Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star on PS4
I didn’t play Fate/Extra on PSP when it was released back in 2010. As I made my way through Fate/Extella, its direct sequel, it started to dawn on me how important that was. The plot was absolutely incomprehensible to me; the action, while slick, fast-paced, and vaguely satisfying, left me cold when all was said and done.
It took an extremely long time for all to be said and done, too. There are reams and reams of text to read through, and while I admit to not being familiar with the game’s predecessor, I should surely be able to piece something together? Not so, after several hours I started to go numb; my eyes felt as though they had had the last dregs of moisture wrung from them as they crawled over absurd dialogue spouted from absurd and inaccessible characters. I did put some ground work in: I familiarized myself with Fate/Extra and the events of the first game as best I could, but this didn’t make the unfurling of this one much smoother. It’s not quite the plot that has me frustrated: it’s the telling of it in blunt data-dumps that doesn’t go down well.
Chewing through wave after wave of enemies is satisfying, for a time. There is something to be said for the electric vomit of color that gushes at you, splashing out of your screen and staining your eyes. It’s a mad rush of outlandish character design and improbable weaponry, and when you cut swathes of destruction through about 200 enemies in a single sword swipe, you may feel a slight pang of amusement. It’s also worth noting while the graphics look last-gen, this means there is never the slightest bit of slowdown in the heat of some massive battles.
With a game tied so inseparably from its core loop, such as this, variety is key; however, it is sadly lacking here. Light attack and heavy attack comprise almost all of the combos you’ll pull off, and you will see all of them many times over. There’s a powerful attack – the titular “Extella manoeuvre” – that deals astronomical damage to everyone involved; it’s achieved by mashing the circle button. Playing the game, for me, felt like shoveling handfuls of popcorn into my mouth. If you shovel enough, you might just trick your body into thinking you’ve actually had something substantial. But it’s hollow, and your stomach will realize it’s been had before long.
The game sees you as a “master”, with several spirits at your command – these are referred to as “servants”, though this doesn’t ring true because you feel powerless in contrast. They do the actual fighting for you, and you can swap out which servants you’d like to play with in battle. There’s a ‘bond’ rank which increases through battle and through conversation; as it does so, you are able to bolt-on different items to boost their abilities. This is nice, and adds a nice little tactical element to which pieces you’d want to go with and how you’d want them to operate.
I would be remiss not to touch on the localization effort as well. Though I imagine this will appeal far more to fans of the series, it’s still clear that characters are imaginatively depicted, and every line of dialogue is actually spoken in game. It must have been a tall order, and it’s commendable that the dizzying plot has been carried across with as much flair. This same effulgent dazzle is larger than life in the designs of the characters, and in the game’s anime art style.
There’s a compounding sense of disconnection as I played Fate/Extella. I felt as though this one was unapologetically dedicated to fans of the series, and that’s absolutely fair enough. But that should only cover for it as far as plot is concerned. When it comes to story and character, it shouldn’t matter how unfamiliar I am with the series. What’s here is drab, and dialed up to eleven in an attempt at misdirection to hide its hollow core.
All that to one side and what I’m left with is a passable, extremely repetitive game that offers up brief bursts of catharsis muddled in a misguided sea of queasy colors, and all wrapped up in a convoluted and uncompelling plot. The game isn’t terrible: there is, mechanically, nothing all that wrong with it, and if you like Musou games – and have exhausted the likes Dynasty Warriors or Hyrule Warriors – or if you’re a fan of the Fate series, then there’s some service here for you. If you’re not either one of those things, then you’re missing absolutely nothing.
Score: 2/5 – Poor