The concept of a lone ronin wandering through feudal Japan, living on their sword and their wits, is one of the classic tales. However, imagine if that Samurai was joined by a spirit from the past and had to engage in a war for the holy grail and a mysterious wish. That is the basis for the latest game in the Fate series, Fate/Samurai Remnant from Koei Tecmo. Is this adventure of swords, magic, and companionship worth your attention, or should you leave the grail to someone else?
Before I get into the game, I suppose it is probably prudent to briefly talk about the series. The Fate series was created by TYPE-MOON and follows the combatants in an event called the Grail War. This war is less of a massive battle, and more of a series of small combats between several masters and their magical servants to find the holy grail. These servants, also known as heroic spirits, are figures from history and mythology, although not always as we might know them, who have been brought back to life with a wealth of skills and abilities. There is honestly a wealth of lore, history and rules to learn, but thankfully Fate/Samurai Remnant manages to avoid being overwhelming for new players.
Players take the role of Miyamoto Iori, a ronin during the fourth year of the Keian period of Japan. Iori makes his money by taking care of small problems and following the teachings of his master. However, his relatively simple life becomes considerably more complex when he is attacked by ninjas. Iori is only saved by his summoning of Saber, his own Heroic Spirit. Iori soon finds out about the ‘Waxing Moon Ritual’ and the danger he faces. There are only two options, fight or die, so it is up to Iori and Saber to work together to win the grail and make their wish.
The plot for Fate/Samurai Remnant starts slowly and it spends a lot of time explaining everything. This is great for new players, but fans of the series may get a bit annoyed at hearing the same things they already know. However, there is plenty for both old and new players to discover and learn. The characters that the player meets are, initially, not very open with Iori. However, they each have their own arcs and they become either an interesting ally or a devious enemy. The city of Asakusa is also well realised and exploring it remains interesting for a long time. There is a bit of an issue where non-masters and servants don’t have much to usually offer as characters and it can lead to the world feeling a bit empty.
One of the best aspects however are the characters of Iori and Saber. Iori is something of a blank slate, he doesn’t emote and takes everything in stride. If he were a solo protagonist then it would get dull very quickly, however, Saber is his exact opposite. Saber, being completely out of their time, sees everything as new and exciting. They serve as the audience when it comes to asking questions and learning about the world and time that Iori lives in. Saber’s growing relationship with him and the other characters, and their time spent thinking about things other than fighting, is easily one of the best parts of the game.
Gameplay is… well, honestly there is a lot to learn here and it can appear pretty complicated. The first thing to know is that this is a Koei game, with everything that comes with that. For the uninitiated, it essentially means open combat with large groups of enemies, flashy moves, item management and a lot of running around. The main gameplay loop is focused on fighting and this is also what Iori and Saber will spend most of their time doing. Players will mostly control Iori in combat and he has a few tricks up his sleeves. Firstly, he has up to four sword stances that can be unlocked through the game. These stances offer various benefits and each can be upgraded to improve Iori’s base stats. Outside of the sword, Iori also has access to magic, but this is arguably less useful due to the gem system. Essentially, magic can only be cast when Iori has access to the right number of gems, but getting there can be tricky. Initially, the gems can only be gathered in combat and their drops are rare which, when added to the gem cost of each spell, means their use is limited. However, this is mitigated later in the game when the base is upgraded and a certain trader is revealed.
Saber is also a constant companion to Iori and they will join in most combat situations. While they aren’t usually controllable, she can use special attacks as their familiarity rises in combat. They can be controlled when a meter is raised to the right amount and this functions almost like a limit break. The player will have a short amount of time to use Saber and attack the opponent, something that they’ll need to do to beat certain opponents. It is also possible to meet rogue servants, heroic spirits who have no master, and use them in combat. These rogue servants help to mix combat up and offer something a little different regarding attacks.
All the characters can be upgraded and this is the main way to unlock new attacks and better stats. Outside of levelling up, it is also possible to expand and upgrade Iori’s home, which unlocks a bunch of different actions and options. Iori can also find sword parts in order to upgrade his weapons, as well as change their appearance. To be honest, the amount of things that can be improved can get slightly overwhelming and it can often feel that levelling up doesn’t make that much difference. The issue is that the enemies feel like they scale with the player, so you never feel much more powerful than you did before. However, the new spells and attacks for your servants help to keep things interesting.
There is a third aspect to combat and it’s…a little odd. Essentially, servants become more powerful when connected to spirit fonts. These fonts are scattered around Asakusa, and their power will draw the attention of all the masters and servants in the city. Players can move around the city normally, but if they are moving to another master’s property, they will need to connect fonts as they go. This is done on a map that has Iori move from point to point in competition with their opponents. It appears more complex than it is, and it never feels too punishing to understand. If anything, the biggest issue is that it feels like padding sometimes rather than as a necessary addition.
The combat and gameplay are honestly a lot of fun, although the tankiness of certain enemies can get dull. The issue is that the larger monster enemies have a shield against Iori’s attacks that need to be broken. This shield can break if you dodge and attack or use Saber, and it can feel great when you get a good flow going, but it can also drag a bit when there are more than two of these opponents. Luckily this is a rare occurrence, but it doesn’t solve the biggest issue. Fate/Samurai Remnant wants you to collect items, lots of them, to upgrade items. Add to this the sword mechanics that have you change parts for better stats, and it is very easy to feel overwhelmed with less-than-stellar items very quickly.
As I said before, this is a Koei game and it is visually apparent in the graphics. They aren’t bad, but there is an issue with repetition. In fact, the anime-style character portraits and videos are gorgeous. The fights are also visually fantastic and full of flashy lights and massive attacks. The issue is that, outside of the combat and conversations, it isn’t really that impressive to look at. The citizens’ character models are cut and pasted, and the locations are pretty similar for the most part. There are a few standouts, but it all feels very familiar. This is also the case with the enemies. There is some variation but it won’t be long before you’re fighting the same enemies over and over again.
Fate/Samurai Remnant took a while to draw me in, it wasn’t bad initially but it felt there wasn’t a lot of variety. However, as I slowly unlocked new sword forms, servants, and gameplay mechanics I found myself enjoying it far more. The main thing I took away from the game was how much I enjoyed the characters, and for fans, there are a few surprise visitors and their interactions. The friendship and the histories were all entertaining and kept me coming back to see more of what the game had to offer.
Fate/Samurai Remnant (Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro)
This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.
There is much to learn in Fate/Samurai Remnant but the characters and gameplay loop make it worth the work.