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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Review: Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star (Nintendo Switch)

Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star review

Review by Matt S.

Having already reviewed Fate/Extella on the PlayStation 4, there’s not a whole lot that I can add to that review in itself for the Nintendo Switch release. The games are fundamentally the same, but that in itself is noteworthy; while Fate/Extella was previously available as a portable game via the PlayStation Vita, the concessions that needed to be made to make that one work were significant. This one has no such concessions made.

Related reading: For more on the game, Matt's review of the PlayStation 4 original release.

Now, on the Nintendo Switch, the game really is so close to the PlayStation 4 original release in terms of fidelity. It looks gorgeous, moves beautifully, and offers the same intense action as its TV console brethren. As a fan of the Warriors "genre", this is so very cool.

The nature of Warriors games is such that handheld consoles have really struggled to handle them. When you’ve got to have hundreds of characters on screen at once, trying to keep the action moving along smoothly requires hardware power. For underpowered devices, such as handheld consoles, the alternatives were to greatly reduce the graphical fidelity, drastically drop the number of characters on screen, or deal with a poor frame rate. Generally it was a combination of all three. Never has the quality of these games on handheld console reached that of the home console.

Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star on Nintendo Switch

The Nintendo Switch is the first handheld console that is able to render Warriors games to a standard that is roughly equivalent to what the TV consoles can achieve. Fate/Extella was already the best “Warriors” game that wasn’t developed by Koei Tecmo, but in being the first game of its type on the Nintendo Switch, I just know I’m going to sink a whole lot more time into it.

Nintendo Switch owners get to enjoy the same game that was already released on PlayStation 4. It’s the same levels, the same characters, the same narrative, and no more than that. To an extent it’s disappointing that the developer didn’t take the opportunity to create an extra character or level or two to really make this version essential for existing fans, but there’s already enough in the game to last dozens of hours, and if you’re a real fan of it, you’re hardly going to mind running through it all again. The game features three main campaigns, plenty of side stories, and a dozen or so characters, each with their unique fighting style and character quirks.

Like the best Warriors game, you’ll develop favourites quickly enough. The “main” character is, of course, Saber, and her master, as has been the case through just about the entire Fate series. As most anime fans know by now (even if they haven’t experienced the series), each of the game’s heroes is based on a real-world person or mythological figure. Saber’s had a couple of iterations - this one is based on the Roman Emperor, Nero. Other characters range from China's Lu Bu to the Medusa of Greek mythology, but my personal favourite is Elizabeth Bathory, who was a terrible person in real history, but in this game is a real kawaii doll of a “villain,” complete with devil’s tail and horn.

Switch action game review

It would help if you’re already familiar with the Fate series going into this one. As per the franchise’s heritage in adult visual novels, Fate/Extella features an excess in dialogue and storytelling sequences, and while it’s possible to follow along without any understanding of what has come before, it helps to at least be familiar with the characters and draw on the existing lore in order to flesh out the generally weak characterisation in this game.

More generally speaking it’s difficult to get much out of the narrative because it doesn’t do much as a narrative. The universe itself is set within a weird simulation thing, so of course there are all kinds of anime-style sci-fi tropes and jargon flying around. It makes sense, but there’s little depth or nuance to it. The core theme of the game is driven towards the intense emotions felt between the heroes fighting on the field, and their masters, who they need to bond with and protect. It’s a lovely idea, and has been touched on many times in the past with the Fate series, but powerful love is a difficult emotion to write, and the storytellers really struggle to connect players to those emotions in this instance. It’s not the end of the world, given that the game’s action is so good, but the Fate franchise is generally known for being well written, so from that perspective this game is a low point.

The gameplay really is excellent. As with many of Koei Tecmo’s Warriors games, each level in Fate/Extella involves moving from place to place, capturing territories while defeating lesser soldiers. Eventually enough territories will be acquired that the boss enemy shows up for a showdown. Defeat him or her and it’s time to move on to some storytelling before the next level kicks off. It’s all a purely linear experience, but the variety between levels themselves is great, and the action so fast and furious, with so many different possible combinations and power attacks for each character, that the rhythm of it all is quite visceral. The character customisation is a little limited, which holds back the game’s potential to be as strategic as modern Warriors games have become, but for a team that isn’t producing a handful of Warriors games each year, the developers have still crafted a very robust, admirable system.

Warriors game on Switch

As for the extras that are a part of the Switch release, there’s all the DLC that was released as paid-for content built into the base game this time. This means some rather… sexy costumes, for both the men and the women, and they’re actually pretty well designed. I know costume DLC is a controversial one for many players, who don’t see the point of playing dress-up, but perhaps they’ll appreciate the extra variety when it’s all free. For me it's nice not having to purchase Elizabeth's cheerleader uniform again, that's for sure.

Fate/Extella is a near perfect port of an excellent PlayStation 4 game, and the best Warriors game that hasn’t been developed by Koei Tecmo. It’s likely to be the only game of its kind on the Switch until Fire Emblem Warriors lands, and it’s the perfect kind of game to have on a portable console to unwind with on the commute home after a long day of work.



- Matt S.
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Review: Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star (Nintendo Switch)
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