Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star (PlayStation 4) Review

By Chris Leebody 17.01.2017

Review for Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star on PlayStation 4

To be honest, it would not be a surprise if many in the West had not heard of this unwieldy-named thing. Sometimes a strange niche title traverses the seas and land from that great archipelago Japan, home of many of the world's most extravagant video game creations. This is where Marvelous' sequel to the PSP original Fate/Extra was conceived. Of course, it's dangerous in gaming to get too disturbed about niches from lands far away. One only has to reminisce back to a time when the staple Dynasty Warriors was in its infancy. Indeed, Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star feels like a homage to that Koei legacy in many ways, with the hectic destruction of waves of helpless enemies. In fact, even the button combinations, as well as the overall designs, play on the well tread path. It's a testament to how far a sequel can adjust, from the dungeon crawling of the PSP original, to the brawling action on offer here. However, as mentioned, strange things can originate from the pearl of the Pacific.

If you want strange, you got it. Those without an appreciation of some of the most "Japanese" tastes in anime might struggle here. Within the first ten to fifteen minutes of plot, there is a brief rundown of a war fought in order to gain control of a device based on the moon, called the 'Moon Cell Automaton' computer, which grants a wish for the user who holds it.

Add in the concept of all the fighting characters controlled being servants who may or may not be computer programmes (it's hard to tell). Finally, a clone of the protagonist appears, in league with the main antagonist and vying to take over the lunar world. Oh, and did anyone mention all the servants have the personality and memories of ancient heroes from mythology and legend?

The fact that this is about as simple as it can be summarised is both bizarre and in another way brilliant, in equal measure. It is clear Marvelous revels in making the plot as complex and obscure as possible. The downside to this is that anyone without a deep appreciation of the style of an anime story might get both lost and bored.

To be honest, it feels a lot of the time that the latter is the case. After the first couple of battles, the never-ending flirting between main servant Nero and the protagonist, and the many, many terms used as if they had meaning, it starts to drag.

Screenshot for Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star on PlayStation 4

What doesn't drag so much is the combat, which will be very familiar to any fans of the Warriors franchise. To say it is a homage to it would be too little, as the controls are more like a replica with the combinations of Square and Triangle combining to create powerful finishing moves. There is even an ultimate attack to be powered up and unleashed.

Of course, these moves are unleashed on a tide of helpless manikins who provide the flailing cannon fodder. Marvelous actually deserves some props, though, for doing a fair amount of tweaking to this battle system. It would have been easy just to make a linear map. Instead, what they have sought to do is add more strategy and danger to each battle.

The result of this is that in every fight there is always the perception that the enemy can win as well. This is done through the breakdown of zones or bases that have to be captured by killing the guardians of the zones known as "aggressors," who are more powerful machine creatures. When enough are killed, the main boss appears.

Those fans of Dynasty Warriors will already understand the familiarity of this, but also appreciate that it takes the familiar gameplay mechanic a step forward, for the enemy is always striking back, and it is impressive how many times they manage to peg back the advance with a well worked move to recapture a past taken area.

Screenshot for Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star on PlayStation 4

The only real downside to the combat here is that after a while it does get a little stale. This isn't even a criticism directly on this title. Even the most ardent fans of this type of brawler usually admit that things can start to get a little "samey" after tens of thousands of enemies have been chopped apart. The difference in other games is maybe that the incentives are greater; through collecting items, or finding hidden cut-scenes or unlocking powerful weapons. Whereas unless one is a great fan of the story, which includes side quests for the 16 playable servants, The Umbral Star does little to encourage long term replayability.

Speaking of those characters, one lesson the developers took well from Koei is to make the characters relatable for the audience. This is achieved through having them grounded in lots of well-known myths and legends from real life. There is Cu Chulainn, the hero from Ireland, Joan of Arc from France, or even the infamous Lu Bu.

Now, don't get confused, they are as Japanese as they come. However, the fact that they reference great names from folklore adds a level of interest. They all have their own class type, as well, which gives them a sort of unique fighting style, or, at the very least, a different type of weapon.

Screenshot for Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star on PlayStation 4

One thing that is important is technical performance. As anyone knows, with so much hectic action on screen, it is imperative that the engine keeps pace. Thankfully, The Umbral Star does not suffer any hitches and frame rate is kept steady. With that said, it isn't the most spectacular visually.

It is definitely a vibrant and colourful world and certainly does not lack in imagination when it comes to the world locales, or indeed the character designs themselves. What it does lack is any finesse in the overall textures of the world, which feel very flat and lack detail.

The soundtrack is like the writing and story: completely over the top. However, it actually fits the battles usually, and provides a sense of the epic that always improves the slaying of thousands of enemies. It should just be mentioned, as well, that all the voices are in Japanese, which is always a bit of a pain—not necessarily when in cut-scenes, but when trying to read dialogue while fighting.

Screenshot for Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

5/10
Rated 5 out of 10

Average

The real trick of making a game work in this style is to ground it in some sense of normality. Where the Musou series excels, and indeed how it has survived for such a long time, is that for all the Japanese humour and charm, the core story is a simple one of warring kingdoms fighting battles. It is awesome when a story doesn't hold back on its vision and complexity and does not abandon its world. However, Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star gets lost in this vision at the expense of its Western audience. With that said, where it does succeed is in making a fun, if forgettable, action title that has plenty of content to work through, even if it does tend to get a little predictable and stale after the first few hours. There is definitely something to work on here for future titles, though, and it is great to see the Warriors style reimagined by another developer.

Developer

Marvelous

Publisher

Marvelous

Genre

Brawler

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  5/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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