Fate/Extella Link review – The Stuff of Legend

As a newcomer, it’s hard to know where to jump in with Fate. It’s been around since 2004, with a canon that spans numerous different mediums and alternate universes. Fate/Extella Link would seem an odd place to dive into this labyrinth of Fate lore; even if you ignore all the manga and anime, Extella Link is the 12th videogame in the franchise, and a direct sequel to 2017’s Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star—itself a sequel to the PSP game Fate/Extra. But circumstances conspired to make Extella Link my first real taste of Fate, and you know what? It’s a surprisingly good introduction to a fascinating world.

Without getting too bogged down in unnecessary details, Fate is built around the concept of bringing various characters of history and legend together to battle one another. These “Servants” or “Heroic Spirits” are typically summoned by “Masters”, for whom they fight in combat tournaments called “Holy Grail Wars”. It’s a simple and enticing concept, made all the more appealing by Fate‘s creative interpretations of legendary figures and the rich characterisation of them—from Nero’s oddly charming narcissism, to the comically flirtatious Tamamo no Mae, to Francis Drake’s reimagining as a foul-mouthed pirate queen—so it’s easy to see how the series has endured as long as it has. (There’s a much deeper well of lore tying all this together, which has got increasingly complex over the years, but that’s the gist of it.)

Fate/Extella Link, like Fate/Extella and Fate/Extra before it, takes place in what is, essentially, a virtual world called SE.RA.PH, which is populated by Servants, humans who digitized and uploaded their consciousnesses, and NPCs. Once the site of its own Holy Grail War, SE.RA.PH is now a place of relative peace under the leadership of that tournament’s winner and last remaining Master, Hakuno Kishinami—the protagonist of this game.

That peace all changes when strange, cloned Servants start attacking SE.RA.PH at the behest of the powerful Rex Magnus. These “Facsimile Servants” are every bit as strong as the Servants they copy, and even share their personalities; through them, Magnus aims to force everyone within SE.RA.PH to submit to his rule, and his ultimate goal of assimilating the whole world into a single consciousness. To Magnus, assimilation as the only way to ensure true, everlasting peace; it’s collectivism taken to its utmost extreme, with the amalgamation of every being and every facet of the world removing any possibility of disagreement.

Just as all this is beginning, a new Servant suddenly appears before Hakuno: Charlemagne, based on the Matter of France‘s more fantastical take on the famed Frankish leader. Far from the Charlemagne that history remembers, this “Charlie” is a young, excitable adventurer, always on the lookout for something “awesome”—his go-to word—to see or do. His cheerful personality quickly sees him befriend and pledge to serve Hakuno, that they might stop Magnus and preserve SE.RA.PH’s freedom.

The broad plot is actually relatively straightforward, despite drawing on a wealth of more complicated Fate lore. I don’t say this as a criticism; Fate/Extella Link‘s narrative simplicity works to its strength, allowing the characters to shine without getting bogged down in minutiae. It’s concise, too, which is a welcome change in a medium that’s obsessed with dragging stories out in the interests of “content”—all told, it took me around 15 hours to see the game through to all three of its endings, which is exactly enough time to tell the story that it wanted to tell.

[Spoiler alert! Minor spoilers follow.]

Nor does “straightforward” mean that Extella Link lacks depth. Indeed, the heart of the story is built upon one of the very driving forces of Fate as a whole: the idea of “legends”. In Fate, even those Servants based on historical figures like King Arthur and Nero Claudius are based more on their dramatised legends than any historical fact. Extella Link challenges that directly with a story based upon two wildly different takes on the same person. There’s the Charlemagne of legend, an adventuresome knight sung about by bards, and then there’s the Charlemagne of history, the “Father of Europe”, who successfully—if not peacefully—united much of Western Europe under his rule.

[End of spoilers]

Fate/Extella Link plays out through a “1 vs 1000” action game that’ll be familiar to anyone who’s played any of Koei Tecmo’s Warriors games. As one of 26 Servants, you fight your way across battlefields, carving through weaker enemies by the thousands as you take control of strategic points and deal with the bigger threats posed by Facsimile Servants (and true Servants that, through brainwashing or free choice, have sided with Magnus).

Fate/EXTELLA LINK_20190304092349

The action is fast and frenetic, but not mindless. The thousands of minions pose no threat, but fighting through them is a means to an end: to take control of a sector of the map, allowing your AI-controlled allies to progress; to force the appearance of a more powerful boss character; to fill your special attack gauges that can turn the tide of a battle against said bosses. There’s a tactical bent to battles, especially on higher difficulties, in trying to gain and keep control of the battlefield. You can only be in one place at one time, but enemy commanders constantly try to take sectors of the map back from you and expose your weak points. If you’re careless or don’t plan your movements properly, you’ll see your allies quickly getting overwhelmed, in most cases leading to mission failure.

The other Servants pose a bigger threat, and it’s in these fights that you’ll need to make full use of your range of attacks and defensive tools. In addition to the standard quick and strong attacks, each Servant has an assortment of special moves with no limitations other than a relatively brief cooldown. These do decent damage in their own right, but combing into them also comes with the chance to trigger a Rush attack, bringing in allies for a tag-team beatdown. Take out enough enemies to fill your Moon Drive gauge lets you enter a powered-up state for short while, and taking out enemies while in this state fills a second super gauge that, when full, let’s you unleash your character’s ultimate attack.

At the same time, enemy Servants tend to be good at blocking and counterattacking—especially on higher difficulty settings—so careless aggression is a good way to get yourself in trouble. Instead, you’ll need to make good use of your own guard state and evasive dash to create openings to start your offensive. No part of this is new or unique to Fate/Extella Link, but the action is tight enough that that’s not an issue. The Warriors formula, done well, is a timeless one, and Extella Link is solid enough to hang with the best of Koei Tecmo’s own efforts.

That alone is enough to make Fate/Extella Link worth a look, even if you’re not familiar with the Fate universe. Couple that with a story that doesn’t just hold up well on its own, but is focused squarely on the the thing that makes Fate so compelling—its characters, and the legends they’re based upon—and you’ve got a perfect introduction to one of the most prolific anime and game franchises of the day.

Matthew Codd

Matthew is a writer based in Wellington. He loves all things pop culture, and is fascinated by its place in history and the wider social context.