November 29, 2011
Fate/Extra, unlike most current PSP Japanese-style RPGs, is delivered primarily from a visual novel standpoint. For those who don't know about this Japanese-centric style of storytelling, it delivers the story in a text-based format usually accompanied by static backdrops. Fate/Extra does have some 3D-based story sequences, usually when the characters interact with one another, but the split is usually 60/40 between the former and the latter.
The game initially puts the player in the body of a nondescript NPC in a school going through the motions, slowly recognizing that his world is unravelling as he encounters seemingly omnipotent strangers and begins to recognize that he can't remember much of all about his past or who he is. After a surprising event that leads to the player choosing between another amnesiac male or female character, they find out that the only way out of this virtual world is to defeat all of the other players taking part in a tournament where the defeated die both in the virtual and the real world. This isn't the most original idea by far, but it works. All in all it's enough to keep you going but it won't be something you will remember detail-for-detail after finishing the game.
Another interesting detail about the story in Fate/Extra is that it turns the amnesiac and gender-based character tropes on their head. Unlike most games which have the key NPCs push the idea that you should regain your memories as soon as possible, Fate/Extra delves into the issue by presenting both sides of the equation as it points out that there's a number of benefits and issues regarding the issue of lost memories in terms of the tournament.
Now we'll delve into the real meat of Fate/Extra, the gameplay. Outside of the dungeons the game has a pretty similar setup to the later PlayStation 2 titles. Players will be able to move around the various environments in a third-person perspective talking to various NPCs, shopping for items and exploring the school that makes up the game's world. Each round takes place in the span of a week in which the player must determine the true name and background of their opponent through clues and events that take place if you are at the right place and the right time. Outside of learning more about famous figures from history, this also lets you see more of their attack patterns. This style hearkens back to the visual novel style gameplay as it usually devolves down into ending up at the correct place, which is usually hinted towards at the beginning of each day. The school setting also gives you the ability to talk with your own servant in an effort to level up your ranking with them if you pick the correct choices when presented.
Overall this exploration style isn't the most unique by far, but it does provide enough incentive to the player and it also allows them to bypass most of them if wish to do so at the cost of seeing less attack patterns during the competition match at the end of the week.
As was hinted earlier, Fate/Extra also has a battle/dungeon component to it. To facilitate training your servant each week, the school has an arena which changes from week to week. The main goal is to obtain two triggers from the first and second floors of that week's round, else you will automatically lose the match. Of course, being a dungeon-like setting there's a number of monsters and hidden routes that can be found which hold treasure. Those who have played other dungeon crawlers will know what to expect here as Fate/Extra plays pretty much to the norm except for the fact that each round's dungeon has the exact same layout through each playthrough. If you were expecting a new spin on the formula like it did with the dialogue choices you'll be sorely disappointed.
The battle system, on the other hand, is a radical shift from the usual turn or action-based norm found in other RPGs on the PSP. Players select from one of three different actions: attack, guard and break. These are selected six times during each round against the opponent's actions in a rock-paper-scissors like match-up. Initially, only two or three of the opponent's actions are revealed but after defeating enough of the same enemy more will open up until the point where all six actions are revealed after 30+ defeats. Initially the system seems overly cheap, especially with some of the more fragile servants such as the magic-focused Caster, but since the enemies repeat themselves each round with color re-skins and occasionally some minor changes to their actions to keep the players on their toes, those who can correctly guess their opponent's actions can walk out of the battles relatively unscathed. It's a great spin on the generic turn-based battles that the genre is known for, although some enemies are exceptionally cheap and the game doesn't allow saving while in the arena.
As for the graphics and the music, they're serviceable but don't stand out in any particular way. Those who have played other PSP RPGs such as Namco Bandai's Tales of the World: Radiant Mythology will recognize a similar graphical presentation, albeit with darker tones. Granted, this game was released back in Japan in mid-2010, but it doesn't help things much in North America with many of the recent standout PSP titles being incredibly impressive from a graphical standpoint. The music is your standard generic elevator music-like score, although a few of the tracks are quite memorable outside of the game. In short, the music doesn't get in the way but for the most part it doesn't stand out in any real way.
Fate/Extra is an interesting RPG, to say the least. The story presentation is an interesting change from the norm and the branching dialogue choices actually matter instead of being purely superficial. But the gameplay, artistic and musical elements are overall generic and the battle system has some minor issues that come of its non-standard approach. Fans of the Fate series will want to pick up this title without hesitation for obvious reasons, but those on the fence might want to try the game before fully investing in it as if you can look past its faults there's a decent game hidden underneath.