I knew nothing of this game, or the series as a whole, before I downloaded Fate/EXTELLA: The Umbral Star. Maybe that puts me at a disadvantage but as the developer described it as an “independent story” maybe it wouldn’t be completely incomprehensible. Turns out I was wrong. Looking up a story brief on Wikipedia and I’m still none the wiser, but let’s try and break down the plot.

Set after the events of the Holy Grail War (the events of the first game in the series), Nero and her master (that being you) have won and therefore rule over the Moon Cell Automaton. Then new enemies appear and they must do battle again for reasons, something about evil coming and……I don’t know. It’s nonsense and not particularly enjoyable nonsense. It’s the kind of anime look that I don’t particular enjoy, a bunch of anime girls with tails and scantily clad attire, though in the game’s defense they at least don’t look 12 years old, unlike other games with this style.

So the plot is complete bobbins, but once the story is out of the way and you’re thrust onto the battlefield things do start to look up. I wasn’t joking when I said this was a Dynasty Warriors game, so much so I had to check to see if it wasn’t from the same developers. You have a map in the corner and as your character you run to each section, hammer the X button till everything falls over and you obtain that area.

Fate Extella ReviewThere are some tactics to it, sections will be under threat, so whether you aid your friends or carry on the assault is a choice you will often make. During battles you get orders from your other servants that will help sway the battle in your favour, this also coming with the games major gripe. The game being completely in Japanese with subtitles, not such a problem during the story sections, but in the heat of battle you will never get the chance to read the text because the action is so frantic. There were many moments where I missed my allies telling me something important because I wasn’t paying attention to what they were saying. Something that can sometimes lead to defeat.

That aside, as someone who holds no love for Dynasty Warriors-like games, I was surprised by how enjoyable I found the gameplay. Battles are unfortunately sandwiched between an awful lot of bad storytelling, but once you get to them it’s a welcome relief. There’s something quite satisfying about smashing all your opponents into pieces, it’s almost like a nice stress reliever.

Mechanically, it’s deeper than you might think. Before each battle you can equip certain items, with abilities ranging from giving you more attack strength to negating poison damage. Then there are optional side missions to complete which also come with rewards. And even on the battlefield, sometimes retreat is a better option, regroup and grab whatever health items you can find before challenging for the enemy inhabited areas.

Graphically it almost feels like a PS3 game at times which is a shame, the PS4 power seemingly being used to fill the screen with hundreds of enemies with zero slowdown. Animation during the cut scenes is clunky, so Fate/Extella isn’t exactly a looker but if that’s the sacrifice needed to be made so the screen can be full of enemies then I am okay with this.

With three main stories and a number of side stories there’s a good amount of content here, whether you want to finish it all is the question. After finishing one side story and two of the main stories I was pretty much finished with the game. Occasionally I may return to it for a quick bash, but after a long weekend of hammering X, as enjoyable as that time was, I was done.

It’s always nice when you get a pleasant surprise and Fate/Extella is that. Horrid story and characters aside, for a cross between the worst kind of anime and Dynasty Warriors it’s far better than I was expecting and goes to show you shouldn’t trust a book by its cover. Or in this case, a game by its abysmal box art.