I absolutely love Musou/Dynasty Warrior-like games. The pure chaos of the battlefield, coupled with intense, unrelenting action, has always been a way for me to blow off some steam. Viciously destroying hundreds, if not thousands of enemies over and over can do that that for you. In Marvelous and XSEED Games’ newest addition to the Fate series, Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star, that intense combat and convoluted, (if not stylishly nonsensical) storyline comes to the Nintendo Switch, meaning gamers get a chance to not only experience a solid Musou game on Nintendo’s hot new system, but have fun while doing it.
(For fans of Sony platforms, be sure to check out our review of the PlayStation 4 version of the game)
Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star is the third game in the Fate series, but only the second to be released outside of Japan. It originally hit the PlayStation 4 and Vita in January, but has now found a home on the Nintendo Switch. The story follows the aftermath of the Holy Grail War, a conflict which was fought on the surface of the moon. The winner of the war gained access to the Moon Cell, which would grant its owner one wish. The player chooses the gender and name of their character, and is then thrust into the story as the “master” to the reincarnated Nero Claudius, who is now a young girl. The new world that was created by the Moon Cell is under constant threat, and the player, Nero, and their collected servants must fight to keep the peace.
The narrative has some interesting twists, but it is also deliciously Japanese, so it borders on the absurd more often than not. Most of the pre-battle upkeep occurs in “My Room”, which is the bedroom the player shares with Nero. Players can craft armor and set skills, and Nero has a handful of different outfits that she can wear, including one that is exclusive to the Switch. There is also some sexual innuendo between the two, which is strange as the world seems to be under constant threat from enemies, and no one has time for love. Additional servants are introduced, each with their own stories to explore, giving the player options on how they play through the story mode. There are over 15 servants to unlock during the playthrough, and the main story is told through the perspectives of the three main characters: Nero, Tamamo no Mae, and Altera.
The true star of Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star is the combat. The Switch exercises some muscle as it presents the player with hundreds of enemies to fight over and over, with dozens of appearing on screen when the action ramps up. Like most Musou games, combos and carefully timed button presses unleash epic attacks, and as a servant levels up over time, those combos get more powerful. The most powerful attack is the Extella Maneuver, which can be accessed after a meter-fill, that devastates all enemies on the battlefield. Players fight to take over sectors of a map with the enemy constantly retaking them, demanding that you use strategy in determining how to fight and which sector to focus on. Bosses and other obstacles will also appear on the map, rallying their respective troops, which can turn the tide of battle in an instant. Juggling all of this as thousands of enemies swarm you is the hallmark of a good Musuo game, and Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star handles it well.
In terms of graphics, the game looks good running on the Switch. The heavy influence of anime-style art helps separate Fate/Extella from other popular Musou games that focus more on realism. I love the character designs, their outfits, and the use of color (especially with the Altera character). All of it looks great on-screen, whether you’re playing on a TV, or using the Switch in handheld mode.
There is zero slowdown during combat, even with so many character models filling the screen, and the epic moves, like the Extella Maneuver (which has an intro each time you use it) just fill the eyes with glorious colors and other visual effects. To put it bluntly, Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star looks great on the Switch.
In addition to the main story, there is a side story mode that allows the player to take control of one of the officers to see how they fit into the narrative, and a “free battle” option which just throws the player into a combat scenario on a map they select. Lastly, there is a much needed glossary that stores all of the key terminology, characters, and locations that are mentioned throughout the course of the game. Players can spend hours reading all of the mythology of the Fate series — as bonkers as it is — if they want a fuller experience.
The music and sound effects are both solid, with the score working to set the mood. There are soft arias in “My Room” and menus, with upbeat, faster songs playing during battles. Voice acting is all in the native Japanese, though English subtitles allow you to follow along with the story and moment-to-moment action. This also proves to be one of the game’s biggest flaws, as officers screaming for help in the heat of battle come across the screen in a text block, and it is very difficult to read and process text while being overrun by enemies. If Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star was fully localized, it would be easier to know what is going on during combat, and as it is now, the player has to learn to multi-task like a champion to ensure total victory.
Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star is a welcome addition to the growing Nintendo Switch line-up, even if it is just a port of a previously released PS4 game. The graphics look great on both the TV and on the Switch screen, and the battles play the same whether using the Joy Cons or the Pro Controller. Unlike some of the missteps that Nintendo had with Hyrule Warriors Legends for the 3DS, the Switch is proving itself powerful enough to handle a game like Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star, and fans of the genre can rest assured that fully-featured, console quality Musou games on-the-go are a reality now, thanks to Nintendo’s new hardware.
This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game, which we were provided with.
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