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March 2023

Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
Genre: Action
Publisher: XSEED Games
Developer: Marvelous
Release Date: Jan. 17, 2017


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PS Vita Review - 'Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Jan. 17, 2017 @ 1:30 a.m. PST

Players experience the story of Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star from the independent perspectives of the three heroine servants and face foes from a variety of Fate productions.

Buy Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star

The Fate universe revolves around wars fought by Servants, who are the spirits of ancient heroes who take physical form and battle to determine the fate of the world. Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star is the sequel to Fate/Extra, which was released on the PSP. Fate/Extra followed the journey of a heroic wizard and his (or her) Servant as they fought for control over the Moon Cell, a powerful facility located on The Moon. Extella begins shortly afterward. A titan attacks the Moon Cell and brutally injures the protagonist. While recovering from the injury, Saber (also known as the Emperor Nero) discovers that the attack split him into multiple pieces. The servant Caster, one of the other playable characters, has laid claim to the Moon Cell. Now a war has begun between the various servants in the cell, all seeking to become the true ruler.

A major draw — or flaw — of Extella is that it's incredibly story-heavy for a Warriors-style game, and the story isn't friendly for newcomers. If you haven't played Fate/Extra or aren't a die-hard fan of the Fate franchise, you won't have the slightest idea of what's going on. Terms are thrown at you without any explanation, character relationships are pre-defined, and lengthy and complex metaphysical elements are bandied about. (The concept that people's minds and souls are distinct and separate things plays a big part in the plot.) If you're willing to put your mind to it or do some wiki searching, you can probably puzzle it out, but this is a game for fans. Anyone else is probably going to be completely lost among the barrage of concepts.

As far as gameplay goes, Extella is a Dynasty Warriors clone, and it doesn't pretend to be otherwise. One of the earliest missions tosses Lu Bu at you. As such, the core combat mechanics are going to feel very familiar to people who have played a Warriors title. You're an unstoppable hero who can slaughter your way across the battlefield. As characters advance in levels, they gain access to more powerful attack strings.

Each character also has a powerful Extella attack, a crowd-clearing attack that you can activate after building up an Extella meter. It's very similar to Musou attacks from the Warriors series. A major difference is that you can spend additional blocks of your Extella meter to extend the initial damage of the attack, so you can front-load damage against a boss or save the bars for later. Generally, it's worthwhile to mash out the extra damage, but it's neat to have the option.

When your protagonist doesn't fight directly on the battlefield, they have two ways to influence the battlefield. One method is Codes, which are special spells that can heal, provide character buffs, or swap your playable character for another character. These items are not equipped directly, but you can purchase specific garb that you can equip to determine your skill lineup. Emergency healing can be nice but isn't necessary, and swapping characters is less useful than it sounds — including an abnormally long load. Some of these skills are absurdly strong and can make some tough stages easier.

Another method that technically comes from your protagonist is the Moon Crux/Moon Drive ability. It allows you to temporarily massively boost your character's abilities, usually accompanied by some form of physical transformation and a change to the move set. It's a temporary super mode that you can build up by filling a gauge. Once it's full, you can pop it at any time to become nigh unstoppable. Most of the Moon forms are a lot cooler than the regular forms, and with a few upgrades, you can be using them surprisingly often.

The final gameplay mechanic is the Nobel Phantasm, which is the ultimate power of the Servants and can alter a battle. They tend to come in two types. Player Noble Phantasms require the player to find special circuits scattered throughout the stage. Unlocking them gives access to a powerful special move that is great for taking down bosses. Enemy Noble Phantasms tend to involve adding complexity to a stage, like a barrier that weakens your party unless you find a way to disable it. They're minor in the overall scheme of things but a neat touch.

As with Warriors, your goal is to take over the territory of the enemy faction. Battle arenas are divided into segments, and you must slay enemies in a segment to get aggressors to spawn. Killing all of the aggressors in an area allows you to claim it. A claimed segment is worth a certain number of keys on your Regalia Matrix, which both sides are working to fill up. Claim enough territories, and you'll fill the matrix. Lose too many, and the enemies win. There are different valued areas, so you're encouraged to think carefully about where to attack.

One annoying problem is that the camera is zoomed in too tightly and is awkward to control. The game only offers lock-on in certain segments, and that can be annoying when the camera blocks most of the surroundings. This is only a serious flaw because of how fast Extella's combat can be. Repeated dodges or lengthy combos can knock enemies off-screen or make it difficult to follow the action. It isn't enough to be crippling, especially since the hardest fight do have lock-on, but it can drag down the experience.

Fate/Extella'sbiggest flaw is just that it is an average and unremarkable Warriors clone. If you don't want to play as Fate characters, Extella has nothing to recommend it over other Warriors title on the market. I've played dozens of Warriors titles, and I can't provide a good gameplay reason to pick up Extella over any of them. It's fun in a smashing-tons-of-mooks kind of way, but Warriors fans looking for something to scratch their itch probably won't be satisfied with this offering.

Extella has a bunch of content. It has multiple story modes, including main story modes for multiple factions and side stories for the less-important characters. There's also Free mode, which lets you take on stages without much plot. Finishing everything in the game will take you hours of gameplay, and maxing out and unlocking everything for every character will take plenty more. There are lots of ways to customize your characters, including special "install" chips that can add attributes to the various Servants. You can even spend time bonding with your servants for special scenes and additional unlocks.

Extella has some nice visuals, but it obviously suffers from the limitations of the Vita. The character models are vividly animated and contain a lot of detail. Fans of the franchise will enjoy the little details. Where the game suffers is in the environments, which are largely similar and dull-looking, in addition to being tough to instantly read. The PS4 version likely comes out ahead here, but fortunately, most of your time is spent looking at the combat, not the backgrounds. The game is in Japanese with English subtitles, but it has a solid voice cast, and the translation is quite good. The soundtrack is good, if somewhat unexceptional.

Fate/Extella: The Umbra Star is a perfectly ordinary Dynasty Warriors clone that's been slightly elevated by its license. The gameplay is fun but strictly average, and there's not much that makes it stand out beyond the plot and characters. If you're a fan of the Fate franchise, you'll probably get your money's worth in the story and characters. If you're looking for a brawler, this doesn't have much to offer. The lengthy story sequences filled with metaphysics might make it even less enjoyable than a standard game.

Score: 7.0/10

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