After entries in the visual novel and fighting game genres as well as anime adaptions, Type-Moon's Fate series enters the realm of RPGs with Fate/Extra. Co-developed by imageepoch and set in an alternate universe to the original Fate/Stay Night visual novel, Fate/Extra immediately brings to mind comparisons with Atlus' Persona games. North American publisher/localiser Aksys Games certainly has a game that will pique interest from those fans hoping for a similar experience, and there is hope that Fate/Extra will be able to deliver.
"Fate/Extra certainly keeps to its visual novel roots, and players should be prepared for a very text-heavy game."
Players select either a male or female character, and one of three Servants with whom they will partner for the Holy Grail War. Taking place within an artifical world known as the Moon Cell, the Holy Grail War is a knockout tournament pitting Masters and their Servants against one another. Servants are spirits that have been summoned by the Holy Grail from the past, present, or future, with the player able to choose either a Saber, Archer, or Caster-class Servant. Also located within the Moon Cell is the school, Tsukumihara Academy, where the player character is a student. Those who played the original Fate/Stay Night will recognise some of the characters, such as Rin Tohsaka, but as it is an alternate universe (splitting off at some point in the 1980s/1990s according to the creator) they do not have any other connection to the visual novel. Fans of other Type-Moon games may also want to keep their eyes open for the number of cameos and shout-outs in Fate/Extra.
The flow of the game is split up into weeks, each week ending with the next round of the Holy Grail War. Players spend the daytime interacting with the various characters, advancing the story, and gathering infomation about their next opponent, while in the evening players enter the Arena. The Arena is a dungeon where the player trains up and strengthens their Servant in preparation for the next round. Upon leveling up the player can choose how their Servant's attributes are increased. Battles in the arena are initiated whenever contact is made with a monster, and it appears that these enemies will be fairly aggressive in starting battles and difficult to avoid. Combat in Fate works under the idea that Servants carry out the actual fighting while their Master gives orders, and Fate/Extra's battle system reflects this well. The basic mechanics rather closely resemble a game of rock-paper-scissors, with each turn made up of six moves. The winner of each move gets to land a hit upon their opponent, and winning three moves in a turn allows the use of an uncounterable extra attack. Servants can Attack, Break or Guard, with Attack overpowering Break, Break overpowering Guard and Guard overpowering Attack. Due to this rock-paper-scissors style system, combat is always a one-on-one affair.
Different enemies have their own attack patterns, and after fighting each type of enemy a number of times players will begin to be shown some of the moves that will be used against them that turn, giving them a distinct advantage. Servants can also use MP to replace one of their move with a skill, which usually either causes more damage or casts a debuff on the enemy. Despite Servants doing the majority of actual fighting themselves, the player character does get to have some direct involvement in the battles by being able to take up one of the move slots to use an item or skill of their own. The interface of battles slightly resembles a fighting game, with the two combatant's hit point bars shown at the top of the screen and when one loses all their hit points, the battle is over. It's an interesting idea that shows a good amount of promise in gameplay videos, but it remains to be seen if it manages to hold up throughout the entire length of the game. The battles are at least fast-paced and the animations appear to do a decent job of displaying the action, although they are rather limited.
During the day players are able to talk with the various NPCs, including their Servant, as well as choose their responses to many questions or situations. It is currently unclear how much the player's choices during the game affect the main ending, but there is a route-split at a certain point in the game. In addition there are a number of bad endings that can occur should an incorrect choice be made. The choice of Servant at the beginning certainly has at least some impact, not only in the scenes where the player character converses with their Servant, but also in affecting some of the opponents they will face. Fate/Extra certainly keeps to its visual novel roots, and players should be prepared for a very text-heavy game.
Fate/Extra isn't going to set any new standards in the looks department, but the visuals appear to fulfil their required functions without any noticeable issues. Both the scenes and gameplay are rendered using the same 3D engine, although character art will also show up during conversations in the same way. The holographic design of the Arena is likely to suffer the same issues Tartarus did in Persona 3, looking unique at first glance but failing to generate enough variation as players continue to advance. Voice acting in the original Japanese version is minimal, being limited mostly to battles or dungeon exploring, and the same can likely be expected for the English version. Samples of the game's soundtrack are encouraging and its usage complements the gameplay and scenes well, although it does seem unlikely that many players will find it very memorable.
While it may be unlikely to reach the high perch that the Persona series sits on, Fate/Extra certainly shows promise and should have enough for an entertaining handheld experience. Indications so far are for a solid game when all is said and done, although due to the heavy emphasis on text in the game, a lot is likely to rely on the quality of Aksys' localization. Fate/Extra is due to be released for the PSP on November 1st, 2011 in North America, with a Limited Edition available for those RPGamers looking for a few extras.