It's been two years since the musou genre became a little bigger with the addition of Fate/Extella: Umbral Star which we reviewed on the Nintendo Switch. It was an average outing that was very approachable and fun gameplay-wise but had numerous technical difficulties along with an overly long, complicated story not favoring players unfamiliar with Fate/stay and Fate/Extra.
Now, with Fate/Extella Link, developer Marvelous is looking to capitalize on the pros all the while fixing or eliminating all the cons. Did they succeed? Let's break it down.
Fate/Extella is this sort of high technology meets medieval aesthetic spin-off of the original Fate/stay night visual novel. My biggest gripe with the story of the first game – Umbral Star, was that it was extremely convoluted and didn't cater to players new to the franchise. Luckily, things are much improved here.
Every object, location, and character unique to the franchise will be explained via text pop-ups. So no worries if you don't know what a holy grail war or a moon cell is – the game will get you up to speed as soon as they are first mentioned. There's even a fairly extensive glossary if you can't be bothered to read exposition during gameplay. Returning players with all the necessary prerequisite knowledge, of course, have the option to quickly skip all of it and dive into a new story in this rich world with no issues.
The story itself begins not long after the conclusion of the last game and while they are somewhat connected, the knowledge of what happened in Umbral Star is not necessary to fully enjoy Link. You play as the same Master from the previous game, who is a sort of wizard with the ability to summon servants – powerful spirits of past heroes recreated in new bodies.
Umbral Star had you dealing with a convoluted plot where multiple facets of your own self were all vying for control over the wish-fulfilling Moon Cell supercomputer. Link, on the other hand, is a bit more straightforward.
There's a clearly defined villain, and most of the main characters are all presented in quick succession. Much like Dragonball Xenoverse, it plays the good guys turned bad card where the villain uses a process called Oraclization to sort of brainwash any and all characters into serving him. Suffice it to say that this produces interesting dynamics of previous friends becoming foes, as well as presenting a mystery that you'll solve by the time the credits roll.
Most of it is presented with static characters portraits appearing on-screen and chatting away. While I would have appreciated having some animated cutscenes, the visual novel-like presentation actually works really well. This is mostly thanks to the interesting plot and great voice acting that will have you feeling like you were playing an episode of an anime show.
The only issue is that a significant portion of storytelling and character interactions also occurs during gameplay. While this wouldn't be a problem if the game had English voice-acting or if it was an RTS – this is a fast-paced, flashy action game where you just can't follow layers of text popping up in the corner of the screen while slaying hundreds of enemies.
If you ever played any musou type game – you'll feel right at home here. As mentioned, you play as the Master wizard character, but only from the story perspective (and in the HUB area). Gameplay wise you'll be controlling one of the numerous servant characters that are based on historical figures. All of it plays out on maps divided by interconnected rectangular sectors. Each of these is filled with hundreds of generic fodder enemies, a couple of special enemies which you need to dispatch to overtake a sector and sometimes a boss or three.
Of course, enemies can retake each sector and certain special events often occur that change the objective, flow, and pacing of the battle. Many of these objectives need to be fulfilled in a certain amount of time and failure to do so will result in a game over. This coupled with getting a game over if any of the key characters die, gives each stage a sense of urgency that further adds to the fast-paced nature of the game.
Most of the enjoyment you'll get from Link comes down to its colorful cast of playable characters. There's 26 of them in total and you unlock them as you progress through the game's story. Sure, you'll have your favorites, but since each of them comes equipped with unique weapons and skills you're missing out if you don't try them all. There's no reason not to since the game has a cheap and easy way of boosting them to the level of your strongest character.
Like most musou games, each character has a light and heavy attack which you can combine to create simple combos. They also have a dozen or so flashy special attacks and stat boosting skills that they gain by leveling up. You can, however, only take 4 of these with you in battle depending on your preferred playstyle. Not only are they insanely fun and satisfying to use but are also a pure visual spectacle that will fill up the entire screen with colorful effects. They also run on a quick cooldown meter meaning that you'll be constantly using them to great effect.
On top of that, you have a power called Moon Drive which significantly boosts your stats akin to going Super Saiyan. There are also the standout Noble Phantasm special attacks which can clear entire sectors and even one shot lower level bosses. Each character has one, unique phantasm and once you initiate it – you get a truly an impressive cutscene that showcases its insane power.
Some depth is introduced with the mentioned HUB area where you can craft equipment, equip your servants with skills, upgrades, and costumes. While these are welcome additions that put the emphasis on character builds – they only become meaningful at higher difficulty scenarios since the game is too easy. Most of its difficulty stems from the timed objectives and friendly NPC's dying with only will the hardest difficulty transforming some bosses into damage sponges that require a more thoughtful approach.
The bond mechanic makes a return here but instead of it being improved with dialogue choices, each stage will give you character-specific challenges that you can accomplish in order to increase your bond with them. While this makes the story a bit less engaging, it gives your hacking and slashing a bit more meaning since the bond level is directly tied to unlocking costumes and certain upgrades.
Additional content comes in the form of extra battles and an enline mode. The extra battles present you with around 40 extra difficult side stories that award you with a ton of experience, making it an effective way to level up your characters.
Online mode comes with quick and custom matches with interesting team-based zone control modes instead of a more traditional versus combat between players. The only problem is that matchmaking can take ages since it appears that not a lot of player partake in this mode.
VISUALS AND AUDIO
Jumping from the technically inferior Nintendo Switch, we decided to test Link primarily on the PC and were extremely satisfied. The anime-style visuals look great when it comes to both the characters and the environments. The saturated color palette and the cheerful brightness of it all is a welcome contrast to the often washed-out look of the largest musou franchise – Dynasty Warriors.
What's especially great is that the game's framerate holds steady despite a ton of flashing, over-the-top combat effects against hundreds of on-screen enemies. You won't appreciate the fact that you can play the PC version with unlocked framerate until you try it for yourself. The smoothness of the minute-to-minute gameplay makes LINK much more satisfying to play and it's great that the PC version is optimized to handle it on a variety of specs.
My only minor gripe with the presentation is that all the flashing effects sometimes make it difficult to even see what's going on on the screen, a fact that isn't helped by the overblown user interface which takes up 30% of the screen and can't be customized in any way.
When it comes to sound, both the soundtrack and the Japnese voice acting will make you feel like you are watching (and playing) an episode of an anime show. The voice acting in particular nails it out of the park in that regard. Not only is there a literal ton of spoken lines, but the voice actors excellently emote and play their characters despite there being little to no fully animated cutscenes.
Fate/Extella Link is an insanely approachable, fun and flashy musou game. Many of the systems seen in Umbral Star are much improved here and you can see that the developer literally cleaned house. What was boring and unnecessary was for the most part taken out and replaced with more streamlined, deep and fun mechanics that ultimately make this one of the best games in the genre.
Repetitiveness that usually sets in after a while in these sorts of games is mitigated by an interesting story, extremely flashy combat and a constant stream of worthwhile unlockables. If you are a fan of the series – you'll absolutely love your time with the game. If you aren't – you just might become one.
|+ Fast, satisfying and flashy combat||– Less story focused|
|+ Great visuals and awesome performance||– Too easy and repetitive toward the end|
|+ Character variety and ok story||– Lack of HUD customization|