Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star Review — This One’s For the Fans
The Fate series is one that branches across multiple universes and spin-offs. Being a fan of the franchise, I was rooting along with all the other Tamamo no Mae lovers when word came that Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star was coming west. However, even though this might be a “sequel” to 2011’s Fate/Extra for the PSP, players aren’t required to have played the first installment to feel connected to this stand alone story. With that said, it wouldn’t hurt to brush yourself up on what happened in Fate/Extra to reacquaint yourself with the characters and world.
Extella takes place after the events of the Holy Grail War, Nero and her Master (in this case me) won the war and they are granted the power of the Regalia ring which gives them dominance over the empire and former enemy servants. As the player, you are given the choice of which gender you’d like to play the game as. However, this choice can be changed at any point in the Settings menu and doesn’t effect the story in any way, from what I could tell.
At the beginning of the game the player wakes up with amnesia, but that doesn’t matter because Nero is there to bring everyone up to speed. So let’s get one thing clear in this review, Extella is a game made for fans of the Fate series. With that said, the writing is unapologetic to those who don’t understand these characters or their personalities. In my case, I was impressed with the quality of the story and felt that a lot of work was put into expressing each character’s mannerisms accurately. The story is written in a way where the player is the only non-voiced character, which adds a bit to the immersion of the game and does so even further by giving you a choice of certain dialog options.
Before missions begin, Nero invites her master to her room for some private one-on-one time. This is where the player can talk to Nero to further strengthen their bond as well as customize her abilities and skills. Skill upgrades are found during missions and add defense, strength, and various buffs. For me, I played levels with and without skills set and it played out pretty much the same, but this was only on normal difficulty.
Missions and gameplay can be compared to games from the Musou franchise. Players need to defend areas on the map and move from section to section to take out enemies known as “Aggressors.” Sadly, the game suffers from a lack of enemy types. Normal enemies spawn in huge groups around the player, but rarely threaten the player or get in the way of seeking out the more powerful Aggressors.
Even with a limited variety of enemies, the game keeps the action high during missions by making a few changes compared to other games in this genre. First, traveling to different sections is streamlined by using warp points between areas. This was a nice touch because it felt like my servant was truly a force to be reckoned with as I warped to a section filled with enemies and began beating the hell out of them. Second, certain enemies can spawn aggressors which forced me to plan when I should attack certain sections or go and defend already conquered areas.
Fighting in the game is surprisingly responsive considering how much is going on at once. Players use a combination of button presses to execute attacks. These get more and more complex as the servant’s levels increases. There’s also a dash action that really comes in handy when trying to rush to defend a section. Furthermore, players are able to execute special attacks in order to clear most of the enemies on the screen. These attacks are followed by an animation that could come off as repetitive, but I found that they serve as a nice break from the hectic action. In addition to these attacks, players are able to transform into a more powerful form for a limited amount of time.
The difficulty of the game is chosen at the start of each mission. The game offers their level recommendation for each difficulty, but I found the normal setting to be fairly easy. Playing through the game in hard mode is recommend to those seeking a challenge, but I will say that the boss battles can be pretty demanding. Keeping an eye on your health is essential because it depletes rather quickly during the harder battles.
One issue I had is that the game has dialog scenes during missions that are difficult to read while trying to keep an eye on the health meter and all the enemies on screen. There was a moment where I was fighting a boss and No Name was telling me to retreat. At that point, I didn’t see the text until about ten minutes and two deaths later.
For players picking up this game for the Musou style gameplay, the campaign mode is probably not going to be your favorite. On average there is about 30 minutes of story scenes and 20 minutes of mission time across a campaign that takes about five hours to complete. However, there are other modes that unlock such as free play and side missions. This allows you to play as the servant of your choice and further customize them. After the main campaign, you unlock other servant campaigns. Just in case, mentioning anything past this in terms of the story would be considered spoiler territory, but each take about five hours to complete and are crucial to get Extella’s full story. Additionally, side-missions will open to increase the bond between master and servants if completed.
Extella offers a gripping story for fans of the series. However, the terms used throughout could be hard to grasp for those new to the series. Coincidentally, a player looking for a solid action Musou game might feel out of place in this universe. Although that’s not to say that they wont find fun in the other modes offered. Sadly, those don’t unlock until you play through some of the story.
I enjoyed my time with Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star as it satisfied my craving for a game in the Fate universe. The fighting controls are tight and responsive, and the action is intense. The lack of enemy variation was disappointing, but it didn’t take away from the frenetic fun of pulling off well animated combos against thousands of aggressors. This game might not be for newcomers to the Fate series, but offers a fun and impressive story arc to the franchise.