|Release Date||January 17, 2017|
Review code provided
Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star is a Mosou-style action game and spin-off of the Fate/Stay Night Anime series. It’s a sequel to the 2012 PSP game Fate/Extra, although with a radically different gameplay style (the previous game being a dungeon crawler). Umbral Star is a spiritual successor to the story of Fate/Extra and is set following the Holy Grail War. Players take control of the victorious “Master” and must work to defend themselves from various enemies seeking to rule or destroy SERAPH.
I’ll freely admit to feeling a little lost at first while taking in the story of Umbral Star. Having not played Fate/Extra or watched much of the Anime I probably wasn’t best prepared for game. Umbral Star does do a good job of catching up players who may be unfamiliar with what’s going on through dialogue. Within a few cutscenes I was as well versed as I needed to be to understand the world and the characters in it. In fact, I was probably a little too well versed.
Umbral Star goes overboard with its expository dialogue. While the general overarching story is fairly decent, if a little slow to get going, it’s drowned out by a torrent of clunky, long-winded dialogue. Characters go to great lengths to explain everything in far too much detail. If a sentence would suffice, Umbral Star’s cast of characters will use a paragraph. I routinely found myself being beaten over the head with every tiny detail of everything in Umbral Star.
It’s not just the exposition that goes overboard. Characters will often go off on wild, inconsequential tangents that have no relation to the story and don’t really do anything to build character, relationship or backstory. They’re simply massive conversations that exist for the sake of it. For example, there’s a scene that takes place when the player character and his servant, Nero, are taking a bath. The conversation eventually goes to a place where these two characters decide they want to bang each other.
Nero is tempted, but she decides that she needs to focus on saving her empire from a recently revealed enemy, and must practice self restraint. This is all she talks about for the next five minutes. It’s not that the scene or the character motivations are necessarily bad, but there’s far too much dialogue for what could be covered in a sentence or two. It makes conversations between characters come off as unnatural and boring. You’ll frequently be getting the gist of a discussion minutes before it’s finished.
This is prevalent throughout Umbral Star’s entire run time. While some scenes benefit from this level of detail, most would have worked a lot better with snappier dialogue. Umbral Star buries players under so much exposition that they won’t ever see daylight again. And that’s not counting the random, dead-end conversations that suffer the same problems. Each chapter of the game begins and ends with various cutscenes and conversations and both last longer than the action gameplay sandwiched in between.
I got so bored waiting for the gameplay to start that I began to skim read the dialogue. Eventually, when this was still taking too long, I just started hammering X to skip through it altogether. Once I did this I started enjoying the game a lot more. Fans of the Fate/Stay Night series or the previous Fate/Extra game might get a kick out of these scenes, but I personally found that the way the dialogue has been written borders on torturously boring.
Once I was into the main meat of the game I found myself having a much better time. Umbral Star is a Musou-style action game. While the most obvious comparison is to Dynasty Warriors, the core action gameplay is probably closer to Marvelous’ own Senran Kagura series. Umbral Star is all about fast-paced, hyper-aggressive action gameplay and carving a path through thousands of faceless enemies to complete your objectives.
Every time you enter a battlefield in Umbral Star your aim is to take it over. Each level is broken down into smaller arenas and your aim is to invade and conquer these arenas by destroying the enemy forces there, whilst protecting arenas you already own. Each section will grant you (or the enemy) a number of Regime Matrices – keys that are required to conquer the battlefield. Once you’ve collected enough you’ll unlock the final boss fight.
Combat is fairly simplistic. You control your servant and defeat enemies by performing combos of light and heavy attacks. Servants come in eight different classes, all with differing abilities and fighting styles. Throughout battle you’ll build up a gauge that you can use to unleash an Extella Maneuver, an ability that deals significant damage to a single enemy and those surrounding it. You’re also able to access a second gauge that, when full, allows Servants to form change for significantly increased damage output.
There can be some strategy involved in managing the battlefield. Tougher enemies and minibosses that need to be dealt with quickly can appear on the map and enemies will routinely launch invasions into territories under your control. Rather than mindlessly blast your way through levels section by section, you’ll need to manage the field of battle to ensure you don’t start taking too many heavy losses.
There’s not really much strategy to combat, however. You’ll mostly spend your time mashing square and triangle as you easily destroy thousands of faceless robots, only occasionally getting held up on some slightly more powerful enemies that spawn from time to time. In short bursts Umbral Star’s core gameplay is fun enough, but repetition begins to set in fairly quickly while playing.Even when fighting bosses you’re generally just doing the same things over and over again, except sometimes you might have to block or dodge incoming attacks.
Extella Maneuvers and form changes are identical every time you use them, the former simply requires you to hammer circle until the move is complete and the latter plays the same cutscene every time you deploy it. It also turns your character into an unstoppable engine of destruction for a limited time, removing what little strategy there was in the game’s combat mechanics in favour of mashing buttons as fast as possible for maximum damage (which is very close to what you were doing anyway).
It can get pretty boring once you’re far enough into the game to realise that it never really offers too much variety. Umbral Star essentially sticks itself on repeat – you need to smash through thousands of the same enemies, that populate some admittedly cool battlefields, until you unlock the final boss fight. Once you’re past the next round of visual novel-like scenes and cutscenes you rinse and repeat with very little variation. Bosses will offer varying movesets, but not varied enough that you need to mix up your own fighting style to compensate.
The game does look quite nice. While the character models and animations are fairly basic, there is a decent amount of variety to the different levels you’ll be fighting in. Although it can sometimes be quite hard to appreciate the differences when the arenas are covered with dozens upon dozens of identical looking robot enemies. The graphics aren’t of the highest quality, but the bright colours make the game interesting to look at, and the lower graphical fidelity keeps the game running smoothly despite the frantic pace and massive enemy count.
Outside of combat and dialogue Umbral Star features a limited suite of character customisation. Levelling up will increase your stats and allow you to hold your own as the game’s difficulty curves upwards from chapter to chapter. You’re also able to equip install skills to unlock stat boosts or extra abilities by increasing your bond levels with Servants, done by selecting the “correct” responses in conversations. Combining these install skills in the right ways will also boost their effectiveness.
Umbral Star also features a crafting system that allows players to create new equippable items for servants, giving them extra limited-use skills in combat, such as the ability to deploy decoys or heal damage. The better the item level, the more uses you can get out of these skills. Install skills and items do make an appreciable difference in combat, though rather than being a difference between life and death, it’s more like a difference between a quick victory or a slightly quicker victory.
Outside of story mode, which tells the main tale of Nero and her “Master” as they attempt to defend SERAPH from external threats, there are side stories. These side stories focus on the other Servants you’ll encounter throughout the game, giving you access to a new storyline and a slightly different playing style. There’s also a free battle mode that sees you able to charge into battle unencumbered by the dialogue and narrative of the story mode.
Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star is a decent Musou-style action game with a few drawbacks that can dull the experience. While the game’s story is kind of interesting, it’s weighed down by some clunky, poorly written dialogue. Conversations between characters tend to go on much longer than is necessary, with the cast prone to going off on pointless tangents frequently. Umbral Star’s core gameplay fares better, though the compelling strategy of managing the various battlefields found in the game is eventually counterbalanced by the repetition of its core combat mechanics. All in all Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star isn’t necessarily a bad game, it certainly has a few moments or mechanics that work quite well, but those successes come with caveats.
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