Title: Fate/EXTELLA LINK
Genre: Action, Multiplayer
Developer: Marvelous Inc.
Publisher: XSEED Games,
Marvelous USA, Inc
Release Date: Mar 19, 2019
I have been a fan of the Type-moon Fate series for a long time which stems from my love for the visual novel, Tsukihime. Although not part of the Fate franchise, it did eventually lead me to Fate/Stay Night as both were written by Kinoko Nasu, the lead writer and co-founder of Type-Moon. His narrative style is just something that really draws me in as he often describes in great detail about the settings and workings of the worlds he has established while integrating elements from both sci-fi and fantasy. To this day, these two “true” visual novels still remain the only ones that I have read from start to finish. As the popularity of Fate increases, so does the number of IPs based on it ranging from animes to video games. Fate/EXTELLA, a genre spinoff that is part of the Fate/EXTRA universe, is one such series. While I must say that I am not a fan of Fate/EXTELLA: The Umbral Star for various reasons, its sequel that is Fate/EXTELLA LINK has learned and improved from its predecessor’s shortcomings making it a title that I can truly recommend.
Story & General Overview
The player once again assumes the role of the last master of the Moon Holy Grail War, Hakuno Kishinami, who will have to sortie servants to combat against a new threat to their world. With the assistance of Charlemagne, a new character, and the series mainstays, Hakuno will have to fight her way through this new adventure. She will encounter various returning servants and newcomers both friendly and hostile as the mysteries behind this new unknown enemy unfold.
Like the previous entry, Fate/EXTELLA LINK is a musou game, a hack and slash genre from the likes of Dynasty Warriors. The player is pitted against a massive amount of individually harmless grunts with some bosses occasionally mixed in (opposing A.I. controlled playable characters) while you are trying to gain control of different sections of the map. This is done by beating a certain amount of aggressor units, the Fate/EXTELLA equivalent to general/commander archetypes, which can come in a variety of forms. There are also roleplaying elements in the form of level and Install Skills. Install Skills are equipable passive skills that can provide various boosts which can range from increasing attack power to influencing items drop rate. Code Cast, changeable support skills used by Hakuno, makes a return but with a minor difference in that the user herself is also physically on the battlefield. Even though the master is susceptible to damage and will cause a game over if her HP runs out, you will be fine most of the time since she is fairly resilient. If the majority of this sounds familiar, that would be because the general game flow is mostly the same. The mentioned several improvements made to Fate/EXTELLA LINK do not lie with the flow of the game but instead with the intricacies inside and around it.
Changes & Improvements
One of the things that MARVELOUS! has changed from the previous game is that, unlike the first one, the player is not limited to a set of two servants for the entirety of the story mode. Now you can use any characters that you so wish as long they are unlocked by simply swapping them around in the hub area before the start of any missions. This is a change I welcome because much of the fatigue and tedium from the previous game comes from the fact that no other characters can be used in the story mode. The restriction is further lifted once you have finished the game once, as the player will even be allowed to pick servants not currently relevant to the story chapter. There is also an option to disable this function if you prefer to keep the immersion as well. Fret not, even with this option disabled, you will obviously have a smaller but still a healthy selection to pick from. I should also mention that, in addition to the new fan-favorites ones, the entirety of the Umbral Star roster has also returned.
Another major change that the developer has revamped for the better is the skill and combat system. While the game still retains the attack string mechanic in which a heavy attack will come out differently depending on the number of times the light attack button was pressed, there is also an Active Skill system. Active Skills are skills that can be activated at any time in any situations where you are grounded and not currently taking damage. They are not limited to just attacks as some can also provide buffs for a limited amount of time. For older characters, some of them used to be the heavy attack enders from the previous game while others are completely new. Unlike heavy attack enders, Active Skills cannot be used over and over as there is a cooldown period after each use and are often tied to individual servants. The higher the level of a servant, the more Active Skills they will unlock. Feel free to experiment with new skills and find out what works best for you!
MARVELOUS! has also added the much-needed ability to lock on to aggressors, and make it much easier to use Noble Phantasms which are basically cinematic super attacks. The player can now fill the golden Noble Phantasm meter by defeating enemies in Moon Drive mode, a newly empowered state that can be activated when its blue gauge is filled. Moon Drive replaces both Moon Crux mode and Extella Maneuver from the last game. This new empowered mode also bestows a player with a Drive Skill special attack that will instantly end the currently active Moon Drive. Drive Skill does a lot of damage but is still nowhere near Noble Phantasms. Personally, these two issues I mention have caused me some real frustration in Fate/EXTELLA so I am glad to see that they are addressed.
A titular new mechanic by the name of LINK is also introduced. LINK is a state in which your character is within a certain range of any allies denoted by a connecting blue line. During LINK mode, the servant you are controlling can gain access to certain Active Skills. LINK allies will also assist you during any rush attacks, an extra opportunity to deal more damage from Active Skills. Mechanic-wise there are actually still quite a few things that the developer has added and changed to polish the game even further which I will leave out for the sake of readability. If all of these smaller touch-ups were to be listed and discussed, this section would never end.
The overall look of the graphics has also been improved. Character models, environments, and textures are much more detailed compared to the previous game. I can also appreciate the fact that the developers did not just simply import the assets then call it a day. Modifications to reused maps from the last game have been made to include completely new models. Another thing that I really like is that MARVELOUS! has decided to only use 2D art when the characters converse as opposed to using both 3D models and the artwork. While the servants are much better realized in Fate/EXTELLA LINK, there are just some boundaries that 2D and 3D cannot fully cross, so I believe that this is indeed for the best. Of course, the 2D character portraits are not just static images. They are animated to an extent. They are able to blink, open their mouth to talk, and change expressions in real time!
Unlike other games in the Fate series, Fate/EXTELLA LINK has a story that is on the lighter side this time around. It is nowhere as lore heavy as the other titles. I feel that this is the cost of focusing more on gameplay which I should assert is not a bad thing. I will say as a Fate fan, however, that I am not as emotionally invested or moved like I was with Fate/EXTELLA. This is probably because the spotlight is focused on a completely new character, Charlemagne, whom I feel does not have enough development or a connection to the audience. The main servants from the last games either have had several titles under their belts or an expansive backstory to make up. The fact that there is less story in Fate/EXTELLA LINK certainly does not help Charlemagne’s case.
The 4 versus 4 multiplayer king of the hill mode is also a bit rough. The concept is fine but the problem occurs when you realize that you need eight players with solid connections to run well. Even in fighting games, a mostly one-on-one environment, you can still not reliably find a way to get stable connections all the time. What chance does this 8-player online game mode have? There is also the matter of Active Skills doing massive damage in one hit. This causes everyone to dash around the map like madmen while trying to land their attack skills. Somehow I doubt that this is the playstyle that MARVELOUS! had in mind. It is extremely chaotic, even more so with unstable connections. Enjoyment can definitely be derived from this mode but it is just not my cup of tea in the long run. I can appreciate that the developer is going for something new but the execution is still off in my opinion.
Fate/EXTELLA LINK is miles above Fate/EXTELLA Umbral Star in almost every aspect. The graphics and character models look better. Servants are even more diverse and have really cool looking movesets. They are generally fun to play with, so it is always a treat to try out new skills and characters. There are also extra modes, variable story difficulties, and an enjoyable but admittedly flawed 4 vs 4 king of the hill online mode to add to the replayability. However, these improvements come at the cost of the story. If you are expecting the level of detail in character development or lore of Fate/EXTRA or to a lesser extent, Fate/EXTELLA, you will not get that. Due to this and the change in featured character, the story of Fate/EXTELLA LINK can feel like it is something that happens in-between main story arcs, a side story if you will. The good news is that now that MARVELOUS! has nailed down the gameplay, they can shift more of their focus back to the story so we can have the best of both worlds! Still, Fate/EXTELLA LINK is a fantastic musou game that has succeeded in reforming and improving the alright-at-best gameplay of its predecessor to a wonderful and solid foundation deserving of Fate fame.