We had been looking forward to Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star for quite a while. Now the Vita and PS4 versions are here and we had a chance to play with both of them.
Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star is a brawler that comes to us by way of Marvelous, who in recent years gave us several Senran Kagura titles. Those games, at least in terms of gameplay, were inspired by the Dynasty Warriors franchise – and so is Fate/Extella. The reason we were looking forward to The Umbral Star so much is that it doesn’t lean as much on its form factor as Senran Kagura does – instead of the female form, story development takes center stage here.
Having said that, the game isn’t too welcoming for newcomers – at least in terms of the story. The elaborate background that the Fate universe/franchise provides isn’t really introduced or explained, so a friend who was watching me play had absolutely no idea what was going on. I can’t blame him – Fate’s lore is pretty out there, with heavy fantasy influences as well as more esoteric and metaphysical notions like the connection between one’s mind and soul. My short synopsis would be that you’re a master, in control of various Servents that have to take control of the battlefield. Those Servants are actually the spirits of past heroes as well, giving them character, fighting styles and backgrounds.
Strip back the story and you’re looking at a fairly generic but well executed Dynasty Warriors clone that will be instantly recognizable to those familiar with the source material or even a game like Senran Kagura. In all these games, you’re facing some pretty serious odds, with dozens or even hundreds of enemies in your way. Luckily, most of them can be ploughed through fairly quickly, and your main concern is not losing too much health in the process.
Extra damage can dealt using “Extella” attacks, which you build up using a special power bar that you can either spend all at once or in parts – depending on your desired (long term) strategy. This makes most sense when you’re in or close to a boss fight, where you might opt to look for a weakness before spending all your hard earned extra power at once.
You can also boost your Servant’s chances of success using either spells that enhance character attributes or heal them, or by using the various Moon forms that are available. The latter are extremely powerful ‘mutations’ that supercharge your character for a while. Obviously these effects directly influence the brawling action taking place on-screen, but there are also ‘Phantasm’ effects that can sway the tide of battle by using (or ignoring) key items on the battlefield – unlocking special powers or weakening the enemy’s hold on you.
As is often the case with games in this genre, the camera can have a tough time keeping track of all the action – as enemies move in and out of the screen constantly during battle and it’s not always easy or possible to lock on to them during a fast-paced bout. Visually the game isn’t too remarkable, but even though it resembles a PS2-era Dynasty Warriors game on the Vita it’s still nice to see a game with such a grand scale on Sony’s handheld. The PS4 version is obviously the more polished of the two and plays a little smoother as well, but doesn’t look much better than what you’d expect on a PS3 – the Sony platform that isn’t getting a release.
For straight up brawling you’re probably better off with Dynasty Warriors 8 on the PS4, or wait for number 9 – which is a ways off. If you’re interested in the Fate universe though, then by all means pick up The Umbral Star – it’s a very decent Dynasty Warriors clone steeped in fan service through the inclusion of tons and tons of content. The same applies to the Vita version, although there are more alternatives to choose from in the same genre there.