By Laura . October 31, 2011 . 12:38pm
The Holy Grail War is a battle between magi and their summons, Servants, for the privilege of having a single wish granted. Only one pair is granted this gift, and the rest are usually slain in battle. Servants are “Legendary Souls” — famous figures from all eras and locations such as King Arthur, Hercules, and Cú Chulainn. Master and Servant team up to fight for their own dreams and lives.
Thus far, the story sounds familiar to those who know Fate/Stay Night. However, in Fate/Extra, there is another layer to this premise. Every mage seeking a chance to fulfill his dream is placed in a virtual reality world without their memories. Only those who can see through the lies of the fake world can retrieve their memories, obtain Servants, and compete in the tournament that is held within this virtual reality. Pairs of Servants and Masters face off against each other, and the Grail goes to the last person standing.
The main character is one such mage. To be more precise, he (or she) has to be only because he’s a participant; he has no memories despite passing the preliminaries. He is amazingly plain in appearance and ability, but, thankfully, he does have a Servant by his side. There are three possible Servants to choose from: Saber, Archer, and Caster. Each has their own personalities, motives, and abilities.
Saber is described as the Servant most suitable for beginners. When you level up, you get to assign skill points to different stats, and Saber’s are rather straightforward because she is a powerhouse. She has high attack and defense (and abysmal magic). Although she looks like Fate/Stay Night’s Saber, this one dons a crimson dress and wields a twisted, blood-red sword. She also has an imperious attitude, looking down on everyone and expecting only the best from her Master. That being said, she can be rather encouraging too. No, this is not just a re-coloring of the Saber we are familiar with. She is a different Legendary Soul altogether.
On the other hand, Archer is indeed the same Archer. He’s just as sarcastic and cynical as he is in Stay Night. He has pretty high attack and defense, but he specializes in magic spells that affect the enemy’s stats as well, such as lowering attack or defense. I found him interesting because he drops many references to events and characters in Fate/Stay Night, especially when he’s comparing them with Extra’s counterparts (like the differences between the Shinji Matou of the two worlds).
Caster is, as her name sounds, a magician, and her spells are powerful. As such, her magic stat is very high, and her attack and defense are horrible. Problem is, early on, you don’t have any magic at low levels, so you’re still better off raising her attack and defense until she is able to defeat enemies with relative ease. As befitting for a fox, she is mischievous and spirited; however, she reflects her Legendary Soul background by being very supportive, sometimes to the point of ridiculousness. She also seems to lack sympathy for anyone except you and can be quite snooty toward others.
Which Servant you choose has no effect on the plot of the game. It only affects your gameplay style –will you rely more on straight-out attacks, or more on spells? The biggest difference, I believe, would be the dialogue and watching the different Servants talk to you during break time or banter with other enemy Servants.
Most of the cast is new. Other than Archer (edit: and one other), all the Servants are. For example, Shinji’s partner is no longer the Rider from Stay Night, but a new face. Rin’s is not the same, either, for more obvious reasons. One of my favorite aspects of this game is seeing what other Legendary Souls would look like and how they would act if incorporated into the Fate universe. For example, what would it be like to have Robin Hood as a Legendary Soul? There are, of course, several new Masters too. Some of the more important ones include Rani, a dark-skinned girl who was “sent by her teacher to learn about human emotions,” and Leo, a seemingly kind boy who is so confident he’s not afraid to tout his Servant’s true name.
Fate/Extra is split into three parts. One is the “preparation” part, where you try to find out as much as you can about your opponent by talking to people and visiting the Library. Your knowledge is measured by a “Matrix Level,” and the higher that level is, the easier it will be to fight the opponent.
You can also purchase items and equipment in the basement of the school or choose to level up your Servant at the Church, where Touko Aozaki and Aoko Aozaki (from Mahou Tsukai no Yoru) reside. The nurse Sakura Matou will give you an item once every round, too. Taiga will ask for you to find certain items in the Arena every few days and if you bring two to her each Tournament round, she’ll add decorations to the private room you share with your Servant.
The game provides you with a private room, where you can save and sometimes talk to your Servant to learn more about him or her. It’s also where you go before you face your opponent this round to integrate all the information you’ve learned about the enemy thus far and to deduct his or her true name. This will help you immensely in your final battle with them.
The second part is “exploration,” where you have to search for two Trigger Keys in the Arena before the 7-day time limit, when the next round of the tournament is being held. Without these two Keys, you are automatically disqualified (and killed). This is where you’ll train against enemies and find treasures. This is also where many events in the game will take place, such as Servants sniping you down, challenging you to races, or just lying in wait before facing you in a one-on-one.
The Arena is split into several floors, comprised of long hallways, switches, invisible corridors, and many enemies. These enemies occasionally regenerate, so it’s possible, albeit arduous, to over-level. Battles are always one-on-one, and the turns are divided into six actions. For each action, you get to choose three attacks — Attack, Guard, or Break — as does the enemy. This system works in a rock-paper-scissors fashion. The Servant can also cast spells (which always get priority compared to normal actions). You, as the Master, can use items or your own spells, which you get from different equipment, but you can only act once per turn. Once you’ve inputted all the actions you want for one turn, you choose to “Fight,” and all the actions are executed automatically. If you’re lucky (or skilled) enough to pull off three actions in a row without being interrupted, you activate an extra action for more damage.
This battle system would be very haphazard if not for the fact that the more you fight an enemy, the more you learn about it. Many enemies have a pattern of attack they favor (for example, ABABAB), and if you defeat enough of a species, you can see more and more of their attacks on the screen. This way, you can counter properly.
Fighting in Fate/Extra can be frustrating, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll find yourself sailing through the battles. However, because all the actions are shown onscreen, I found the pace a bit slow, especially when I’m performing six Breaks in a row. I didn’t find it terribly exciting, but I thought it was above-average in execution.
The final part of the game is the “Tournament,” the big day. Provided you have both Trigger Keys, you and your opponent that round will move down to a special arena, and only one will walk out. The battle system is the same. The number of the enemy’s actions you can see on screen is based on your Matrix Level. In addition, your enemy can use spells and Noble Phantasms of their own. If you maxed out your Matrix Level (to level E, for Extra) by discovering the opponent’s true name, you can see when the enemy will pull out his or her trump card and act appropriately.
Fate/Extra is very straightforward in what it wants you to do and is, for the most part, a linear path. There is a major branching point midway through the game, though. Also, the game specifically warns you at the start about sudden deaths and bad endings. For example, when a Servant was hunting me, I was asked which direction I wanted to run. I chose the wrong one and died right then and there. The key is simply to keep many a save file on hand.
Despite the abundant action in this game, I feel that it is at heart a visual novel, especially with Type-Moon writing the script. I enjoyed reading all of the dialogue, although the translations can be a bit too literal at times. I felt that the highlight of the game was reading and interacting with the different people, all of whom are well-developed. I especially enjoyed seeing different Legendary Souls and hearing them quip around with both their Masters and your own Servant. There’s Rider’s mercenary yet big-sister-relationship with Shinji, and another Archer and your Archer seeing who can get under each other’s skin better.
Food for Thought:
1.) Each Servant arranges the private room you share with them in a different way. Archer stacks his chairs haphazardly, as seen in Stay Night. Caster creates two pillars to imitate those of Japanese Imperials courts and sits seiza atop a row of tables. Saber has the desks create two walls in the back with a single row in the front between the walls in a primitive throne setup. These are all hints to their true names.
2.) Servants work a bit differently in Extra in that there can be more than one of a class summoned per War. After all, with 128 participants, each with their own Servants, it’s impossible for there to be only one of each. You’ll face one of each class through the course of the game.
3.) You may want to be careful when reading your Servant’s abilities. Despite the fact that none of them want to reveal their true name to you (where’s the trust?!), it may be found nonetheless in the abilities’ descriptions. Tread carefully if you want to avoid spoilers.
4.) In one of the routes, there’s a very familiar Servant. She’s blond and her name begins with ‘A’ and ends in ‘D.’