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Fate/EXTELLA: The Umbral Star Review (Nintendo Switch)

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Fate/Extella is a strange game on many levels. Whilst I’ve become quite accustomed to playing bizarre Japanese games for review, something about Fate/Extella confused me the moment I booted it up.  Maybe it was the style of the game; this is very much a Dynasty-Warriors-esque game, in which you are required to cut through hordes of enemies, but it’s also sci-fi and your first character is a female send up of the Roman emperor Nero Claudius.

What?

The game is set in the Moon Cell; a digital realm in which “heroic spirits” can serve masters- essentially humans. Set after a war between different masters, the player character now rules the cell alongside his trusty Saber, and has to work with his wards in order to protect the realm from false “kings” and digital threats; including a creature that sounds an awful lot like Galactus. If this sounds like a totally unfamiliar setting; don’t worry, I didn’t have a clue when I started either. Luckily the craziness is explained relatively well, as the main character has amnesia from the start, but throughout I couldn’t help but get the feeling I was missing something.

Granted, it’s a sequel, but the game simultaneously explains things using big technical terms whilst also completely missing an explanation of what on earth the “moon core” is and what happened to the earth. There is obviously a wonderful amount of lore for this world; I just wish the game had taken the time to tell me about it and the wider world. The storyline is pretty interesting regardless of this, with twists and turns aplenty and a number of environments which get bigger and more complicated as you go through.

As previously mentioned, Fate/Extella is a hack and slash game in which you take the reigns of a variety of different characters and carve your way through a variety of “robotic” enemies. It’s very reminiscent of Dynasty Warriors, as this is combined with tactical area-capturing mechanics and badass combo mechanics.  Honestly I’ve enjoyed the actual gameplay of this more than I’ve enjoyed most others of a similar genre; specifically Senran Kagura and Hyrule Warriors, despite the fact I haven’t found the personalities of the characters quite as engaging as those from Zelda so far. You have access to an evolving number of combos and attacks which improve as each character levels up. Your basic attacks are the standard light and heavy hits, which can either be used on the ground or in the air, and which can be combo’d as previously mentioned. These are backed up by a charging special attack which gets more powerful depending on how many blocks on the gauge you have filled. Your character  also has a super attack; usable once per level and unlocked by collecting three chip-parts. Finally, you  are able to transform into a super-version of your character for a limited time after another gauge is fully charged. These moments of partial nudity are well animated, but I’d be careful when doing transformations on the bus. It plays incredibly well with a solid framerate and plenty of levels to complete. What extends the playtime is the simple number of characters; as each of the many playable characters can access the levels as part of a side-story. Whilst the repetition of levels is somewhat disappointing, each character plays so differently that I didn’t particularly mind.

Talking about the characters; I love the way in which real-world history and mythology has been integrated into this world. From your main character mimicking Nero to fighting send-ups of Alexander the Great, Elizabeth Balthory and Medusa, it’s wonderful how varied the roster actually is. More than once I found myself recognising a famous name and enjoying how key elements of that person has been integrated. Those I didn’t recognise led me to research their inspiration; giving real world benefits. It’s a fabulous concept and I can’t praise their use of historical source material enough; even if they have taken some artistic liberties.

Outside the battles, the game becomes somewhat of a visual novel; to both it’s benefit and detriment. I like how you develop a relationship with your main character and discuss key plot points with them; It fosters a fab connection with the character and makes every battle’s stakes feel higher. However, quite often this devolves into fan-service and forced sexualisation with your character, who takes your own name, “falling in love” with Nero. It has a tendency to feel genuinely cringy, which really detracted from the overall story. I understand not everyone will feel this way, but I feel it went somewhat too far at times.

The game looks fabulous on Switch, with framerates staying stable most of the time. It’s very colourful and despite the fact it doesn’t compete with some of the first-party Switch games in terms of fidelity, I was more than happy with it’s presentation. It is a good fit for Switch, as the relatively short battles have very little filler and suit short sessions well.

The score and sound effects of  Fate are excellent for the most part, although I wish it had received an English dub. Whilst the Japanese voice acting fits, it means that you are reliant on subtitles; even in battle. Most of the time I would  miss dialogue during battle as I was too busy battling to read the text; English VA would have resolved this.

Overall I would say that if you missed this game on PlayStation and enjoy apocalyptic sci-fi, anime sensibilities and slashing through thousands of enemies at a time, it’s definitely worth a look. From the twists in the story to the expansive gameplay it is an incredibly fun experience; with a few caveats.

Rating:
7/10
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An enthusiastic performer and musician, after finishing his degree in Drama, Benjamin went on to complete a PGCE and is a qualified primary school teacher, currently working for a variety of agencies on supply. He has been a gamer all his life, first taking up the hobby when his doctor prescribed him a Game Boy to help him control his ADHD. Ever since, he’s preferred his entertainment interactive; enjoying thought-provoking narratives and emergent gameplay. Benjamin has been writing for Invision Community since his degree days, and whilst he prefers PC gaming he also enjoys experiences on his PS4 and New 3DSXL. His top three games of 2015 were Pillars of Eternity, Fallout 4, and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.

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