Fate/Extra is a game with a single purpose: to appeal to a specific audience with little regard for those outside of its circle of fans. In this case, that audience is, naturally, fans of Type-Moon’s hit visual novel, Fate/Stay Night, and its legacy.
If you aren’t part of this circle, you might be left scratching your head after you’ve had a go with Fate/Extra. On the other hand, if you’re heavily-invested in the universe that Takashi Takeuchi and Kinoko Nasu have constructed, you’ll probably find some amusement here — provided you’re willing to look past Fate/Extra’s flaws.
From the get-go, Fate/Extra can be rather confusing. The game starts out with you in a school that feels like something out of Persona 3’s universe. You get the impression that you’re not really there to actually learn anything, with all sorts of slick characters attending, and a nifty jazz tune to match.
At first, it seems just like another school week…almost boring in a sense, as if the game were just another high school simulation. Then, all of a sudden, you’ll unexpectedly be thrown into a fight you can’t win, with no clue as to why, as events mysteriously unfold, and before you know it, you’re dead.
Thus ends the prologue and the story of Fate/Extra begins.
At this point, the game will ask which of the three Servants — Saber, Caster or Archer — you’d like, and you begin to walk around in the actual protagonist’s shoes. Then, after recounting the last day of the prologue, you enter the holy grail contest, which is the crux of any Fate/ game.
Extra is different though. There’s a definite vibe of the virtual, as you find yourself exploring virtual dungeons, and conducting various bits of virtual hacking in your fights, all of them conducted in a 1v1 format. Information is key in the contest, both from a storyline perspective, as you progress through the days, and in combat.
How does information matter so much in combat? It’s simple — all combat in Fate/Extra revolves around a deceptively simple mechanic. You and your opponent will select either Attack, Defend or Break, and in a classic rock, paper, scissors format, you have to try and come out on top.
Above this, are skills both you and your enemy can use, which can throw all sorts of spanners in the works, and if you’re fighting someone with a Master, even the Master can interfere with a skill or two of their own.
Chain 3 hits in a row, and you’re rewarded with an extra attack. Make three mistakes in a row, and you’ll get yourself hurt even more. This system makes the centrepiece fights — the duels which you must win or survive — a lot more exciting than you might expect, as it makes you think about what your opponent will do.
This is where information comes into play.
You can gain more information about what the opposing Servant may do by understanding who they are, and duelling with them prior to the day of the “big fight.” If on the day of the fight, you answer questions about the Servant and their Master correctly, you can gain even further insight to make trying to read your opponent just that little bit easier.
In a way, due to the fact you spend so much time trying to read your opponent, it’s a bit disappointing that Marvelous and Imageepoch didn’t add an adhoc duelling mode to the game, since it just seems like such a perfect fit.
Unfortunately, there’s also a flip side to the game’s prediction-driven battles, and it can make normal dungeon combat a very precarious task. Without gathering enemy data by fighting them, you’re given minimal information, and due to this, particularly later on, your initial contact with even a regular monster could be your last if you make a series of bad guesses.
Granted, skills can help you through that, as most of them will override the basic Attack-Defend-Break triangle, but there’s MP costs involved in this, and you’ll run out of MP eventually, unless you’re far enough in the game to be able to replenish your Servant’s MP.
If you fight a monster enough times, and can read them perfectly, however, it makes combat something you can sleepwalk through, as you can just counter everything they do.
The storyline will also present you with various choices, where one bad choice will send you towards a bad end. It’s reminiscent of the Fate/Stay Night visual novels, and although they were a nice touch, if you were to make a bad decision, you could find yourself packing to the last save point, with no continues.
It can be frustrating at times, particularly when you might have spent a while in the dungeon before being asked to make a decision. It’s somewhat unforgiving, in a similar manner to combat, and although hardly unexpected, it’s still rather dispiriting to lose a couple of hours of progress for making a bad choice.
Also, strangely, the school itself feels a bit tacked on, and the game is surprisingly linear. In a way, it leaves you wishing that they’d put a little more polish into the final product, since it could have been the start of something a little more. The storyline, too, can prove confusing to people who don’t know the assumed knowledge behind the universe.
Ultimately, Fate/Extra is what most would expect: a game which is geared towards loyal Type-Moon fans, with a simple, yet surprisingly intense combat system, meaning that the centrepiece duels which are a defining point of the Fate/Stay Night universe can be quite nail-biting.
Food for thought:
One of the more amusing points of the game I found was the fact that the game has various relationship possibilities, and none of them care if you’re male or female.
Granted, there’s nothing like what can be found in the visual novels Fate/Extra is based on (it’s CERO C rating means it has to stay within the bounds of being suitable to fifteen-year-olds), but there’s something quite odd about watching a clearly female servant hitting on the female protagonist, and getting jealous of you liking another girl over her.
There’s a bit of equality in this regard, too, and you can actually spot a male character getting quite close with Archer if you so choose and a lot of this particular segment of the game is fully voice acted, as opposed to bits of sound here and there for a lot of the rest of the relationship.
I also couldn’t help but giggle at Caster’s indignation, or her threats to brutally murder you if you go seeing another girl… even though I decided to name my character as myself.