Fate/EXTELLA LINK is here and with it comes an entirely new approach to the Musou experince that Fate/Extella: Umbral Star had to offer. With enhanced visuals, story-telling elements, and gameplay mechanics, Fate/EXTELLA LINK is sure to leave a solid mark for fans both new and old.
+Extremely well-scripted story
+Audibly one of the best games in the musou genre
+Each servant plays completely different than their counterparts
+Command Seals completely change how combat is approached
-Online matchmaking queue times can sometimes exceed the 8-minute mark
-Environments after a while feel almost identical and lacking in variety
It almost seems that in the past few years, the musou genre has seen a resurgence of sorts. On the Nintendo Switch, we’ve seen games such as Fire Emblem Warriors, Hyrule Warriors Definitive Edition, and even Dynasty Warriors 8 Xtreme Legends Definitive Edition take the world by storm on the Nintendo Switch.
On the opposite hand, you have titles like Dynasty Warriors 9, Warriors Orochi 3, and even Samurai Warriors 4 kicking up a storm. Then there’s the hidden gem we don’t hear just a lot about, one that quietly snuck up on us all, delivering one of the most unique experiences of them all thanks to the backdrop it used to come to life by the name of Fate/Extella: Umbral Star.
Oddly enough, it was a game that didn’t just dig through the best parts of the franchise, namely that PSP game by the name of Fate/Extra and continued on with the already existing story. Now, here we are, three installments (released in the west, four, now, in Japan) in with that very arch thanks to the latest addition Fate/EXTELLA LINK, which doesn’t just improve upon the past title, except it’s doing everything its predecessor did even better than before.
But doing so didn’t come easy. The previous title was plagued with problems ranging from wonky controls to weird difficulty balancing that left it somewhat of a jumbled mess for series rookies like myself. Now the bigger question is rather evident: if it worked – why did it work as well as it does? Let’s talk.
There’s a story that even non-anime fans can enjoy, without knowledge of the previous entries
When it comes to the Fate universe, I’m rather new, like many who might be giving the game a chance. I didn’t even really know much about the series until Fate/Extra dropped on the PSP, only having dove in deeper thanks to the game, but also the release of the anime on Blu-ray and DVD alongside the Netflix releases of the series in recent days.
My biggest gripe, wasn’t actually that I didn’t know much about the series before diving into Fate/Extella, a title that carried on the idea of some sort of technology has come to grips with medieval aesthetics, weaving it together in a way that makes names such as Gawain and Altria Pendragon admirable figures.
My problem, I couldn’t get behind this in Fate/Extella: Umbral Star. The story was convoluted, hard to follow, and actually required those who played it to have a basic understanding of the events from previous entries within the series. Long story short, it was leading them on a wild goose chase across various maps without so much as an idea of what was really going on.
But that has changed in Fate/EXTELLA LINK. This time around, the story is easier to follow, we know exactly what’s going on, why the Holy Grail War has ensued once again and what the Moon cell actually is. Thanks to an expanded glossary, the game itself is even easier to follow than it was in the predecessor. Even if you didn’t play it, don’t worry, you aren’t being left behind by any means necessary. A wise design choice to be quite frank.
Even returning players get a nice little experience of their own to enjoy
Those who are returning players will find themselves rewarded with their knowledge of what occurred in Fate/Extella: Umbral Star through both in-game rewards, and a deeper understanding of the Fate/Extra arch itself. Those unaware, you’ll once more take on the role of the Master from the previous game, continuing the journey you’d already begun just two years ago (real time), and picking up just moments after the conclusion of Umbral Star.
But there’s one key element that has not changed by any means. The plot is simple. Your ultimate goal is to win the Holy Grail War, taking control of the wish-fulfilling Moon Cell supercomputer, an entity that predates that of Earth and the Moon. Thanks to the new approach to storytelling, Fate/EXTELLA LINK is a bit more straightforward, allowing players to enjoy a fully-fleshed out story that doesn’t re-route itself, nor does it leave players scratching their heads as you explore every route a single day has to offer.
Well, some head-scratching will ensue as some of the stories that unfold will be lost during combat scenes were action takes precedence over that of story-driven elements, making it hard to focus on the chatter going on while your pummeling through entire crowds of enemy forces in one fell swoop. However, the game does a good job of making a few things rather well known, including the overall plot, those involved in it, and key players in the lot.
One, the game doesn’t hide the fact there is a villain behind the scenes, one that’s playing each of his pawns as intended before making his final move, even if it causes him to lose each of them in quick succession. Just like titles such as Dragonball Xenoverse or even Fate/Extella: Umbral Star, you’ll find that the villains are good guys turned bad, and the ultimate villain is using the power of Oraclization to brainwash the servants around him in order to follow his every command without question.
Interestingly enough, it works, and you’ll see familiar servants such as Medusa and Darius III become key antagonists rather early on (within the first 45-minutes). Interestingly enough, the story dynamics work rather well, offering a suitable story for one such experience, making the mystery behind the villain a rather enjoyable experience when the credits begin to roll, leaving you wanting more than what you were given within the eight-hour story-driven experience.
It’s a graphic novel turned musou title
One of the most interesting parts about the game isn’t just the fact it plays as a musou title when the gameplay itself gets underway, but rather, it’s the fact many of its cutscenes and its visual novel-like presentation are not held back in any shape or form. Even with the voice overs being in Japanese, the experience is one worth having, and it’s an intriguing story to experience.
Fans of the series will notice returning actors reprising their roles within this title, bringing the likes of Archer, Saber, and even Gawain to the forefront once again and delivering rather admirable performances across the board. My only drawback from that very experience in itself? The inability to enjoy the American cast once again as I have in the anime time-and-time again as of recent.
The biggest problem with this isn’t the fact there’s a ton of reading by any means, but rather the fact you’ll miss out on some pieces of the story when you’re facing down against opposing forces during a heated battle against Shadow versions of your servants. A shame really, as I enjoyed what I could read and listen to through my adventures with a rather well-rounded cast that brings the world of Fate to life in ways I’d never thought possible for a game series as a whole.
Due to spoilers, let’s avoid talking about the overall story itself, yea? So let’s talk combat and gameplay itself.
Polish off those swords, those bows, and prepare for one heck of a ride
Combat itself is where you’ll find yourself most at home with it comes to Fate/EXTELLA LINK. This isn’t because the story isn’t all that great, but rather, quite the opposite: The story is absolutely amazing, but it’s only one of the many key features that help move the overall experience forward.
The second is actual gameplay elements, which many of them unfold when you’re dashing across the screen, exploring every map, which is divided by interconnected sectors. Each of these sectors featuring their own enemy encounters which are usually highlighted by your generic cannon fodder enemies, those of which can only harm your servant with overwhelming numbers.
Out of these hundreds of enemies are a few stand-out figures such as a Shadow Saber, Shadow Archer, or even Shadow Caster. Each of them coming with their own skill sets, combat mechanics, and patterns that they will use in order to throw you off as combat ensues. Along with the shadow versions of your servants is a few key sector guardians, each of them having to be eliminated before a single sector can be taken over.
Just as you can, enemies can also retake each of these sectors, triggering a specific set of special events that can occur, sometimes changing the objective, the flow, and even your own approach to each combat scenario you will experience. Some of these events include taking out a specific target, eliminating “x” amount of enemies in the allotted time, or even taking over a specific sector within the timeframe given.
Unlike Dynasty Warriors or any Warriors title for that matter, Fate/EXTELLA LINK doesn’t draw back its blows in any shape or form. Instead, it wants urgency to be a key factor in every mission you undertake, pushing you to do better as the game progresses. Often times, you’ll find yourself rewarded, being given special bonuses for completing a mission as quickly as possible, earning the highest ranks you can along the way.
But there’s also something else that adds into the chaos of it all. If a key character dies, such as your main protagonist or a servant, you’ll find the result will end with a game over screen, forcing you to return to the very beginning of the mission that you failed. It’s a resounding approach to combat itself, making a sense of urgency a key element to the core gameplay loop itself, and one that only builds up the intensity when missions are experienced on the ‘Hard’ difficulty, requiring players to be well aware of the events going on around them.
A servant is only as good as its master, wield them wisely, and care for them as they do for you
One of the best parts about Fate/EXTELLA LINK isn’t just how well its gameplay loop actually is, but also its beautifully designed cast of playable servants you will get to use. Surprisingly enough, you’ll find the roster to be a rather large one, allowing you to enjoy 26 different characters, each of them coming with their own unique fighting styles, abilities, and unlocks that they have to offer.
Thanks to how they are all designed, I’ll openly admit that I feel I’ve missed out on a bit of the game overall. I’ve not taken the time to master all 26 cast members as of yet, but instead, I’ve focused on those I found to be the most enjoyable for my style of play. I’ve found a unique liking for characters such as Scathach, Medusa, and Altera. However, I didn’t ignore the rest thanks to the ability to build my squad, bringing my favorite characters into the fray along with the servant I chose to use.
Like Warriors Orochi, there isn’t a good reason not to enjoy each of the characters the game has to offer. Instead, you’ll find a shortcut to level up each and every member of the cast. This approach allows you to bring them up to the available maximum level your party can actually reach. It’s a perfect system, one that allows you to find what servant fits your style best and even giving you the chance to master them however you want.
You’ll find each of them can also be upgraded with Install Skills, allowing you to upgrade various stats such as their attack on sectors of the map you control, their magical defenses, or even enhancing their overall damage when using special skills. Additionally, you can also opt to change out what active skills they have, rotating them out to find a combo that suits you best. Since four of them can be equipped at once, it’s best to give them all a chance, and ultimately, finding what you prefer for each and every servant when you use them.
When fists and weapons begin to fly, bodies hit the floor
When it comes to a musou game, the most important feature next to the story itself is the combat and controls. Just like any beat ’em up title, Fate/EXTELLA LINK works much the same. Every character is uniquely designed with their own skillsets, their own light and heavy attacks, and the ability to use special skills such as their Noble Phantasm (a signature attack for each and every servant) and the Moon Drive (musou) ability. Each of the latter two being uniquely designed for all 26 servants.
Since each servant is uniquely designed, it is worth noting that each one plays quite differently from one another. Some find themselves more suited for close range fights while others will opt for range, allowing them to wield their mighty spells or ranged weapons from afar. Others, such as Altera or Medusa are right at home in close quarters combat, allowing them to unleash devastating combos that can have their damage boosted when they unleash a spell or special ability of their own.
To be quite honest, Fate/EXTELLA LINK is an absolute visual spectacle, unlike anything we’ve seen before in the musou genre up until now. Except there’s something actually off just a bit more than in other titles. There’s no real difficulty in Fate/EXTELLA LINK once you’ve grown familiar with a servant that fits your style. Even on the hardest difficulty, you’ll find yourself steamrolling through hundreds, if not thousands of NPCs with little to no care for what’s going on around you.
Even then, you’ll find that some bosses, especially later game, are an actual challenge, forcing you to plan out your every attack and what objectives/sectors you wish to complete before moving on. You’ll even find that there’s an added risk versus reward within the game itself, forcing you to take on (if you wish to increase your bond with your servants) through completing character-specific challenges during the course of each and every mission.
Since the controls are highly responsive, uniquely designed, and offer little-to-no trouble to master, it shouldn’t take long before you find yourself plowing through enemies with little-to-no trouble in your adventures.
Oh, yea, there’s plenty to do once you complete the main campaign
Unlike most musou games, Fate/EXTELLA LINK doesn’t hide the fact that bond levels are actually quite important for those wanting to unlock some customization options and even certain high-end upgrades along the way. Even after you complete the main story, you’ll find your adventures aren’t actually done, you’ll still have over 40 extra difficult side stories to enjoy, which will award experience, bond levels, and plenty of new skills to enjoy.
Thanks to the fact there are roughly 40 side story missions to enjoy, you’ll find your adventures with your servants aren’t actually over by the time the main story credits begin to roll. Even then, you’ve got a 4v4 online mode that changes how you’ll experience the overall game when said and done.
Surprisingly enough, the online mode is actually rather fun, allowing for two teams of four to battle it out across a map, each one fighting for control over the entire map, and even completing objectives to get an upper hand against the opposing team’s servants. The only downside here, you’ll want to make sure your servants have hit the cap, you’ve learned how to use them, and you have a decent connection before heading into a single match.
The only downside for this mode, I’ve found queue times can take quite a few minutes before a match can be found. Something cross-platform play would undoubtedly resolve thanks to dedicated fans who undoubtedly bought the game on their Nintendo Switch. However, the blame for this isn’t on Marvelous or Type-Moon by any means, but rather, Sony for their stance on cross-platform play features
Even then, the multiplayer is an absolute blast, and the side story content isn’t just filler, but an actual story that one can easily enjoy and spend hours upon hours working your way through with a bit of effort.
A few final thoughts – Conclusion
At the end of the day, Fate/EXTELLA LINK is an admirable title, one that has both well-designed characters and a well-rounded story that comes off as rather straight forward without becoming a convoluted mess. Overall, it’s a well rounded, flashy, and rather enjoyable musou title that provides a worthy amount of content without ever becoming a stagnant affair.
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, and Nintendo Switch
Platform Reviewed: PlayStation 4
Publisher: XSEED Games
Release Date: Available Now
Whether you are a fan of the series or not, Fate/EXTELLA LINK is rather fun, it’s filled to the brim with action, and allows for fans both new and old to familiarize themselves with a healthy roster of well-established servants. It ensures that no one encounter will ever be experienced exactly the same and sets itself leagues ahead of some of its competitor titles, making it an absolute must-have for Musou fans.
Our review is based upon a retail version that was provided to us by the publisher of the game. For information about our ethics policy please click here.
About the Writer(s):
Dustin is our native console gamer, PlayStation and Nintendo reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the borders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPG’s, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. His elitist attitude gives him direction, want, and a need for the hardest difficulties in games, which is fun to watch, and hilarity at its finest. You can find him over on Twitter or Facebook.