Japanese games, much like the cuisine, has an acquired taste. Before joining the Invision community I’d never played a “real” Japanese game, and by that I don’t mean your RPGs where every character has outrageous illuminous hair, I mean the real JRPGs, where plots are unexplainable, outfits are skimpy and special attacks take several minutes to execute. Over the past few years I’ve taken these games with a pinch of salt, not expecting to get anything from them other than exhaustion and confusion, so imagine my surprise to stumble upon one which is not only downright bizarre, but tremendous fun; I have absolutely no idea what’s going on, but I’m having a bloody blast!
Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star is said game, and it’s the latest offering from the crew at Marvellous, the explosive minds behind bouncy boob, super-soldier simulator Senran Kagura. The Umbral Star follows on from the events of 2011’s Fate/Extra, a dungeon crawling JRPG for the PSP that revolved around The Holy Grail War. Its sequel follows the victors of the almighty clash as you, the heroic Praetor, and the king of the realm Nero Claudius, a powerful warrior equipped with a massive sword and a scrumptious rack. The war is over, You sit in the throne and Nero is equipped with a Regalia Ring to show her dominance, but what’s that, a second ring is worn by rival Tamamo, who is also equipped with a clone of you, and that’s not all … as a new opponent has joined the fray, who believe it or not is also in possession of her own ring and version of you, streuth! By retaking your land from the grasp of your enemies, you must capture the other Regalia rings to fuse your mind, body & soul back together, in an epic tale of flamboyant soldiers, awkward bath time strategy talks and the end of the world! It certainly seems daft enough to be fun, but for how long exactly? Is this a war you’ll see through to the end? Well I’m 23 battles down, which is 22 more than I thought I’d commit to, so yeah, it’s pretty great!
The game’s narrative may be confusing, and you may not know the names of all 2 dozen characters, but it’s not short of explosive action, over the top executions and chaotic, high speed killing, making it a very easy game to enjoy and soar through. Imagine the heart pounding drama of a COD Domination match on an insane, vibrant Dynasty Warriors map, multiply the death count by 100 and throw in some dramatic Dragon Ball Z-esque abilities for good measure and you’ve got one level of Fate/Extella. Traverse the map capturing enemy checkpoints that reward you with keys, and only once you’ve collected more than your opponent will you unlock that level’s boss, which when defeated will give you full control of that kingdom; defeating invading enemies of your own regions will too get you one step closer to victory. Strategy is key and occasionally your allies will recommend where to hit next, as some areas will reward you with fewer keys than others, so scan the battlefield and plan your next move carefully, as wrong decisions can lead to the demise of your friends, stronger enemies and a harder battle to turnaround. Admittedly the game does get incredibly repetitive rather quickly, but when you’re catapulting hundreds of enemies into the air every 5 seconds and pulling off sick combos in even less time, it’s manic enough to make you forget that you’re pushing the same 3 buttons for 20 minutes. The game’s premise is easy enough to grasp, just kill everyone in your path, however I wouldn’t be surprised if players feel a little anxious from the off as you’re thrown an awful lot of names and abilities right from the get go. Circle does this, triangle does this, press start and you can activate these, a lot of things you can pull off without any real guidance of when and why you should use them. Cast aside it’s somewhat overcomplicated and ill explained features, and you’ve got a very strong, hack n slash RPG that not only has enough flashing lights to cause foaming of the mouth, but enough going on to turn an otherwise repetitive and simple game into a highly exhilarating one.
The tale of The Umbral Star is split into 3 acts, each taking a different perspective from someone else caught up in the ferocious battle for territory. Within each act you’ll take control of a powerful leader with their own unique skill set and class, so each playthrough you attempt will play out completely differently to what you’ve just become familiar with. If you’ve had enough of the game’s campaign, or your brain is knackered from trying to understand it all, then try switching to one of the Fate/Extella’s Side Missions or Battle Arena. Each Side Mission explores one of 12 servants that you may recognise from the main campaign and gives you a glimpse of how they were faring in one of your past missions, complete with their own weapon, fighting style and outrageous manoeuvres. Just like you were doing in the main story, level up and bond with your servant to not only make them stronger, but to make them more valuable and trustworthy in future missions in the campaign. Playing through the Main Story Arc will unlock these additional missions, as well as unlocking each character for the Battle Arena, which takes away all the hoohar and narrative drama from each mission, and instead gives you waves upon waves of enemies to do over. Once again, there’s no denying that no matter which mode you pick, you’ll be doing lots of the same thing for a considerable amount of time, but when it’s done well, who cares?
Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star is a marvellous game made by a marvellous team, literally. There’s a shed load of content to devour, and though it may be more or less the same thing, it’s hugely enjoyable and easy to get lost in. You may get lost in its farfetched epic tale, you may even get lost amongst the ill explained gameplay features, but when you’re slicing enemies in a barrage of vibrant colour at 80 mph, it simply doesn’t matter. Action games with 10 minute cutscenes and conversation may not be to everyone’s taste, mine included, but either side of them can be a fast paced, invigorating, super bizarre, grossly exaggerated adventure, and Fate/Extella is no exception. With all 3 story arcs completed, I still have no idea what it’s about, but I had a bloody good time doing them, so what’s the problem!?
Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star was reviewed on PS4, the game is also available on the PSVITA