Reviews

Fate/EXTELLA LINK review – Simply Marvelous

Fate is one hell of a series, starting out as a niche eroge visual novel and eventually, thanks to its quality storytelling, spawning a more mainstream version, various light novels, manga series, video game spin-offs, anime and mobile mega-hits.

Taking place after Marvelous’ previous Musou-esque battler, Fate/EXTELLA: The Umbral Star, Fate/EXTELLA LINK covers the events after the ‘Moon’s Holy Grail War’ (read: big ol’ fight to the death), all under the watchful eye of the creator of the seminal Fate/Stay Night, Kinoko Nasu.

Fate is one hell of a series, starting out as a niche eroge visual novel and eventually, thanks to its quality storytelling, spawning a more mainstream version, various light novels, manga series, video game spin-offs, anime and mobile mega-hits.

Taking place after Marvelous’ previous Musou-esque battler, Fate/EXTELLA: The Umbral Star, Fate/EXTELLA LINK covers the events after the ‘Moon’s Holy Grail War’ (read: big ol’ fight to the death), all under the watchful eye of the creator of the seminal Fate/Stay Night, Kinoko Nasu.

If you’ve Played The Umbral Star, Skip This Bit… or not, I’m not your Dad

To get you up to speed, the protagonist, originally a student, saw nearly everyone they knew deleted after discovering they were all NPCs in a digital world known as SE.RA.PH. With the Earth nothing more than a dying husk, the remnants of humanity were in a bit of a pickle and decided they were done with boring old flesh bodies. So they uploaded their consciousness. To the moon. Stay with me.

This world, hosted in an ancient supercomputer on the moon, has no use for NPCs once the game has ended and this time round, for those not participating in the Moon’s Holy Grail War, it spelled Ctrl+Alt+Del, end task. Fortunately, our hero turned out to be part of the cool crowd and, as a Master (and Wizard) joined and won the war, thus becoming ruler of the virtual world. Deciding to mess with the order, the prize of the Holy Grail was used to ensure NPCs were no longer slaves to the system and were given full autonomy, breaking the cycle of Holy Grail Wars and removing all other Masters in the process. That’s nice. The now free Servants made factions set about starting another war, so you and your badass Servant, Nero roundly trounced them all, bring order under the one banner… and that’s just the recap.

If you don’t know your Servants from your Sabres or your Casters from your Masters, you stand to feel a little bewildered by the dense lore, but fear not, once it gets going, the plot isn’t difficult to follow.

Shoot The Moon

After choosing an avatar from a binary male or female choice, our hero is quickly thrown into a situation in which, as a Master, they’ve no choice but to use one of their invaluable Command Spells to summon a Servant, the class of which can be selected by the player. Servants, for the uninitiated, are warriors based on history, mythology or literature ranging from the god-like Archer-class Gilgamesh, to the nutjob weirdo Caster-class Gilles De Rais and his command of eldritch monsters. There’s a threat to SE.RA.PH. a mysterious jerk who wants to wreck

Fate/EXTELLA LINK is a third-person hack and slash game that follows many Senran Kagura conventions. It’s a flashy, fast-paced Musou clone filled with energy and a diverse line-up of powerful warriors with crazy techniques and intricate backstories. However, the action is but one half of the mix, with the story, presented in a visual novel format, also being a huge focus.

As in Fate/EXTELLA: The Umbral Star, you take direct control of your selected Servant. And once you’re a good way through there’s an overwhelming selection. This time there are a total of twenty-six Servants made up of The Umbral Star’s batch of sixteen, as well as ten all new warriors, all with their own brand of panache. The colourful cast was a joy to flick through and with straightforward tutorial snippets and easy to use, well layout our interface, the down time between fights and story beats was just as involved. Picking you favourite combination of Servant and moveset gives this RPG-like element of character management enough depth without being overbearing. Relationship building aspects are a fairly barebones and shallow, but fun means of increasing the potency of support abilities. It’s not too involved and doesn’t require any huge commitment, but its presence adds only a wafer-thin entry to the list of stuff-to-do.

Moonshine

Character customization is here in spades. Servants have unlockable costumes with some fun designs and unique attack skills can be equipped and changed to suit you preferred fighting style. Mystic Codes are equipable items which add support abilities and are obtained from missions or crafted in the hub area and there are options for passive stat-upgrades underpinned but the usual levelling system. That said, there’s no avoiding the fact that it’s all under the umbrella of the Musou-DNA; alevel of simplicity in actual combat.

Basic attacks are chained together with simple two button combinations. Repeatedly performing a light attack, then adding a heavy attack during the auto-combo leads to a more ending powerful strike or flurry. Much like in Senran Kagura, a quick jump and air-dash lead in to a chained attack can lead to some satisfying and visually arresting plays. Extensions to your combos aren’t unlocked as quickly and sequentially as they were in the last game, however there are more special move options in their place. Holding down a shoulder button gives access to face-button-triggered spells which can feel neatly woven into your attack string when used frequently. Each has a necessary cooldown as these moves make short work of the crowds, especially if you trigger the Moon Drive, which boosts stats for a short period of time. Things get more interesting when throwing in your Servant’s ultimate attack; their regally named Noble Phantasm. After filling your gauge and letting rip, your Noble Phantasm plays out in a short cutscene and the result is often a grandiose display of beams, slashes and explosions.

The combat, while still firmly drawn in the Musou/Senran shade of simplicity never felt quite as repetitive as I had believed it would have at first glance. The reason? Partially my investment in the management of my Servants but also in the sheer speed of combat. Flipping from one side of the room to the other is a breeze but with that feeling of empowerment comes a sense of urgency, leading to generally exciting battles. That’s not to say LINK is immune to the cycle of its simplistic nature, far from it, but it certainly helps.

The mission structures are limited to the usual ‘follow-the-flashing-marker-on-the-mini-map’. The same old tired layout of ‘box after box, take on 1,000 enemies, trigger sub-boss emergence, take out sub-boss, wait for real boss’ pattern wore me down eventually. Things have been remixed in an attempt to add variety but, really, hitting up that Mana Point x before taking down enemy y isn’t the change that was advertised.

Other modes allow the freedom to tackle previously completed missions and there’s a more challenging Extra Battle mode that brings some alternative scenarios to the table. It’s the type of content I’ve come to expect from a game of this mould, but its inclusion can heap on hours of additional playtime. I admittedly usually burn out before getting on to the extras but it’s nice to be able to return to one the plot had been covered.

Light Side of the Moon

The plot is dense, if a touch uninspired, but following the thoughts of your character gives you a decent connection and level of immersion. There are also a couple of routes to take before reaching the True Ending, adding another angle to the narrative. However, what really elevates this package is a decent level of technical performance and, although graphically dated and suffering in image quality on Switch, a brilliant visual design and improved adoption of the stunning art direction. While the areas in overall sandbox structure are linear and limited, there’s always something interesting to look at, even travelling from place to place drags you through a digital tunnel which acts bit of a low-key rollercoaster and the flying fortress that acts as the hub area looks awesome. There’s minimal use of verticality within stages but the fact that there’s any at all helps.

My previous reviews of Dynasty Warriors titles and their spin-offs all generally fell into the same category; I enjoy them immensely but cannot ignore their shortcomings. While the same applies here, the coat of paint offered by the unusual and flamboyant Fate franchise does more than enough to make it stand out as a very different proposition. Whether you prefer the Senran approach or the generally slower Musou approach is really a matter of taste. Fate/Extella LINK for me sits comfortably in the genre’s rotation as a bit of a gem, containing the best of both worlds.

Verdict:

Graphics: 7
Presentation: 9
Sound: 7

Gameplay: 8

Overall Score: 8/10

Format: PS4, Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PC
Price: £44.99 (UK eShop)
Publisher: Marvelous Europe
Developer: Marvelous
Age Rating: PEGI 12

Release Date: 22/03/19 (UK eShop)

Review copy provided by publisher

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