Heroes of history unite!

Following on from 2010ís Fate game; Fate/Extra - a role-playing title on the PlayStation Portable - developer and publisher Marvelous! aim for a follow-up on the handhelds successor and the latest generation of Sony console, but this time within an entirely different genre with their latest instalment Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star.

Based upon the game-cum-anime of the same name - but set within a parallel universe to its more well known counterpart - Fate/Extella: the Umbral Star opens amid an ambiguous yet triumphant victory, having won the ĎHoly Grail Warí in the previous title - a tournament of death whereby contestants are paired with historical figures through time, and the last one remaining standing has their wish granted - your spoils were ripped away from you by an unknown, yet fearsome foe in those final moments.

Now, awakening as King but with a distinct lack of memory, you must once again become Master and team up with your personal Servant to figure out just what happened back then, and what in the heck is going on in the predicament you both now find yourselves.

SE.RA.PH? Regalia? Holy Grail War? Masters and Servants? No you arenít playing Scrabble against a thesaurus, and unless youíre well versed in a previous iteration of the series - be they game or animation - you wonít have the slightest inkling into just what the heck is unfolding before you, rightly sounding like complete gibberish.

And in truth, as a fan of the anime, the story of Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star is truly gibberish, paling in comparison to the deeper storylines in the aforementioned animated show; especially an iteration of the series such as Unlimited Blade Works (which you can currently catch on Netflix).

But the four arc story told throughout, throws you back and forth between a visual novel narrative - with an element of choice sprinkled within that depending upon your choices boosts the Bond between you and the playable characters - and the more meatier combat sections, never straying from its path until its final act. The story itself is merely window dressing for the gameplay itself and never really heats up until its final arc, but thankfully the gameplay within Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star is an aspect it excels at.

Shedding a lot of its foundational role-playing mechanics, Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star opts to follow the beat'em up or Musou genre of games as it's known - made famous by the Dynasty Warriors series. With hundreds of enemies littering the screen and a single slash of your weapon sending them tumbling into the horizon, itís gameplay thatís not only cathartic but quite the visual feast; successfully emulating the simple anime visual style it's based upon. The combat itself is fairly straightforward requiring only two button inputs (a light and heavy attack) with your attack repertoire increasing as you level up a particular character further. The combos themselves are fast, flashy and your approach to the swarm of enemies in front of you will entirely depend on the historical figure youíre currently in control of.

Playable characters within the Fate series are separated into 7 distinct classes; Saber, Lancer, Archer, Rider, Caster, Assassin and Berserker, each a specialist with their own distinct movesets, transformation (known as a Moon Crux) and special attacks in the form of Extella Maneuvers - deployed using multiple segmented gauges which fill up during battle - and the Noble Phantasm; your characters ultimate screen-clearing move earned by collecting 3 distinct chips across the stage. From close combat, long range and even magic-based attacks, each of the classes feel very different to play, and whilst the main story arcís will only have you playing a couple, itís in the unlockable Servant sidestories that youíll get to experience the full breadth of combat variety on offer.

But the litany of enemies in front of you are truly only half the battle. Like most Musou titles, surveying the wider battlefield is the key to success in Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star, with your allied territories falling prey to enemy attack, incoming invasions from Plant creatures - giant, floating energy-spewing blobs - or a particular enemy Servant wreaking havoc.

Knowing when to cut your losses and traverse to other sectors in order to quell problems before they occur is when Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star truly shines, as all of its mechanics come together in unison to espouse to the player what a battlefield should truly be - strategic chaos.

But unlike the Roman Emperor Nero herself, all isnít smelling of roses within Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star. Whilst admittedly the story is mere fluff, pandering to tropes and merely giving you a reason to quash your foes, it's some obvious issues in combat which feed upon one another that tend to stick out like a sore thumb after numerous hours in the slash-fest. The first is the lock-on system, because frankly there isnít one.

Outside of the boss characters for each stage - those being the enemy Servants - you arenít able to lock onto a single enemy, and whilst admittedly being able to individually target every enemy on screen would not only be cumbersome but annoying, itís clear developers Marvelous have thought about separating the wheat from the chaff, giving you the option to not only toggle the health bar visibility of the larger Aggressor enemies but include an arrow pointing to the location of the nearest one. So why they didnít take it a step further and allow that same lock-on feature used on boss characters with Aggressors is a mystery, especially when one of your attacks - the Extella Maneuver - targets only a specific enemy and hitting the wrong one can mean wasting a portion of your built up gauge.

With the absence of lock-on, itís up to you to now find the enemy upon the battlefield using the camera (right-stick), and unfortunately it isnít quite up to snuff. When stationary, rotating the camera around your third-person perspective seems easy enough, and works perfectly fine for this purpose; but throw in some bombastic, chaotic action whilst zipping around the freshly deceased at lightning speed and the problems quickly show themselves, with the camera suddenly pointing aimlessly in random directions requiring manual readjustment. Admittedly these issues didnít take away my joy with Fate/Extella, but they consistently reared their heads throughout my many hours attaining the titles true ending and could have been ironed out for an even smoother experience.

In an industry where complete gaming packages are a growingly endangered species - with patches and DLC dispersed like oxygen - itís such a refreshing experience when you come across a game that is not only bug free but packed with a literal ton of content. Aside from the four main story arcs - set across five stages - and a whole myriad of character Install Skills to collect throughout, not to mention Code Cast recipes which require unlocking through an end of stage grading system, it all means Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star boasts lots of replayability.

And that is frankly the surface offerings, with individual side stories involving every Servant you have unlocked throughout, extending your playtime even further - and as mentioned previously giving you the chance to experience the full breadth of its combat mechanics - with the icing on the cake being even another character - a staple of the Fate universe - secretly hidden within. All of this combines into Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star being a package that you could easily spend weeks within unlocking and playing through everything it has to offer.

Fans of the anime will likely be disappointed with the story on offer within Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star, that whilst manages to heat up in its final arc, is more akin to a fighting game than an in-depth story and pales in comparison to the far superior anime counterpart.

But playing as each and every Servant - those made famous through the show and those not - is a heck of a lot of fun, with gameplay that is both cathartic and successfully brings an element of strategy along for the ride. Whilst there are some minor niggles within the combat gameplay that stop it being a cornerstone of the genre, thereís nothing that truly dissuaded my enjoyment in the complete package developers Marvelous have managed to offer fans.

Whether you are seeking it out as a Musou title - an area it excels at - or just looking for something to sink quite a few hours into - on console or on the ago - then Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star exudes that experience in spades.

Review copy of Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star provided by the publisher for the PlayStation 4.

  • Review by
    David Robinson

    Twitter: @5ypher

    Posted on
    17th January 2017

  • 3 Out of 5 Stars
  • Shallow story

    No lock-on

    Camera issues

  • Fun & cathartic combat

    Tens of hours of content

    Strategic elements

    Replayability

Game Info

Marvelous! and PQube presents Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star - PlayStation 4 & PlayStation Vita Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star
Rating: 12
Release Date: 20th January
Platform/s: PlayStation 4 & PlayStation Vita
Developer: Marvelous!
Publisher/s: Marvelous! & PQube

  • Dragon Quest Heroes
  • One Piece: Pirate Warriors
  • Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax

Yes, though visual novel elements can be inferred to be a little risque, with some provocative imagery nothing overtly sexual is shown to occur.

The game contains no English voice over, purely Japanese with English subtitle translations.

You can unlock hidden character Artoria by choosing the particular stage that has a mystery character side mission within a story arc (normal difficulty or higher), then complete the Regime Matrix but don't kill the boss.

Then proceed to one of the following sectors within that stage depending on the arc you're playing through; Nero (Sector D), Tamamo (Sector J), Altera (Sector E) and final arc (Sector H).

Within that Sector, pick up 5 health items (to get them to drop simply have low health before killing enemies). Once complete, Artoria will appear for you to defeat and unlock (before going on to beat the boss and overall stage).