Greetings everyone, this week’s visual novel happens to be one of the most popular ones out there, if not the most popular one. As such, quite a few of you will be familiar with it in some way, shape, or form. Additionally, Fate/stay night marks the first visual novel I’ll be reviewing that has sexual content. Now I’ve already mentioned how I felt about this particular subject in one of my first posts, so I’m not going to repeat myself (though for a quick recap, a lot of story-focused visual novels handle sex like Game of Thrones does, if that helps any). Now it’s time to delve into a world of heroes and magi!
Released in 2004, this visual novel has been a fan favorite among many, enjoying high sales, heaps of critical acclaim, and intense discussions all around the internet. With that popularity, however, comes quite a number of trolls, silly powerlevel debates, bad memes, and very vocal haters. Obviously, this isn’t a series for everyone; though a lot of people love Fate/stay night, it can be very alienating. Fate/stay night has a lot of things that it does right, and a few things it does wrong, but it’s still great read.
Fate/stay night’s story is, in a nutshell, about a secret war waged by seven magi and the timeless heroes (called Heroic Spirits) they summon in order to obtain a mystical artifact that’s said to grant any wish: the Holy Grail. Fate/stay night has three routes, and unlike the normal visual novel route format (several character routes, some bad ends, and a true route), neither is any more true than the other. They’re all part of the same story and are all canon; they just tell the Fifth Holy Grail War differently. Each route has plenty of twists, exciting moments, and even a number of tearjerkers. However, the story doesn’t stop there. While it also covers other things, such as Master/Servant dynamics (those terms refer to the magi and the Heroic Spirit, respectively), Fate’s story also has multiple layers. Fate was written as an analysis of the superhero mindset: being a blade to protect others. If nothing else, this part of the novel is absolutely wonderful, and creates a dynamic route that is very unique. Each route deals with a different aspect of the superhero mentality, and as such, each route is required in order to fully appreciate this layer. Unfortunately, the strength of the story is brought down by Kinoko Nasu’s (the writer) terrible pacing and excessive amounts of magic exposition. In fact, the pacing is so terrible, it’s probably the worst you’d see in any visual novel. You’ll have hours upon hours of literally nothing happening, with short interesting bits to break the long monotony. Luckily, this doesn’t happen all the time, but this is usually what happens in the middle of any of the routes. Luckily, the pacing does pick up quite a bit near the end of any route, but it’s still jarring enough to make people quit. This goes hand in hand with the exposition, which seems to take up a good portion of the downtime (the other contributer being cooking scenes, believe it or not). Fortunately, if you can get past these two (rather large) flaws, you’ll find a great, thematic, multi-layered story, a type of story that you don’t see often in a visual novel.
The art has its upsides and downsides as well. While the character art is good enough for the most part, you sometimes see art that screams “sameface” with all the subtlety of a jet engine. Additionally, background art is all hand drawn, which is a plus, as it’s nice on the eyes and not jarring in the slightest. Fortunately, the CGs tend to very good. CGs apply fantastic use of shading and other techniques that really makes them stand out from the character art. Since Fate/stay night has a ton of CGs, this works out well for the readers. Since there’s a lot of action, the way sprites and CGs are used is also noteworthy as well, bumping up the entertainment by a few notches. In the sound department, the OST is good, on average. While most of the songs are enjoyable, they can and often do tend to get on the reader’s nerves, mostly because some of them are used way too often. However, some are heartrendingly great and are used effectively. It largely depends on what the mood of the story is at the time. The Realta Nua music is much better, however, and it’s worth getting the patch for them (more on that later). Fate/stay night also has TONS of sound effects, which only help to make fight scenes more exciting. Additionally, voice acting is also pretty good, and warrants getting the patch for that (again, later).
In terms of presentation, the narrative is… bloated. Very bloated. It’s part of the reason the exposition and pacing are so bad. In fact, I could even say that while Nasu is a great conceptualizer, he’s a bad writer. However, there are some moments he absolutely nails perfectly, so I can’t go that far. Fortunately, in terms of actual presentation, Fate/stay night is stellar. Using moving sprites, moving CGs, shaking CGs, tons of sound effects, etc, Fate/stay night sets a standard of dynamic fight scenes that not many visual novels at all can hope to match (there’s a joke I’ve seen that related the visual novel to the anime, saying that even the visual novel is more animated than the anime). The fight scenes are very active, and every little detail comes together to create truly immersive fight scenes. In fact, the action is so intense that it’s one of the things that defines the Fate/stay night experience (made even better by the inclusion of CGs and sound effects from the Realta Nua patch).
Now, in terms of erotic content… it’s pretty laughable. Nasu’s use of terrible metaphors, many of the seafood variety, only serves to break any sort of tension there might’ve been, and only make sex scenes comedic, though that could be a good thing for some people. I have to say that I did laugh quite a number of times at some of the scenes because they were so bad. I’m completely serious when I say you’ll see crap like “I stick my manhood in her hole, unleashing the hot magma pent up inside me, like an erupting volcano.” Of course, this is the series that used CG dragons and CG dolphins as replacements for the kiddies, so it’s not like the fans aren’t familiar with the concept “stupid, terrible sex scenes.”
Characters also are another mixed bag (see Judge’s Rider tribute). While many of them are great, well-developed characters that make you care way too much, some of the characters, particularly the heroines, are repackaged archetypes of characters from other Type-Moon works. That makes them lose a bit of their appeal. Additionally, one particular character is VERY divisive, as some people find her endearing because she has it the worst, while others think she’s a complete caricature of one of the Tsukihime heroine archetypes. On the bright side, the characters work very well with the superhero analysis going on, as often enough characters exist on every layer of the story in one way, shape, or form. Of particular note is the protagonist, who has a very interesting character paradox going on; he’s both a very well-developed character and not a character at the same time. I’ll leave you to read and discover more about this, but it’s everything about the protagonist that drives most of the analytical content; he’s a truly a character that exists on every layer completely whole, and that’s a very large part of Fate/stay night.
As I’ve mentioned before, there a few patches for Fate/stay night. In addition to the mirror-moon patch, there’s an option to install voices if you have the Realta Nua PS2 ISO (though I’m sure there are some people who have already packed the voices into the right patch format). In addition, there’s a Realta Nua patch found here that adds CGs, sprites, BGMs, sound effects, and other stuff, that improves many scenes, and makes the experience quite a bit more enjoyable.