Fate/Samurai Remnant Review | Holy Grail War of Attrition (PS5)

Fate/Samurai Remnant Review | Holy Grail War of Attrition (PS5)

Fate/Samurai Remnant is another addition to the incredibly popular and infamously complex Fate series, popularised primarily through the Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works and Fate/Zero anime series as well as the Fate/Grand Order mobile title. As an ambitious mix of several different action RPG systems, Remnant aims to try and bring to life a compelling new story of the Holy Grail War within Edo Japan, a period rich with history and context and the perfect playground for the mythical heroes and battles Fate is known for. However, with that ever-intimidating Fate label marking it, Remnant had a lot to live up to, especially when it comes to inviting new players to partake in the world of the Holy Grail War. 

On the whole, Fate/Samurai Remnant succeeds, in large part, due to its incredibly captivating and memorable main narrative and cast of characters. The main narrative is so solid and so compelling that it grips you from start to finish. It’s actually when it comes to combat where the game drags the most, with a lot of unfun additions bolted on from the worst parts of the systems that Remnant is trying to copy and adapt, leading to a combat system which grows to only really be serviceable outside of a few standout moments. Rarely is a game saved by its narrative over its gameplay, especially in the action RPG genre, but the rich story on offer in Fate/Samurai Remnant is so good and so compelling that it pushes through any tedium or distance bought about by the shortfalls in combat while also being an excellent entry point for curious observers. 

While the combat left a lot to be desired, the narrative and world of Fate/Samurai Remnant more than made up for it, creating a compelling story that warmly welcomes new and old fans of the Fate series alike. 

Fate/Samurai Remnant releases on September 28th for $59.99 on Steam, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 and the Nintendo Switch. 

Story | The Waxing Moon Ritual

Fate/Samurai Remnant is not the Fate series’ first entry into video games but it is one of the first to tackle a new form of Holy Grail War. An offshoot of the Holy Grail War – a contest fought by seven individual Masters who fight beside heroes of myth and legend called Heroic Spirits for the sake of claiming a Wish – has begun in Edo Japan. After being attacked by another contender in the Waxing Moon Ritual, Miyamoto Iori, the disciple of famed swordmaster Miyamoto Musashi, awakens to his calling as a Master when he summons the spirit of a dark-haired fighter by the name of Saber. 

Unable to back out of the Ritual for reasons other than death, humiliation or victory, Iori decides to continue fighting and aims to claim the Wish at stake alongside Saber, who seems to have forgotten who they were in their past life. As Iori and Saber battle more Masters and more Servants, meeting more great and terrible characters, one thing is clear: there’s something wrong with this version of the Holy Grail War and they need to figure out what it is before it brings death and destruction to Edo. 

When you look at the game as a whole, the story and narrative are absolutely the best parts of Fate/Samurai Remnant. At least, the Waxing Moon Ritual and everything surrounding it is, anyway. As someone with some knowledge and a passing interest in the Fate series, the story depicted here in Remnant is gripping and compelling nearly all the way through. Watching how each Master approaches the Ritual, whether they plan on fighting other Masters head-on or who they try and make alliances with, full knowing that, come the end, all 6 other Masters must die or give up for that Wish to be claimed, is a slowly building mystery which kept me glued to the main campaign for the game’s entire runtime.

Master and Servant

Master and Servant

Part of that intrigue comes from the unique perspective offered by the game’s choice of setting: Edo Japan. Fate is no stranger to Holy Grail Wars set in other time periods, even if most of the entries people know feature a War set in modern-day Japan, and Edo is a place which feels so alive. There are so many distinct factions working overtly or covertly that, in one way or another, have their grubby fingers on or around the Waxing Moon Ritual: the officials loyal to the Shogunate, the rogue samurai and ronin who stalk the land, the recently arrived Dutch foreigners or the vagabonds who share no allegiance, there’s no shortage of colourful characters and factions that feel authentic to the chosen timeframe. Through this story, Edo becomes just as important as any Master or any Servant, 

It’s a shame, then, that there are two key problems with it: how slow Remnant is at the beginning and how often it diverges into what feels like filler, nothing content. Starting with the prior problem, the opening hours of the game which sit between the Prologue and Chapter 2 are a really slow burn, perhaps much too slow. With the need to slowly introduce the game’s vast number of systems and mechanics alongside the Fate series infamous laundry list of terminologies and rules, these opening hours feel like a crawl and it will be very off-putting to a lot of people. Even if you know Fate lore and are willing to sit through it just to watch the fantastic character interactions, it can be a lot to take in. 

The other issue is that, too often, the story will veer away from what you’re interested in – the fate and events of the Waxing Moon Ritual – and focus on something which feels far more superfluous or mundane. This is yet another reason why those opening hours feel so stiff, as it’s here where Remnant’s story shifts gears the most, rapidly moving from long expositions about the Holy Grail War and its significance to some meaningless task which doesn’t matter and drives attention away from the main plot. This gets much better as the game goes on, with nearly everything post-Chapter 3 feeling significant and plot worthy but it can feel annoying to be invested in this story and this world only to have your attention sidetracked for no reason at all. 

Uphold the Peace of Edo

Uphold the Peace of Edo

Masters and Servants

The beating heart of the Fate/Samurai Remnant story is the wide array of different characters you’ll meet across your journey, with the most standout examples being the Masters and Servants. With 7 Masters fighting for the Waxing Moon Ritual’s available Wish and 7 summoned Servants to stand beside them, you already have a pretty stacked cast filled with interesting individuals which doesn’t include the 8 other Rogue Servants who call Edo home during the War. That’s a lot of character and, while not everyone gets the development they need to become a fan favourite, it cannot be said that anybody plays their part poorly or is utterly wasted.

Starting with the Masters, these 7 individuals and their wants and desires and what drives the story, and the Waxing Moon Ritual, forward. It’s their Wishes and lives at stake and Remnant does an incredible job of constantly reinforcing and reminding you of that. Each time new information is peeled back about one of the Masters and their goals, it feels momentous and game-changing and waiting in earnest for each one and their intentions to be revealed was some of the best parts of the game’s sluggish start. Each Master feels like a general commanding their army and it fits wonderfully for this kind of story. 

Paired with each Master is an equally compelling Servant. Servants each belong to one of seven classes – Archer, Assassin, Berserker, Caster, Lancer, Rider or Saber – and their individual abilities and appearances are derived from heroes of myth and legend as well as significant historical figures of note. Each Servant feels like such a unique character, a piece of history and legend pulled back from a different period and, just like their Masters, learning about their True Names or their abilities in combat is just so interesting. When the game focuses on that above all else, it becomes incredibly hard to put down. 

Some superb voice work by all of the characters only compounds this excellence. It gives the world a tangible quality and allows you to better connect with its characters. Undoubtedly, the cast of Fate/Samurai Remnant, like most other Fate properties before it, is a stand-out showcase and one of the best reasons to buy this game. 

Unlikely Contenders

Unlikely Contenders

Bound by Fate

If you know one thing about the Fate series, it’s probably about its infamous amounts of lore or the fact that it is extremely difficult to get into on account of how confusing everything is. As a result, die-hard Fate fans will have no trouble jumping straight into Remnant, while newer ones looking to dip their toe into the world of Heroic Spirits may be a tad bit intimidated. Well, fortunately for them, Fate/Samurai Remnant is one of the best introductions to the Fate series to date.

One of the reasons the game has such a slow start is that it painstakingly tries to onboard its array of complex topics and terminology with newer players – there’s even a particularly memorable moment in the early hours of the game where it literally sits Iori and Saber down to explain all the key terms relevant for the Waxing Moon Ritual in an overt way to ensure the player doesn’t become lost – and, in that regard, the slower beginning definitely succeeds. This is alongside each loading screen having an in-depth breakdown of some important face or event which is relevant to the story and an incredibly well-kept set of Logs where you can revisit everything terms, story beats or key characters at any time.

It’s very clear that Fate/Samurai Remnant is trying its hardest to be an easy entry point not bogged down by what made the past Fate stories so tangled. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything here for older fans, though, and there are plenty of familiar faces and nostalgic concepts to see as you traipse through Edo. Fate veterans are sure to enjoy those experiences: it’s just that fan service is no longer at the forefront of the story, allowing everybody to be welcome to this version of the Holy Grail War. 

These features culminate in a game that clarifies a lot of the jargon used in other pieces of Fate media while building a cohesive narrative that can enrapture new and old fans alike. If you’re afraid to try Fate/Samurai Remnant because you know little about the original series, don’t be as this is one of the best jumping-in points you can possibly have. 

The Power of a Command

The Power of a Command

Gameplay | Subservient to a Fault

Fate/Samurai Remnant is an action RPG with some strange roots. Instead of being a classic character action game, Remnant is an odd mix of that prolific genre and the hack-and-slash Musou-style of action games seen in titles such as Dynasty Warriors or Hyrule Warriors. It wants the big body counts of a Musou title while also having the more intimate, tactile combos of a character action game and, unfortunately, it pulls the worst aspect of both systems to create something unique.

On the Musou side, the game certainly throws a lot of fodder at you during its many battles. However, while it can feel good to cleave through scores of enemies, those opportunities come much rarer than one would like. On top of having pretty large chunks of health, these foes often don’t have very good tell for when they’re about to perform an attack, intruding on the principles inherent to most compelling action games: in a traditional hack-and-slash, enemies act like this because you wipe them out in a single hit but here it simply leads to more complications. These small enemies feel completely identical to one another, are tricky to stagger and aren’t satisfying to beat most of the time. 

Rogue Warriors

Rogue Warriors

Then, on the opposing side, we have the character action portion of the game. Iori and his many companions all have diverse Skill Trees full of unique abilities, moves to learn and stats to build, with Iori himself having several distinct Stances which drastically alter how he controls and how he fights. The main issue on this side of the equation is that the precision and style of a character action game butt heads with the power fantasy of a Musou title. Most frustratingly, tough foes will often have a Shell which you can only break using specific attacks. This essential acts as just another health bar which becomes frustrating to slowly whittle down. Rarely, outside of playing Servants, do you feel strong in Fate/Samurai Remnant and, while it may be intentional, it doesn’t feel good or fun in the moment. 

The combat, like the story, gets much better as the game goes on and you gain access to more Stances, Techniques and Servants but, on the whole, the result of this hybridisation is a messy system with a lot of potential. And to be clear, the problem isn’t that Fate/Samurai Remnant should have been a pure Musou game or that it should have been a pure character action game – the fusion of these two almost contradictory game types is really intriguing and, in a few parts of this very game, the idea shows a lot of merit – it’s just that they decided to take the least compatible parts of both genres and crudely smush them together. The end result is serviceable, especially later on, but it doesn’t go beyond that

The Map of Edo

The Map of Edo

Forces of Nature

The main exceptions to the messiness of the combat system are the Servants and the Servant battles. Rather than single warriors, Servants feel like forces of nature capable of battling back against every barrier the world (and the game) sets up before them. Their attacks blow lesser foes away in a single swing and deal considerable damage to mini-bosses and Shells, entities that would take considerable effort if it were just Iori fighting them. They feel powerful, mythic even. 

This sentient natural disaster feeling is only intensified when you yourself are fighting against another Servant: in those moments, you are braving the storm and battling back with your own gale-force winds, caution thrown to the waist side as you lose yourself to the power. It’s always a clash of titans and, like a Kaiju fight from Pacific Rim or Godzilla, I fell in love with these parts of the game. It’s in those moments – in those Servant vs. Servant battles – where I felt the most drawn into Remnant’s combat, most forgiving of its flaws and shortcomings.

By committing to one-half of the combat equation, these fights are able to achieve brilliant success where most fights cannot. Rather than pretending to be a character action game, these fights let you embrace the devastating power of these great Heroes and, with the power to level armies at your fingertips, you can breeze through most fights with ease. Playing a Servant means that, for a short time, you can embrace the one-man-army power fantasy and it feels incredible. 

Force of Nature

Force of Nature

By restraining Iori so much in normal combat compared to his Servants, it is undeniable that these Servant battles become far more impactful: if you could blitz through everything in your path at all times, fights would quickly grow boring and tiresome and the Servants would undoubtedly lose their lustre. However, knowing that fact doesn’t make normal combat any more tolerable or enjoyable. In fact, knowing that you could be having so much fun with Servants quickly turns ordinary battles into a race to see how fast you can build your Servant’s affinity bar so you can switch over for a few blissful seconds of carnage.

In many ways, the current Servant system and the power it affords the player can only work under the restraints and restrictions imposed by the combat system and so, to many players, the sacrifice will be worth it: to some, those few precious moments of unhinged chaos are worth the longer periods of tedium. To a multitude of other players, though, the fun of those brief bits will not be enough to justify the disorder of the base combat. 

Simple Times

Simple Times

Sound and Design | Step Back Through Time

I’ve already gushed at how well Fate/Samurai Remnant adapts and incorporates the city of Edo and the period it’s based in but that is only one part of a much larger world. On a stylistic level, Remnant achieves the same kind of 3D anime style seen in other titles like Tales of Arise, managing to adapt a rather difficult and unique visual technique very well. The environments are very beautiful and the character models all have a distinct sense of flair and presence: even the character sprites have a tangible, painterly feel about them which roots them in this present time and place.

However, concerning locations, a lot of that style feels quite superfluous. No matter how different each of Edo’s districts looks, they all feel exactly the same: a tight maze of corridors filled with shopkeepers to buy food from, random bandits to battle when you feel bored or cats to pet when you need a pick-me-up. This, unfortunately, doesn’t change no matter how deep into the game you get into the story or combat. While you will come to remember locations such as your home base of Asakusa like the back of your hand, that feeling of monotony does make all the areas blur together and leaves you with a distinct sense of detachment from a well-realised depiction of Edo.

When it comes to sound, the biggest triumph is in the voice acting, with the Japanese dub offering a vivid companion piece to the main story that will greatly heighten your experience. Aside from that, while the individual tracks and melodies aren’t the most memorable, they definitely aid in building up that distinct piece of Japan that the game is going for. Wandering through each of Edo’s districts is accompanied by peaceful, mellow backing songs which hide the cruel reality of the Waxing Moon Ritual, whereas the battle songs are full of tempo and zest that can get your blood pumping.

While you likely won’t be whipping out the Fate/Samurai Remnant soundtrack anytime soon, it, alongside the superb voice work, does enough to tangibly cement you in Edo and make you feel a part of the Waxing Moon Ritual. 

The Bustle of Japan

The Bustle of Japan

Technical State | Flawless Summoning

Finally, let’s discuss the technical state of Fate/Samurai Remnant on the PS5 which, fortunately, is a knock-out success. During my entire playthrough of Remnant, I didn’t get a single bug, glitch or crash and the game never froze up or dropped frames, even when combat was at its thickest and the enemy hoards at their densist. Whether I was wandering around the streets of Edo claiming rewards from odd jobs or surviving a brutal encounter against one of the game’s most vicious Servants, I knew I could rely on the game to stay steady and not let me down.

That level of accountability is important, in particular, for an action game. Even though I didn’t like everything Remnant put forward with its combat, I knew that, when I made a blunder or a mistake, it was mostly my fault and not because the game bugged out or broke. 

On a technical level, Fate/Samurai Remnant was practically flawless and anybody worried that it was going to be anything otherwise should have their fears allayed, at least for the PS5 version of the game. 

Summary
If you're a die-hard Fate fan or are looking for a good point to jump into the series, Fate/Samurai Remnant is a must-play experience which meaningfully expands the Fate lore, introduces some compelling new Masters and Servants and let's you harness the catastrophic power of the Heroic Spirits like never before while, at the same time, still housing many helpful onboarding features to help with Fate's infamously complex lore and terminology. However, if you're just looking for a good clean action game, Fate/Samurai Remnant is going to disappoint, largely due to its messy mix of combat systems and extremely large focus on narrative above all else.
Good
  • A compelling expansion to the Fate series with fascinating characters and a gripping main story that can be enjoyed by new and old fans alike
  • Perfectly captures the HD anime style into 3D to make the world of Edo feel real and tangible
  • Servant fights are flashy spectacles that feel incredibly awesome to embody
Bad
  • Very slow to start, with a lot of padding, fluff and exposition that which cause the opening hours to drag
  • Combat is simply serviceable, taking the worst parts of the systems its trying to emulate in an effort to make something unique
  • Most areas feel the exact same with little to no variation
7.5
Good

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