The arrival of the PlayStation Vita in February was a signal for the end of the PlayStation Portable’s (PSP) life support. Looking to the horizon of the PSP there’s nothing coming for the system, unless you’re a fan of Japanese RPGs that is. There’s still a few interesting titles to arrive and as long as they are released on the PSN store, both Vita and PSP owners can play them. I enjoyed the PSP because it allowed JRPGs to be released in English that most likely wouldn’t have seen the light of day otherwise. The latest JRPG to hit the UK for the system is Fate/Extra, a game that takes place in a parallel universe to the visual novel and anime, Fate/stay night.
There’s an emphasis on story with Fate/Extra as the game is a hybrid of the visual novel genre and Japanese RPGs. The plot in this title is being advertised as a spin-off re-visioning of the series, and is an intelligent story that didn’t disappoint me. Players take on the role of either a male or female protagonist who wakes up in a virtual school, called Tsukumihara Academy, without any memory of the past but only their name. It’s not long till they find out that there’s a battle going on between contestants in a war for the “Holy Grail,” an object that can grant the victor one wish for anything they desire. The player is part of a 128 man fixture where the only way out is death or becoming the winner. All is not lost for the amnesic hero as every person taking part is granted a servant, powerful spirits that will fight for and protect their masters till the end.
Kinoko Nasu, the original writer for the Fate/stay night visual novel, penned the story for the game. Since the game is part visual novel, there is plenty of text to read through and Nasu’s work shines throughout the tale with a brilliant localisation done by the translators. Reading through the game’s dialogue reminds me of the same exceptional quality in writing that the short stories in Lost Odyssey were known for. It’s written with great characters, twists and intricate details and descriptions about the character’s feelings, emotions and the environment around them. The story kept me entertained near enough from start to finish, although I advise you to keep multiple save files (the game does tell you this by the way) because the story can lead to one of the many dead ends (game over to you and me) meaning you’ll need to reload your last save to continue on.
Fate/Extra doesn’t start on the best of pages because the opening hour plus is all plot building. That first hour certainly ends with a cool twist, but it’s just a shame so long is spent on that act that you never get to experience any real gameplay until the first fight begins. Once that’s concluded you get to pick your sex, character name and what type of servant you’d like to use from a choice of three. Saber is a female sword user, Archer is a long range attacker and Caster deals with magical abilities. In a sense, these add to the difficulty of the game as Saber is great from the beginning as she’s a strong character. Caster is much weaker until you level her up enough that she becomes the strongest towards the end. Having a different servant also changes some of the dialogue and outcome possibilities, so each game will be different if you decide to replay and pick a different starting servant.
As a game, Fate/Extra can be broken down into two parts, the school social interaction and the dungeon fighting. In actual fact, the game arrangement reminds me of Persona 3 on the PlayStation 2, although not quite as good as that game. At the start of every week you’re given the name of the opponent you’ll have to fight in the competition on the seventh day. During this week you need to use the time to prepare yourself and investigate your opponent to find out what type of class their servant is and which legendary warrior they are based off. The more you find out before the deadline the easier it is for you to defeat them.
On the first floor of the school is a door that will take you into the arena, the dungeon part of Fate/Extra. You’ll visit here multiple times a week for story plots or to level up your character and learn additional moves, which have to be done in the chapel from skill points you earn from levelling up. Fights are not random – as you can clearly see enemies wondering around the dungeon – allowing you do dodge them if you’re sneaky enough. In battles you command your servant with six inputs. The battle system is based around the fundamentals of rock, paper and scissors, so you need to pick from the choice of attack, guard or break. You can do another move, skills, that will override the opponent’s attack, making them miss one move. Running into new enemies makes the battles luck-based at first because you can only see one out of the six enemy’s moves. As you keep fighting the same monsters you’ll begin to see more. Do it enough times and you’ll get to a point where you’ll see all six attacks, allowing you to perfectly counter each one of them. It’s an interesting battle system, but I’m not a huge fan of it, due to times I’ve gone to battle a new foe and lost, all down to having bad luck.
Repetition is something that exists throughout all of Fate/Extra’s dungeons. Each one is hard to distinguish from one another because the designs are simplistic and cube based, with the same ocean blue colour pattern used. At rare times you’ll have something different going on, like at one point where the arena is full of poison and the colours are inverted until you kill the source of the gas. More could have been done to spice up the environment, but I do understand what they were trying to achieve with a digital ocean presentation for the dungeons.
Something that annoyed me during my time with the game was the lack of skippable scenes. There was a point where I died twice at an important story battle. It goes on for quite a well and each time I had to tap X to skip through the dialogue as fast as possible to get back to the fight. When a game has such a huge amount of text presented to you in a bulk it seems horrid not to put in a simple skip dialogue feature.
Visually, Fate/Extra is mostly pleasant on the eyes with good character models that represent the anime characters respectfully. The art’s great, and that makes it a shame because those artists should have worked more with the dungeons, since those lack a distinct personality to the point that all you’ll remember is squares and a shade of blue. Even though there’s plenty of dialogue, hardly any is voiced, what is voiced is kept to its native Japanese. Soundtrack is enjoyable. I don’t remember one song annoying me through my 30+ hour experience with the game.
Fate/Extra is an intriguing game that features a brilliant story, solid characters and good art, but when it comes to the RPG aspects it’s all a little uninspiring, and at times tedious and boring, with too much repetition in gameplay and design. If you like to play RPGs for the story and aren’t worried about a basic battle system based around luck, then by all means check Fate/Extra out, you’ll certainly get a well worth kick from its story, just don’t expect to be blown away by its gameplay.