boxart
Game Info:

Fate/EXTELLA: The Umbral Star
Developed By: Marvelous Inc.
Published By: XSEED Games, Marvelous USA
Released/Available On: PlayStation 4/PlayStation Vita: November 10, 2016 (Japan), January 17, 2017 (US), January 20, 2017 (Europe)
Nintendo Switch: July 20, 2017 (Japan), July 21, 2017 (Europe), July 25, 2017 (US)
Windows: July 25, 2017 (Worldwide)
Genre: Hack and Slash
ESRB Rating: Teen (Alcohol references, fantasy violence, language, partial nudity, suggestive themes)
Number of Players: Singleplayer
Price: $39.99

Science fiction and urban fantasy are two genres that tend to go together like peanut butter and jelly. However, what is rarer is for science fiction to be adapted from what was originally urban fantasy, essentially wearing wizard robes while using laser guns. That is a bit unusual, but if done well, it is a nice twist on the formulas of both those story genres, and that is where we start discussing how "Fate/EXTELLA: The Umbral Star" decides to try doing just that.

To understand Fate/Extella, you need to understand Fate/Stay Night, the original visual novel that Extella adapts the themes of. F/SN was a contemporary fantasy story where every ten or so years, mages would fight for control of the Holy Grail, which could grant any wish. They would fight through proxies known as Servants, spiritual beings based on heroes (in the Greek sense of the term) from both history, myth, and even fiction. Fate/Extella adapts the basic premise to a sci-fi setting, set after the PSP Fate/Extra (though a somewhat alternate take on it), and the story is set AFTER the Grail War concluded with an unforeseen twist ending, and Fate/Extella is about making sense of the aftermath and resolving it.

The Servants (also called Heroic Spirits in the original VN) range from figures like King Arthur (genderbent version), to the samurai Sasaki Koijirou, to even completely fictional beings from classical literature, such as Sherlock Holmes (he and most of the others mentioned show up in games other than Fate/Extella). They usually fight under titles like Assassin or Archer, which hides their true name, and which also conceals their weaknesses for their rivals, though using their powers can also tip their hand in this regard as well. Fate/Extella retains all the original terms from F/SN, but adapts them to a sci-fi setting, where the Holy Grail is a computer, the Servants are digital beings, and the Grail War has different meanings and motives than the original version.

The gameplay is split into three parts. A hack and slash section involves being a one-man army taking over key strategic points and defeating powerful bosses like in Dynasty Warriors is the main aspect. A visual novel like game in cutscenes and during intermissions with choices that lead to a romantic/friendship Bonds system compliments the first. Both are complimented by some mild role-playing game elements in which your Servants and main character can be customized for greater effectiveness during the combat portions. There are multiple campaigns for playing certain characters as well, and all must be done to get the true ending, which provides some replay value and variety. It also needs to be noted the sequel to this game presumes the true ending as canon, so you will want to see that prior.

The combat portion involves either taking down lots of enemies in a campaign mode or in free play, involving a combination of seizing territory by defeating boss enemies and preventing seizure of your own and defeat of your own allies, and the harder difficulties make this more hectic to accomplish. The role-play elements supplement this, with a form of the currency dropped by defeated enemies used to make items that power up your main character, while your servants can equip bonuses that increase their combat stats and can gain levels to further augment their power.

Fate/EXTELLA: The Umbral Star
Highlights:

Strong Points: Good adaptation of urban fantasy setting to sci-fi
Weak Points: Repetitive gameplay and some tedious walls of text
Moral Warnings: Some foul language (practically every word allowed on daytime TV) can be heard throughout the game; scenes of fantasy violence;  some suggestive flirting and some rather revealing outfits, references to sake

The visual novel parts are where you can choose certain responses in scenes to raise the "bond" level with your protagonist (Nero in the main campaign), and doing so can lead to certain special scenes of a romantic nature and some special dialogue. Certain bonuses and story twists can also be made available via this mechanic.

The graphics are semi-cel-shaded, semi-hand-drawn, with the characters largely rendered in the classic hand-drawn style from F/SN, though with some cel-shaded additions. Lancer, for example, looks like he does in the original Fate/Stay Night, but his outfit has some sci-fi Tron style lines along with the highlights. This combination of styles does fit the urban fantasy transported to sci-fi styled adaptation concept well, providing both the familiar art from the original source and a futuristic look for everything. though Outside of the characters, the art feels a bit bland and uninspired. The actual areas feel like a generic sci-fi virtual reality world, and while some parts have various themes and appearances, the art style gives many areas a fake, plastic look.

Sound is very similar to the anime style music of the original VN, though many themes, especially in combat, are a mix of classic anime and some degree of electronic and techno styles, again serving to remind the player of the game's roots while still embracing a science-fiction aesthetic.

Voice acting is good, but the sound effects are at best acceptable; they won't win too many awards for being anything other than decent, though none are too unpleasant to listen to.

Controls are excellent so long as one uses a controller of some sort. It is playable with a keyboard and mouse, but this game was clearly designed with a controller in mind. By the same token, there are no stability issues of note, and so long as system requirements are met, there should be no slowdown or other issues.

Being based on a source with strong magical and occult themes as well as being based on a series that was an adult rated visual novel in its original adaptation, this game is both less and more problematic on the moral scale by comparison. In some ways for the better and in some for the worse.

The violence, oddly enough, is MUCH lower than the original Fate/Stay Night. There is no fighting anything that is actually human; all fighting takes place between constructed beings who either look human or are clearly inhuman, though they have memories of actual humans and can convincingly simulate most human actions and appearances in a nigh identical manner. Blood is absent save for the red-stained fingers of Elizabeth Bathory's design, a reference to the historical person who was infamous for bathing in blood, but the blood appears pink due to the art style and hardly even resembles blood, and gore is nowhere to be found.

Fate/EXTELLA: The Umbral Star
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 72%
Gameplay - 15/20
Graphics - 6/10
Sound - 6/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 4/5

Morality Score - 69%
Violence - 5.5/10
Language - 5/10
Sexual Content - 4/10
Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10
(+3 for prominent themes of redemption and responsible moral conduct)

 

Language is a bit of an issue, as Lancer (Cú Chulainn) is fairly earthy, though his dialogue never rises above profanity suitable for daytime television movie level at worst. Sexual references are not all that prevalent, some romantic flirting here and there, but anything overly crude is basically absent. Some references to sake are present, but this is not a major game element.

We enter the territory of shocking when it comes to exposed skin and racy outfits, though. One of Nero's alternate outfits is swimwear that resembles lingerie and her default outfit shows lots of cleavage (partially a meta reference to how despite her resemblance to Saber from Fate/Stay Night, she isn't because she has a noticeable bust). Elizabeth Bathory also has a demon-like appearance (of the seductive kind), though given her historical inspiration, this is a reference to her historical reputation, and some of the other female outfits range from mildly indecent to one, which is unlocked in the true ending route, that is to the point of almost total nudity save for some strategic covering bits. The outfit in question is itself another historical reference to Venus/Aphrodite (who was portrayed in a similar state in classic Roman/Greek tradition), but it's still borderline full frontal nudity. There are some bathing scenes that come close to full frontal nudity, though, but there is censor steam and camera angling to keep it still in Teen rated territory. Some of the guys aren't exempt from being sexually objectified, but aside from some very form-fitting outfits, they aren't half as bad as some of the female outfits.

The romance mechanic of the game seems to allow same-sex relations, but this is not necessarily the case. Much of the dialogue is gender neutral, you can change your name and gender whenever you wish throughout the plot (with no notable comment on it by anyone), and even when one of the female characters refers to you as Husband, her dialogue is identical regardless of whether you are playing as a guy or girl. Further, according to the lore, your player character is an avatar much like an MMORPG character, your true gender and body are never revealed or shown, and even the default name the game gives you is gender neutral in Japanese.

In short, it can't really be said the romance aspects have any bearing on your gender at all, it was clearly intended to fit either gender at any time in nigh all situations I encountered while playing (there are an achievement and some slight scene changes for having a certain gendered avatar at times, but these appear mainly cosmetic)

Given the premise, which adapts the original plot of Fate/Stay Night to a sci-fi style plot that still keeps many of the same terms for reasons of continuity reference and aesthetic choice. Occult/supernatural references, if any, are of the "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" variety. Practically everything that appears supernatural has a rational if fantastical in-universe explanation under some form of super-science. Further, while other mythologies and religions are mentioned, most to all are done in the form of historical reference based on the character inspirations.

One notable exception does occur with Jeanne d'Arc, clearly based on the French Christian martyr also known as Joan of Arc, who makes many explicit though positive references to God and her character design and outfits are some of the most wholesome and covering of all the female designs. There is one character who refers to themselves as "The Scourge of God", as they are based on Attila the Hun, who historically said the same of himself, citing himself as God's punishment on the Romans. While cited as a taunt, it is a historically accurate reference in context, and the character in question works with a Christian aligned character (who explicitly identifies the party who quoted the line as more moral than they appear to be), so it is less blasphemy and more historical reference in the context said line appears.

From a cultural and ethical standpoint, while the game features many characters based on historical and mythic figures, most of them, save the actual villain, attempt to redeem their former selves inspirations less-than-humane and decent pasts. For example, your main protagonist is based on Nero Claudius, but this is a version who is much less egomaniacal, realizes their past life was one that ended in madness, and actually wants to be a better ruler than they were in actual history. In fact, many of the characters who were not so historically nice are fully aware of their past selves and see their current forms as a means to redeem themselves, and redemption plays a massive role in the true resolution of the overarching plot. Making good moral decisions and showing competent leadership is key to winning respect from other characters, and the romance/bonds system hinges on winning trust from those under your charge.

The sexual content and language concerns are still a problem, and I do not recommend it to anyone who is not an older teenager at the very least on those grounds. That aside, the story and gameplay make for a fun hack and slash game, and if you can endure some slightly tedious visual novel exposition and cutscenes in-between or were already a fan of Fate/Stay Night, then I definitely would recommend this game.