Review: Fate/EXTELLA: The Umbral Star (Switch)

Fate/Stay Away

By Andy Hoover. Posted 08/21/2017 18:30 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
1-Up Mushroom for...
Competent execution of the Dynasty Warriors formula; colorful anime art direction; I got to name my character Burt Reynolds!
Poison Mushroom for...
Plot is impenetrable for newcomers; long and boring stretches of story between the action; gameplay quickly grows repetitive; trite and cringe-inducing dialogue.

Confession time — I have no experience with the long running Fate/This, That, and the other thing series of games and anime. I know of its existence and can recognize a few characters and tidbits here and there thanks to cultural osmosis, but playing Fate/EXTELLA: The Umbral Star was my first time making a meaningful foray into the franchise. Unfortunately, as far as first times go, this was not a particularly enjoyable experience.

At its core, Fate/EXTELLA for Switch is strange marriage of a visual novel and a Dynasty Warriors-like action game and as odd a pairing as that might sound, I could imagine that actually working under the right circumstances. Those circumstances are not present in this game. Instead, we are left with a horribly balanced game that spends far too much time with its muddled story than it does its somewhat competent action. In short, playing through EXTELLA is a slog.

Of course, a strong reliance on plot is rarely a bad thing by itself, but that plot, at the very least, has to be told well and be worth telling. The story on display here is damn near incomprehensible as it slings esoteric jargon about while moving things along at a snail’s pace. I think the game takes place in a virtual world on the moon that people are fighting for control of while another virtual world on a different celestial body is approaching that could potentially doom the world…maybe. Regardless, I can only assume prior exposure to the series would clear things up to some extent, but that’s no justification for such a frustrating experience. There is an in-game encyclopedia to help somewhat, but it really isn’t that effective and good writing on the part of the developers is always preferable to extracurricular reading. Should you be new to the franchise, reading an actual encyclopedia would be a much better use of your time.

Compounding the story issues is the dialogue. Almost every line in the game is either trite, boring, or cringe-inducing as you read your way through annoying character interactions and seemingly endless exposition dumps. The worst of it all, though, has to be the game’s attempts to establish the relationship between your main character and your companion of the opposite gender. Playing as a male lead, I was paired with Nero, a generically cute anime girl who is this world’s representation of the tyrannical Roman emperor. Most of our interactions involved her awkwardly fawning over me and showing me creepy levels of affection. I understand that there are many games, especially of the visual novel genre, that sell like hotcakes based on this type of writing and I imagine that many probably do it rather well; but in this game, I don’t have any context to understand why I should care so it just comes across as desperate and pandering.

Occasionally, between frustratingly long stretches of baffling plot and horrible dialogue, you get to play an action game! Anyone familiar with the Dynasty Warriors franchise and its many spin-offs will feel right at home with EXTELLA. Players battle through masses of simple, generic enemies as they try to seize territory and take out enemy officers. Though you ultimately unlock a respectably large cast of playable characters, the core mechanics remain the same as you use different combinations of light and heavy attacks to put together combos that grow longer and stronger as you level up. Taking out foes also charges up several different meters that allow you to then unleash special attacks, power-ups, and transformations that further enhance your fighting abilities. Also, you gain various stat boosts you can assign to your characters outside of battle.

Altogether, the gameplay in these segments is solid but unremarkable. The Dynasty Warriors series has long been described as repetitive, but somehow that’s one area where Fate/EXTELLA has managed to outdo its inspiration. The action always starts out as enjoyable, but eventually drags more and more as each battle wears on. This comes down to two factors. First, the game literally throws thousands of foes at you in each level while only including a small number of named enemy officers, meaning the you spend far too much time button mashing your way through hordes of nobodies and less time actually having to intelligently use your combos and specials to take out the more interesting foes. The second issue arises from how the levels are segmented off into smaller battlefields, forcing you to hop from one area to the next in a manner that really interrupts the game’s flow. These two problems are magnified by how you never get any meaningful variation throughout the main campaign or the many side stories, so each level pretty much feels the same.

Visually, you can tell the game started its life on PlayStation Vita based on some weak textures and lower polygon counts. That being said, the models for the playable characters look decent enough and some of the animations are fairly fun. Also, the game is quite colorful and some of the levels have interesting art direction. Unfortunately, most of the story is presented by characters standing around and talking with only a few brief moments of movement and action here and there. At least the accompanying music is usually inoffensive and nobody can complain about bad English dubbing because only the Japanese voice-over is included.

Fans of the series might find a lot more to like about Fate/EXTELLA: The Umbral Star than yours truly, because without an understanding of the plot or characters the game barely makes sense and has little interest in giving newcomers a reason to care. This would be much more forgivable if the story got out of its own way and placed more focus on the action, but the developers were obviously far too in love with the story they came up with. Of course, one could skip through the story bits, but then you’re just left with a rather mediocre Dynasty Warriors clone. Taking all that into consideration, outside of its existing fanbase, Fate/EXTELLA can only be recommended to those who simply must have a stop-gap as they wait for Fire Emblem Warriors, or those in desperate need of validation from cute anime girls.

Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.

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