Fate/Extella The Umbral Star is a Musou/Dynasty Warriors game which features 3 main factions fighting for dominance in SE-RA-PH (SERIAL PHANTASM), playing as Saber (Nero Claudius), Caster (Tamamo-No-Mae) and Saber (Altera) in their respective factions of Rome, Millennium Capital and Umbral Star. It’s a game that works on its own mechanically, but the narrative isn’t quite as successful though. Through and through this is a Type-Moon and Fate game, so those who know these will understand where it falls flat.
Jokes about it being a waifu/husbando simulator, another Saber face and fetish feeder aside - although this is sprinkled as part of the main content. It is mechanically really competent. Each character feels diverse with their various methods of tackling the hordes of enemies, with different characters being better in certain combat conditions. Juggling the conquest of different sectors help break the repetition of pure button mashing, with the power up mode Moon Crux/Drive adding alterations to your bread and butter moves. My only complaint is the lack of a distinct challenge mechanically, even playing 10 levels below the recommended level wasn’t difficult since the enemies aren’t aggressive attackers.
The main gameplay though will still become monotonous and those not a fan of the Musou games and just want the Extella story will most likely struggle even with easy mode, with most chapters ranging from 5 to 15+ minutes. This monotony is reinforced by the lack of maps and variations in enemies, facing the same Servant several times throughout the main campaign. This will be dividing for some, but really, the main meat of the content isn’t the combat (although it is part and parcel of a Musou game).
The narrative is a Fate/Moon mess, for the most part there isn’t a massive background/exposition dump compared to their other Fate series such as Stay Night, Grand Order and their Anime counterparts. The pacing at the beginning is expectantly slow (so be warned) and it struggles to pick up pace until near the end of the first chapter following Nero. This is where the first issue arises with any series, there isn’t any kind of connection built to give the ending an emotional pay off. Although most people even remotely aware of the Fate/Extella series know it is a weird mess of a Grail War, which luckily doesn’t require background reading, since the main character is your infamous amnesia induced hero of the story that doesn’t do anything and rediscovers themselves.
The cast for the most part aren’t fully developed, but those familiar to the Fate franchise will absolutely adore them as they are just super condensed personalities. For instance, Gilgamesh isn’t an absolute dick and is somewhat likable compared to his Zero and Stay Night debut as a villain. And it’s an issue like this that will deter strangers and attract fans. Nero and Tamamo come across as fun and lighthearted characters that you’d love to spend time with. Discussing Altera would be a spoiler, but long story short, the ending is fulfilling and treads on familiar grounds for Fate fans.
Villains aren’t that great in this though, at times they come across as pretentious and lack a reason to exist as the antagonist. That’s not to say a mustache twirling villain is bad or takes away from the experience, but it lacks a villain you would love to hate a la Gilgamesh in Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Bladeworks. Some characters can/will come across as dislikable because of their characterisation being weird byproducts of a bygone fandom in the Anime/Otaku community. Which, from an outside perspective, is more irritating and jarring compared to some of the more well written aspects of the story. Something that’s achieved more often than I would have expected, although there are still pacing issues that persist because of the narrative.
The combination of story and mechanics aren’t a match made in heaven, with the long sections of narrative being portrayed as a visual novel rather than an action game. The lack of an autoplay button makes this worse, but this doesn’t reflect the overall experience, and is more of an inconvenience when you want to listen to the Japanese voice dub. Which is surprisingly more palatable than what some might expect, compared from the usual shrieky two octaves above the normal female voice that borderlines unbearable. Although, there are still characters that have that unnatural squeakiness. As much as the main trio of female leads are delights in their own rights, they still have that decisive moment of “this is borderline hentai” moment that’s either humorous or unnerving for some.
Is this a game for the general masses? Considering the content and how far down the rabbit hole it goes, previous experience with the Fate franchise is borderline recommended since they don’t explain the Grail Wars and how they reflect the characters. This is especially apparent with the character interactions between certain characters such as Cú Chulainn and Nameless have quips and jabs at each other due to their history in previous installations, this is the same for several other characters. This being most apparent with Nero and Tamamo, but they explain this rather well, allowing the audience to understand their relationship. But this speaks more to the type of game this is, Fate/Extella The Umbral Star comes across as part lip service with an original and compelling narrative that feels like an open inside joke amongst a group of friends that want you to have fun and to join in on the ride that is the Fate series.
Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star (Reviewed on PlayStation 4)
Excellent. Look out for this one.
Aside from the repetitive gameplay, this is a game that Fate fans will absolutely enjoy playing and exploring in an officially released Fate game, since the Stay Night visual novels don’t seem to be coming out anytime soon, including the several other games that spawned from this franchise. From a gaming perspective is a flawless execution of what a Servant would do against an army, but is mechanically challenging.