Could you kill for the privilege of having your one wish granted? Could you strive towards that goal without knowing exactly what you wanted to wish for? In fact, could you kill for that aim without even knowing who you are? These are the questions that Type-Moon and Image Epoch are asking you in a faux digital world created for the sole purpose of waging war.
Set in a time where the real world has faced some sort of disaster, you take on the role of a protagonist that has no memories of themselves, the past or indeed the present from where they came, in fact they spend the entirety of the game trying to discover just who they truly are. This may sound like your typical amnesiac plot line, but I assure you it isn’t. Whilst the plot places the moral question of if it’s right to fight when you don’t know what you’re fighting for infront of you, it also places the tantalising prospect of being able to have whatever you want granted in the form of a wish from the once mythical Holy Grail – and no, not the one see in the Monty Python movie.
The only way to attain this Holy Grail is by taking part in the inventively named “Holy Grail War”. Taking place in a virtual world created by an entity/program/something-I’m-still-not-sure-what-it-is known as SE.RA.PH, participants must fight to the death one-on-one to secure their place in the next round and one step closer to attaining the prize they covet so much. Essentially it’s survival of the fittest, with the fittest gaining the most unbelievable of rewards. Interestingly Fate/EXTRA essentially breaks down the fourth wall in gaming, letting you know that you’re doing nothing more than participating in a video game, however it also smacks home the fact that you are killing people with your actions; whilst your opponents inside SE.RA.PH and the Holy Grail War may be virtual, they are being controlled by ‘real’ people outside of the programme, who also die. Victory is bittersweet it seems.
Marketed as an RPG, Fate/EXTRA actually plays out like an RPG/detective game hybrid. Of course there’s your dungeon crawling, but to truly best your opponent in battle you must discover truths behind their backgrounds to find their weaknesses – and thanks to the games branching narrative, multiple dialogue choices and potential to just grind, you can miss vital information. Patience is well rewarded, as by taking your time you can really make the game easier for yourself and avoid death and the “Dead End” narratives offered up.
Of course, patience is a virtue; a virtue you’ll definitely need when it comes down to the combat. It really isn’t the hardest mechanic to get to grips with, but it is infuriating to master. Taking on a Rock, Paper, Scissors style of play where Attack beats Break, which beats Guard, which in turn beats Attack, the theory of combat is a simple one; however the trouble comes in reading and memorising what patterns your enemies offer up – throw in special skill moves and you’re onto a firebed of rather deep combat that can be entirely random at times. It has skill involved, but just like Rock, Paper, Scissors, the random nature of some encounters can make your blood boil.
That said, there is something about this title that’s just utterly gripping. Even though I was reviewing the game, I genuinely didn’t want to put it down. I’ve invested forty hours into it and continually find myself wanting to go back for more – I even made a save at a crucial point so I could venture back in and try a different path. Although the story-writing isn’t the best I’ve seen by any means, and it’s all a little over-the-top at times; but the detective work needed to move forward, combined with the virtual ‘dungeons’ to explore and enemies to observe really captivated my attention – in fact it’s safe to say this is probably one of the few games on my PS Vita (it’s for PSP but I played it out on the Vita instead) that has absorbed so much of my time.
There’s also plenty of reason to revisit the title as choosing a different starting class or path during the game alters who you face, and thus changes the planning side of the story – practically feeding my addiction to it all. The only real down side that hit me hard in the face came from the hardware limitations of the PSP, as some battles can be taxing and discovering the ins and outs of an enemy can be difficult and so it would be rather nice to be rewarded with that faint ping of a Trophy being unlocked. That is only a small niggle mind, but one that pervaded my time with the title. Overall it may not be perfect, and it probably wont be everybody’s cup of tea, but this spin off of the Fate/Stay Night virtual novel will easily entertain and enthral those who love Japanese RPGs.
Audio/Visual – 4/5 : An enjoyable and subtle soundtrack that compliments the games virtual styling well – it is strange that the voice overs are only offered in Japanese though. Visually it’s an impressive PSP title but offers incredibly simple environments but detailed character models instead.
Gameplay – 4/5: Combat may be simple to grasp but it’s hard to master, throw in detective work and you’ve got a potent mix that’s only tarnished by a slightly repetitive structure.
Value – 4/5: It’ll definitely last you a long time to complete and there’s plenty of reason to go back again if you fell in love with the story. If not, then you’ll spend a while playing it but might not pick it up again.
Innovation – 3/5: It’s hard to be truly innovative in the RPG genre, but it’s managed to do it well enough; however it still feels stagnant in places and the repetitive nature of progress shows that it was short of ideas.
Final Score: 3.5/5