Somewhere on planet Earth, in a fictional apartment shared by two fictional roommates…
“Man, it’s getting late. Think I’m gonna hit the sack. …Oh, what’re you playing?”
“You mean like Fate/stay night? Dude, I loved Fate/stay night! So is that girl Saber? Whoa, wait a sec, why is she wearing red all of a sudden…?”
“She’s not that Saber. It’s a different Heroic Spirit. Look, I’ll explain. She’s actually–”
“What do you mean she’s not that Saber? Then why does she look almost exactly li–“
…Neither of them slept that night.
Upon suddenly getting in the mood to play Fate/Extra simply because I chanced upon a staggeringly attractive piece of fan art depicting Nero and her supple, naked breasts, I felt a fresh emotion wash over my boyish heart like waves upon a sand castle. This emotion spurred me into action. And now I’m here, writing about how I’ve just finished Fate/Extra.
Because of boobs.
I played a video game to completion because of boobs.
Anyway, that’s only part of the reason, and I mostly played this so I could get to the apparently far superior CCC, but I first needed a bit of a warm-up exercise. A warm-up exercise that’s 30 hours long. But it’s okay. Really, it is. Why? Because they were 30 hours spent in the company of a blonde goddess clad in classy crimson, whispering two magical syllables into my ear; a word so simple yet so powerful it could convince the very stars to expire. Basically, Nero is cute af. Let’s move on.
Fate/Extra revolves around a Holy Grail War, much like the original VN it’s loosely based on: there are seven Masters and seven Servants, and they’re all fated to battle each other until only one remains, who will then be granted the right to the wish-granting Holy Grail. Except this war’s a little different, because it takes place in a virtual world and it’s not a complete free-for-all like the Actual Grail War. Instead, it’s neatly organized into rounds, with two predetermined Masters going up against each other like it was some kinda tournament. You have a few days to prepare, and then it’s off to the arena to fight your designated opponent. Oh, and don’t forget that the ancient rule of “IF YOU DIE IN THE GAME YOU DIE IN REAL LIFE” applies here as well, so yeah.
But let’s not get so ahead of ourselves, we first need to pick a Servant! Yes, that’s right. Fate/Extra does allow you to pick a Servant near the beginning of the game. You have three well-defined choices:
- Literally Suwabe.
- A wandering platform footwear fetishist.
Armed with a trusty Servant, you can now participate in the Grail War proper, and for the most part, it’s going to be what you expect. In each round, you’ll get an opponent, and you’ll have to figure out how to beat them. The high school you start off in (yes, Japan still has a fetish for this) serves as the central hub of your activities: you can talk to other students, go shopping for gear and items at the cafeteria, visit the church and ask the friendly neighborhood Tsukihime cameo character to upgrade your Servant’s stats, or enter the Arena, a two-floor Persona-esque labyrinth where you fight monsters. Oh, and you also need to find two key items within the Arena during the preparatory period, otherwise you’ll be disqualified, but honestly, these are hard to miss. The tricky thing about the Arena is that once you enter, you won’t be able to freely come and go: if you do leave, the current day will end and the main story will progress. Which means you’ll have to do as much exploration/grinding and whatnot in there as you can while you have the chance.
So now we come to the part where we have to mention The Thing. No, not the Carpenter movie, but The Thing That Makes Fate/Extra What It Is. And this thing is rock-paper-scissors. And by that I mean the battle system. Which is rock-paper-scissors, essentially. So here’s how it works. Every battle in Extra is a one-on-one affair, and you’ll exchange blows in rounds consisting of six actions. You can either Attack, Guard, or Break (or use items and spells/skills, but let’s ignore that for now): Attack beats Break, Guard beats Attack, and Break beats Guard. Now, the tricky part is that you don’t fully know what your opponent will choose, as many of their moves will be replaced by a question mark — in other words, you’ll basically have to guess. Just like in real rock-paper-scissors. The good news is that your enemies have specific move patterns they adhere to, so after a while you can more or less figure out what they’ll do. The bad news is that they have many different patterns, so just because you’ve figured one out doesn’t mean they can’t still surprise and obliterate you.
I’ll be honest, had I been playing the game the proper way, the battle system probably would’ve infuriated me to no end, to the point of being a complete deal-breaker. Thankfully, I grabbed a New Game+ clear save file, which gave me all sorts of advantages, plus I even started the game on Easy mode, so overall I had a fairly decent time soldiering through the Arena and could focus on just enjoying myself instead of tearing my hair out.
Having said that, I can sort of see the appeal of the combat system, and I thought it was actually quite enjoyable during the end-of-chapter Servant battles. There’s always an element of unpredictability, and you really do have to try and read your opponent’s mind in a way. You’ll also have to take your Servant’s offensive skills into account, which can actually be used to sort of negate the opponent’s action, seeing how they’re not affected by the rock-paper-scissors rule and simply deal damage without letting the enemy retaliate. Which means they’re usually best used on “?” actions as a form of “well I dunno what to do here so better play it safe and use a skill”. They do cost MP, though. And then later on you unlock your Servant’s Noble Phantasm, which makes things even more interesting. I just didn’t like how this system was used for every single battle in the game, and personally would’ve only reserved it for Servant battles while opting for a more traditional Final Fantasy-esque system for regular trash mobs.
Moving on. I actually liked how the basic rule of the Grail War (information is everything) translated into gameplay as well, and you occasionally have to ask around or go to the library to research various things about your opponent. Names carry power, and puzzling out the identity of the enemy Servant does indeed help you come up with a way to beat them, as gathering enough information prior to the decisive battle will reveal a few of your opponent’s rock-paper-scissors moves in advance, which is useful, to say the least. The game changes things up a bit in every chapter, and no round is exactly like another. There’s always something special about either the enemy Servant, the Master, or just the circumstances you’re forced to deal with, so that was fun. The game also gets really heavy and depressing whenever you beat an enemy Master, as they usually share their wishes and life stories with you before dying. I honestly really enjoyed these bits. The actual main plot of Extra (as in, why the Grail War is being held in the first place) is basically infodumped on you in the last hour, and it’s pretty okay, I guess. It tackles a decently thought-provoking issue but then the game ends an hour later so you don’t have much time to really chew it over. As for the ending, I thought it was pretty neat, actually. It was very bittersweet.
So, what else did I like… oh, right. I thought the interactions between Rin, the female MC and Nero were pretty cute. Basically if you want to see Hakunon, Rin and Nero being ultra gay for each other, you’re in for a treat. Rani, on the other hand, was sort of a baffling character for me and I’m not sure why she even has a route. Right, you should probably know that the game has both a Rin and a Rani route, and I completed the former. I really saw no reason to pick Rani, considering she was mostly a boring character that barely did anything, so when you inevitably do face her in combat, the game’s attempts at going all “oh, how tragic it is that two friends must fight to the death” were completely and utterly lost on me. Like, friends? Me? With her? The fuck are you smoking, I spoke to her like twice in the entire game, lol. But whatever. Anyway, Rin is very cute if you enjoy her tsundere antics.
Btw, you face a different Master/Servant pair in Round 4 depending on which route you picked. I can’t comment on the Rani route, but the Round 4 Master in Rin’s route had one of the most fucked up backstories in the game, so that was… yeah. Kinda disturbing. I looked up who you face in Rani’s route, and this might be the more interesting choice if you’re a huge Type-Moon fan, but I personally didn’t care much simply because I really didn’t like Rani at all.
Right, so I think it’s time to wrap this up because I don’t really have anything else I want to get off my chest. Fate/Extra was an okay game with an okay storyline and a very weird and potentially infuriating battle system that probably would’ve driven me insane, had I not cheated a little (correction: a lot). Also, Nero is a big plus. She was first introduced in this game, iirc, so in that sense, Extra is a very important title that deserves our undying gratitude. So thank you Extra and may the Umu watch over you, always.