re offered a choice of three Servants at the beginning of the game: Saber, a good all-around character who is basically stronger than the others and easier to develop; Archer, who is mediocre to start and more complex to develop, but more balanced in the end; and Caster, who is the hardest to start with and develop because of her reliance on magic, but essentially the most powerful of the lot. As you dump points into the skills of your chosen Servant, they’ll learn new skills that they can employ in battle (either actively or passively) regardless of what stats you upgrade, and they’ll eventually upgrade their grade level in each stat as you dump points into it. Now, as you’d expect, the different stats are going to be both easier to upgrade and more useful for some classes than others, meaning that Saber will find it easier to jack out her Strength than Caster, and vice-versa with Magic, and as such, you’ll need to be aware of these things when developing your character before you send them out into battle to defend you, as this knowledge is the difference between getting smeared and emerging victorious.

Eventually, you’ll need to take to the Arena, which will allow you to level up, find more gear, and progress the plot. For the most part, Arena navigation is functionally similar to something like Persona 3: you’re given a 3D dungeon which you have to move around, and the odd enemy will pop up before you and, if it attacks, generate a random combat event. There are beginning portals and end portals to exit the Arena from on each floor, as well as secret passages and items to collect, so none of this should be strange if you’re familiar with the genre. The combat system, however, is a whole different animal. Once you get into a battle, you’ll see six sets of bars appear at the bottom of the screen, each indicating a segment of each round. You’ll have to select six actions for your Servant, and the enemy will do the same, before the round begins. You’re offered three base actions for your Servant to perform: Attack, which attacks normally and shreds Breaks, Defend, which protects against Attacks, and Break, which crushes a Defend action. As you’d guess, the system is a rock/paper/scissors system, so each attack type has an equal, an attack type it’s strong against and an attack type it’s weak against. The gimmick in this case is that you can only see so many attacks on the enemy’s grid, leaving you to guess what the blank attacks might be and hope you’re right. When dealing with the normal enemies on the Arena floors, fighting the same types of enemies over and over will eventually reveal more blocks from their grids, allowing you more knowledge of their attacks in advance, though most enemy types fight in certain styles that can be guessed beforehand to a decent level. Servants, on the other hand, can only have their grids uncovered by the aforementioned information gaining sessions, hence why these are vital. Being able to predict many of the opponent’s moves means the difference between life and death here, after all. You can also pull up the special menu to use one special attack from your Servant in place of a turn action or to use a spell or item from your Master’s list, though you can only perform one each round, while your Servant can perform as many special attacks as they have MP for. Special attacks cancel out opposing actions when they’re normal attacks, but if both Servants use a special, they both go off, so you can’t cancel out an opponent’s special attacks, for the record.

You’ll probably see your first session with Fate/Extra through in about thirty hours or so, depending on the amount of times you have to restart a section and how much time you spend grinding, but there’s more to see than the first playthrough. You’re given two difficulty levels (though this mostly seems to influence whether there are healing fonts on the Arena floors or not) and three Servants to play with, as well as a big plot branch halfway through the game that changes around several of the game events and Masters/Servants you face, so if for no other reason than to see everything the game has to offer, you’ve got plenty of replay options right there. The game also offers you a hidden boss on your second playthrough if you clear all the Taiga quests, who will be very familiar to fans of other Type Moon works or, if nothing else, Melty Blood. The game also gives you a New Game Plus option once you’ve completed the game, though it only carries over your equipment, cash and attack patterns of enemies, which is nice in that it takes some of the work out of a second or third playthrough with a different Servant, but annoying if you wanted to try and max out a Servant, so, HAVE FUN GRINDING, I guess. In any case, there’s a good amount of content to Fate/Extra beyond the standard for the genre at this point, and for anyone who wants to see everything the game has to offer, the game offers plenty of reasons to do so and options for those who want to accomplish this.

The game also offers a Limited Edition release, shown here:

The Limited Edition comes with the game itself as well as an art book and a soundtrack CD, though it sadly lacks the awesome Saber figure that came with the Japanese Limited Edition. As Limited Editions go, this one isn’t bad; the art book is pleasant to look at, albeit meager in comparison to those included with something like Otomedius Excellent or Catherine, and the game soundtrack is rather enjoyable and nice to own in disc form. For the additional ten dollars the Limited Edition costs, it’s not bad, and fans of the franchise will likely enjoy having the extras enough to make it worth the cost, as it’s still available as of this point.

Having said that, however, unless you’re really into the characters in the game specifically or the Fate universe, it’s unlikely you’ll be excited to return to the game unless you really want to try and build up a Caster or whatever. While there are two different routes to the endgame, they more or less end up at the same place, so while you’ll see some different events along the way, you’ll end up at basically the same ending point no matter which way you go. Beyond that, though, even if the plot is compelling enough to you to drive you to accomplish this, the combat is, frankly, unexciting. The first few times you run into an enemy can be tense, what with the not knowing what their attack patterns are and all, and the possibility of being one-shotted by more powerful enemies exists, but the second go-round doesn’t really do anything to make the combat more engaging or interesting. It’s just rock/paper/scissors for thirty hours, and you’ll be offered the choice to do this all over entirely, thus making battle more frustrating than interesting since you’ve dealt with these enemies before and are stuck doing so with nothing, or rote because you know their patterns up-front and can shred them with ease. This might be fine if there was some sort of worthwhile variation to things, but, again, everything’s going to the same place eventually and seeing your Servant’s plotline play out is really the only reason for continuing, as the challenge of playing as a new servant is mitigated somewhat by the fact that the combat eventually just becomes boring. Oh, and as an added unfortunate “whoops”, there’s no option to save the game when in the Arena, at all, which is basically an unforgivable sin in the world of handheld gaming, for reasons I shouldn’t even have to explain at this point.

Fate/Extra has some really cool ideas that could have been made into an excellent experience, and it shows moments where it wants, very desperately, to be that, but in the end, it manages only to be a love-it-or-hate-it experience because of some very polarizing plot and design elements. The plot and dialogue are very well written and translated, and the game looks and sounds solid on the PSP. The game is very simple to play and anyone should be able to grasp the basics, but there’s a challenge to the rock/paper/scissors combat that could be engaging to a player who’s interested. There’s a good length to the main plot as well, and with two difficulty modes, three Servants to choose from, and a New Game Plus option built in, someone who enjoys the game enough to go through it once could easily go through the game multiple times to build up the characters and see what the game fully has to offer. However, while the plot is well written, it’s also very depressing and ends on a mostly sour note, and while the game is technically interesting, many of its enemy designs are not. Further, the plot events only change somewhat based on your chosen Servant and plot path and “all roads lead to Rome”, as they say, which means that you’ll be ending up at the same point no matter what, which is further hampered by the combat that eventually becomes repetitive and tedious the longer you play the game and the inability to save at all while in the Arena. If there were more flexibility and options in the plot, or more variety to the combat elements, Fate/Extra would come easily recommended, as it does a lot of things very well and shows off some great ideas, but for many players, it will be a one-and-done experience that leaves them unsatisfied and unwilling to return.

The Scores:
Story: ABOVE AVERAGE
Graphics: GOOD
Sound: GREAT
Control/Gameplay: GOOD
Replayability: ABOVE AVERAGE
Balance: GREAT
Originality: GOOD
Addictiveness: ABOVE AVERAGE
Appeal: MEDIOCRE
Miscellaneous: MEDIOCRE

FINAL SCORE: ENJOYABLE GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Like it says above, Fate/Extra is an enjoyable game, but it’s a game that could have been more than that with some better design choices, as it ends up being a game that is more divisive than it should be. There’s some quality writing and translation in the story, and the visuals and audio are largely pretty good all around. The game is very simple to get into and play but offers some challenge in the actual mechanics thanks to the investigation and rock/paper/scissors systems, and the game offers multiple characters, difficulties, and plot paths to follow that could inspire a player to come back for more once the game is complete. However, the plot is also quite morose and depressing in its actual execution and leaves the player on a low note for most of the experience, and many of the common enemy designs are rather bland compared to basically anything else in the game. Further, while there are options for those who wish to replay the game, the game leads to the same dreary place in the end, which doesn’t motivate much want to see it through again, nor does the fact that the combat becomes boring far earlier than it should or the fact that you’re unable to save in any way while in the Arena. If Fate/Extra had some better execution in some respects, the final result might have ended up being something easily recommended, but as it is, it’s honestly a game that’s only going to appeal to a limited number of people, as for all of its good ideas, it fails in some obvious and fundamentally depressing ways.

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  • This is what I would vote for PSP game of the year ~

    I did have a problem with not having saving points in the Arenas, I really hope CCC remedies that. But, the battle system is actually really fun for myself. And I’ve loved the story so far (on Week 5). The character interactions are amazing, and Aksys’ script is just beyond amazing. Rarely can I turn the voices off in a game, and truly enjoy it~

    I do wish that they did more with the Servant romances, but I suspect they’ll expand on that in CCC.