Fate/Extra is one of the latest chapters in the highly popular Fate/stay night series by visual novel maker, Type-Moon. Fans of the franchise will be pleased to know the game scenario was written by Kinoko Nasu who wrote the original Fate/stay night story and most of Type-Moon's flagship titles. The game was developed in collaboration with Imageepoch who also worked on the Black Rock Shooter PSP game, while Aksys Games handled the American localization. As a warning, this review does contain a few minor spoilers but nothing you won't figure out within the first couple hours of playing.
The game offers a choice to play as a male or female protagonist suffering from amnesia. This offers dialogue choices for users to learn more about the Type-Moon universe which is handy for newcomers. Veterans of the series can simply skip them. To put the story in a nutshell, 128 participants and their summoned heroes, referred to as Servants, are battling each other in an organized arena tournament. The winner takes home the grand prize, the Holy Grail which will grant them one wish. Players are allowed to choose their Servant from 3 heroes: Saber, Archer, or Caster.
Though I was torn on which servant I should pick, the fan favorite Saber or badass Archer, I ended up settling for Caster since she is a new character that has not appeared elsewhere. The fact that she was described as "a magical fox girl" also probably helped... As a side note, this is not the same Caster from the previous series.
Western gamers who are familiar with the Persona series will quickly feel right at home with Fate/Extra. Game progression consists of interacting with NPCs around the school during the day to learn more about the story, while the late afternoons involves the traditional dungeon crawling grind fest. Players are given a few days to power level up their Servants before they engage in an arena battle. The grind can turn some gaming enthusiasts away as I was forced to revisit cleared corridors waiting for mobs to respawn, but the story was interesting enough that I wanted to progress the story further. The game also does retain many elements found in a visual novel such as full screen text that displays the character's inner thoughts throughout the game.
Getting into the meat of the game, Fate/Extra tosses away conventional RPG battle mechanics. Players begin a fight by issuing 6 commands to their Servants from the following list: Attack, Defend, or Break. Once confirmed, the Servant and enemy will engage using a rock, paper, scissor mechanic:
Attack > Break > Defend > Attack
Sound simple enough? Though the enemies are set in certain patterns, trying to figure them out can be a pain as they do rotate throughout the fight, and more often than enough, I just found myself haphazardly guessing. The game does reveal some of the enemies move which ensure at least some of your actions will succeed.
I was somewhat disappointed that Type-Moon's lead artist Takashi Takeuchi wasn't doing the character designs, that task was relegated to Rco Wada (Arco Wada). Regardless, Wada adds his own artist flair to the characters which isn't a bad thing, just different from what fans are used to. Graphically, the game looks decent for a PSP title and many areas on the school grounds are reminiscent from the series. I enjoyed spending time exploring the school early on, though I was slightly disappointed that many of the rooms are inaccessible.
For players who have never played, but are interested in trying the visual novel genre, Fate/Extra may be a good place to start. Casual gamers may be a little put off by the grind fest, but it may be worth it just to progress the story. Hopefully Aksys might also localize its sequel, Fate/Extra: CCC.
Images copyrighted: TYPE-MOON, Imageepoch Inc., Aksys Games Localization, Inc.