Back in the day, before the advent of Crunchyroll and torrent sites, my anime consumption came from two primary sources: Japanese RPGs and Toonami. Our VCR was set to record Gundam Wing and Cowboy Bebop daily. During more desperate times, I rented Sailor Moon cassettes from our local Blockbuster (a sentence which may confuse some of you, seeing as both VHS cassettes and Blockbuster no longer exist). I was convinced that Neon Genesis Evangelion and Final Fantasy VII were two of the best stories ever told.
I share all of this to make a simple point: Fate/EXTELLA: The Umbral Star is ANIME written in all capital letters. Which is not always a good thing.
Fate/EXTELLA is the same version of the game released last year on the PlayStation 4 and Vita. The Nintendo Switch version includes all of the game’s previously released DLC, plus all of the joy of bringing it on the go without having to purchase two copies. Gameplay is a mixtape of musou-style combat and exposition-heavy visual novel vignettes. The story is told through the eyes of a choose-your-own-name Master who conveniently has lost all of his memory in the wake of a terrible war. Your Servant, Nero, serves as both the primary source of exposition and your player character in combat. It all sounds simple enough, but then the game starts talking. A lot.
That’s when Fate/Extella gets really anime.
While Extella is billed as a standalone title in the series, it still feels like a game made for the diehards. Even the diehards might have trouble getting through the game’s slogging exposition. The characters are so focused on world-building they barely have personalities. Which is a shame, because the writing is actually funny when it is allowed to be. The story’s emphasis on the Master and Servant relationship, however, is creepy at best and elicits frequent “Oh, anime” eye rolls.
Gritting teeth and getting through the convoluted reads-like-fan-fiction leads to the other half of the game. When the game isn’t trying to cram fan service down your throat, it’s trying to be Dynasty Warriors instead. Hundreds of enemies flood the screen with nary a drop in framerate – Commendable for the Switch, considering it runs at 60 frames per second both docked and undocked. Light and heavy attacks help clear through the waves, building up your Extella Maneuver Gauge. Activating the Extella Maneuver turns the game a little more anime, as your Servant slices through hundreds of enemies at once. Fans of magical girl anime will love activating the Moon Crux, which is another special ability that is activated once another special gauge is filled. Complete with a Sailor Moon-like transformation, Servants change form and temporarily deal extreme amounts of damage.
Clearing through waves of enemies eventually earns the attention of Aggressors. Defeating Aggressors is the only way to secure a portion of the map, and with multiple parts of the map under siege, drawing them out and defeating them quickly is vital to completing a mission. The pressure of clearing the room you are in on top of preventing an invasion in another makes the game fun in short bursts. However, those who are not also diehard fans of the musou style of gameplay will find it repetitive.
More nitpicky details include dated graphics and the unusual choice of font size. The framerate saves the game from looking like an early PlayStation 3 game, but the small font size makes reading the protagonist’s own narration difficult when the system is docked. Playing it in handheld mode alleviates this somewhat, and was my preferred method of play (I’m of the mind that all visual novels should be enjoyed in the comfort of one’s own bed).
For better or worse, Fate/EXTELLA embodies everything that makes an anime game different from the ordinary crowd, including characters that speak only in exposition, fan service that creeps you out, and gameplay that is more about watching cool stuff happen than actually being fun. Owners of the PlayStation versions need not double dip. If, however, you feel your Nintendo needs a little more anime, this can be the figurative microwave mozzarella sticks before dinner that you’re looking for.
Matt Utley is a Contributing Editor at GameRevolution. You can follow him on Twitter @mutleycomedy.
A Nintendo Switch copy of Fate/EXTELLA: The Umbral Star was provided by its publisher. Fate/EXTELLA: The Umbral Star is also available on PC, PS4, and PS Vita.