Okay, so the inverseman is on a “Fate/Stay Night” spree as of late, this should be straightforward. Hm, which Servant to pick? Saber, Archer, or Caster? And you thought picking a starting Pokemon was hard. No prob. I’m in no rush. Not like anyone else is here to interrupt my deliberations. Wait a minute. Here comes a new challenger! No, not just one! Two of them!
Based off the hit visual novel from Type-Moon that we all know and love, Fate/Extra is the company’s first foray into RPG-dom, which is a great fit for solid writing and character development. In the not-so-distant future, the Holy Grail War is no longer seven chosen individuals allied with their mighty Servant companions in a no-rules free-for-all. In the future, everything is now digital and the Grail War is an organized 128 man tournament, not in Japan, but in digital subspace. You are one of the many combatants pulled into this rat race, and you’re fighting for your life. Yet you have no idea who you are or why you’re here.
Now in Fate/Extra players can choose one of three Servants; Saber, Archer, and Caster. It just so happens that between myself, Laevatein, and Zerreth (making a guest appearance) we all happened to choose those Servants respectively, giving a very full and fleshed out experience for each path. So sit back and enjoy today’s triple threat article.
Being a huge fan of Type-Moon’s “Fate” series, I preordered Fate/Extra the moment I heard about its license in the States. I first heard about this game when it was announced in Japan and cursed my fate that I was still not proficient enough in Japanese to be able to play it without aid. As you know, story means a lot to me and while gameplay is easy to figure out, it’s the Type-Moon narration that draws me to this game.
I started this game with a few facts in mind: the main character’s gender could be chosen (as it seems popular with all the games nowadays) and there was a choice of 3 Servants to use throughout the game (Saber, Archer and Caster). Coincidentally, that is also the game’s projected difficulty level from easy to hard respectively. I have a general mindset that games should be played on the highest difficulty as the challenge is what makes a game enjoyable. The satisfaction of playing a game using as much skill as possible is what makes it “fun” for me (with the exception of CheatingAI), so I decided to choose Caster (and not just because of my love for fox-girls). Wow, what a difference that made….
Battle consists of simultaneous turns that are broken down into 6 moves. Each side submits a move order and then the battle commences depending on what both sides submitted. Basically, there are one of three commands you can submit per move: Attack, Guard, and Break. In a rock, paper, scissors fashion, Attack beats Break which beats Guard which Beats Attack. If the same command was submitted on a move, two things can happen. Both sides take damage or both sides cancel each other out resulting in no damage. If one side successfully manages to land the superior move 3 times in a row, that side deals an extra blow separate from the turn.
Here is where difficulty comes into play. First off, the player is unaware of what the enemy pattern is. Usually at first encounters, only one move is revealed, which means for a while the player has to guess the other moves. As the battles with the same monster repeat, there’s a chance upon victory of having an additional move revealed, slowly making battles easier. But what does this mean for Caster?
Most of the battles a physical punch fests. Caster being a magic type follows the general archetype of being weak regarding physical attributes, which means that this can only spell disaster. Without a doubt, I felt the difficulty of my class rushing at me quite quickly. Having absolutely no information, I basically had to wing it and hope that I took minimal damage during the opening turns. Then by using deduction, I had to memorize my enemies’ patterns. Basically, by seeing which attacks went through and which attacks clashed or failed, I was able to learn what the opponent used during that move. Early on, weak inductive reasoning worked fairly well because each enemy had very few patterns, so revealing key moves allowed me to assume certain patterns. Needless to say, this slowly got harder as I progressed, but luckily, monsters of the same type but different tier seem to retain some of the patterns of the previous tier, making them less dangerous.
This is great, except when I mess up, I’m dead. Literally. If I didn’t memorize patterns immediately or figure out which pattern was weighted more early on, I’d be taking hits that remove significant chunks of my HP. One poor turn literally kills me and it’s game over. It also doesn’t help that improving Caster’s stats barely made a difference. It also didn’t help that early on, my Caster would do such insignificant damage that battles with normal monsters would last around 5 turns.
Still though, this is the kind of difficulty I don’t mind. It’s a nice challenge and mildly fun knowing that I have to concentrate constantly or else. I will admit though, I have simply ragequit a few times after nearly clearing an entire dungeon only to be killed by a rare pattern that I didn’t take into account for, but it’s always temporary. The story is also very interesting and I’m loving Caster’s personality and side comments, which seem to hint at who she really is.
As for my personal experiences, I chose the male main character and Archer (out of Saber, Archer, Caster, usually thought of as the easy, medium, and hard Servants), aka the “bro” team. Archer is rather like his Fate/stay night self, as he’s probably the biggest cynical snarker you’ve ever met. It’s fun to see him deride everyone that crosses his path (though he does deal with you like that, unfortunately, but that’s just part of his charm).
I’ve only played two weeks, but it seems like Archer’s main gimmick is stacking a sort of multiplier used for various skills (sort of like land in Magic the Gathering). Archer has quite a few buffs, debuffs, and utility abilities, and you’re fully expected to use them to survive. I don’t have trouble with normal creature battles, as I’ve bumped up my defense enough to survive things, but I find myself having trouble with Servant battles, since I don’t have access to instant nukes that can take down a Servant quickly. Rather, with Archer, I have to slowly grind down a Servant’s HP, all the while maintaining my own, often having to just tank whatever damaging skills they throw at me. This was particularly annoying in the second boss fight, since I was getting hit by deadly status effects, so I had to balance out using remedies and healing.
So why use Archer? While he can’t end battles quickly, I find that his combination of good offense and defense and all around beneficial skills make him a rather well balanced Servant that doesn’t hold your hand through battles but doesn’t break your back with difficulty. And as a fanboy of the original, it’s great to see one of my favorite Servants make a return, and as my own Servant no less!
Okay, so this is like F/SN but then we add some Persona 3, spice it up with some .hack//, and then put it on the moon and under the sea. Hm, sounds like a good musical.
I decided to jump in with Saber because, while Archer was tempting me with extreme manliness, and while I always dig magic users like Caster, the alternate universe Saber this time around had her own allure, very different from the Saber we all know and love (especially when you consider this red-Saber’s true identity).
And man was I in for a treat. Like the other two gentlemen have stated, Fate/Extra has snappy dialog, and when this much more pompous Saber comes to your side, she won’t fail to entertain. In battle, Saber is straightforward, considering how she’s the easiest to use. She can typically survive encounters with new enemies, when you don’t have their patterns down yet, and once you have them down, she’ll make short work of them in no time. Though to balance it somewhat, her early skills are none too impressive or all too necessary (at the moment).
Since I’m not as tactically minded at memorizing or jotting down enemy patterns, when it comes to Fate/Extra and its battle system, my strategy is “don’t think, feel” (aka guess and test, ladies and gents). Eventually, I got a feel for how the enemies moved and struck, thanks to what boils down to the big key of this game: the importance of information.
The more you fight your enemies, the more you know about them and the more predictable they become (the more attacks are revealed). It makes intrinsic sense, as not many people go into an actual fight with a perfectly predictable strategy guide on their opponents. New uncharted territory always carries danger, but the tide of difficulty recedes as your information and instincts grow. So during the school component of Fate/Extra, instead of taking classes and getting girls, you’re doing a seven days of reconnaissance on this week’s opponent in the tournament. Even if you’re not a long-standing fan, if you’re a history buff, you’ll get a kick out of the personalities you’ll run into.
Needless to say, Fate/Extra has a lot of surprises in for the three of us, so tune back in soon for the full review. As for me, I have to stock up on spicy mabo tofu. Lots of mabo tofu.
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