Thursday, July 13, 2017

Fate/Grand Order Review

I’m a big fan of the “Fate/” series, and I don’t think that’s a small secret. On this blog alone I’ve reviewed Fate/Zero TWICE and got into discussions circling around the “Unlimited Blade Works” route of Fate/Stay Night in animated form. I eagerly await Fate/Stay Night: Heaven’s Feel and the next part of the Fate/Grand Order anime adaptation. But what I’m not so big a fan of is mobile gaming. I’ll get into a game for just a little bit before my free-to-play experience dries up and things just become meddling, or I run out of missions to do. So, what happens when you mix a franchise I like with a genre I’m impartial to? Well, actually a pretty fun, addictive experience.

Fate/ Grand Order released initially in Japan in 2015 but finally got localized over to Western audiences just a couple weeks ago, at the time of this writing. The game features the Chaldea Organization trying to stop the end of the world as it comes in just a few years, and need the mystical Holy Grail to halt it. Things go awry, however, as various blips in history appear and it’s up to our main hero, the Player, and their collected Heroic Spirits to save the world.

One of the major issues with a mobile game like this is how steep it is in the “Fate” lore. The Player dives straight in with the assumption that they know what Masters, Servants, Heroic Spirits, the Fuyuki incident, and the Holy Grail are. There are little bits and pieces here and there and by the end of the tutorial mission you get the gist of it. But, I’ll explain it here:

In the “Fate” world, magic is real. Mages take up a small, but powerful, part of the population. Every few centuries the Holy Grail, a mystical wish-granting object, appears on Earth and opens a gateway to another dimension. Seven mages are chosen by the conscious Grail to fight for the right to own it and make a wish upon the Grail. These mages are known are Masters, and their Servants are Heroic Spirits from all across time, drawn from that extra dimension. Some Heroic Spirits are people like Joan of Arc, King Arthur, Gilgamesh, and even Shakespeare.


That’s a thing.

The major centerpiece of the “Fate” world is an abnormal incident that occurred in 2004, wherein the Grail was destroyed and, as a result, the host city, Fuyuki, was partially destroyed. Ten years later, the Grail would reappear in a reconstructed Fuyuki and once again the Holy Grail War was on. The latter event is the main story of Fate/Stay Night, the crux of the series.

Fate/Grand Order takes place in a possible alternate world of that story, wherein the same events of Fuyuki occur but there are world-ending implications abound. The story isn’t all that engaging but it is fun to see some of history’s major players appear with super powers of some sort, to show that, if they were held at some supreme level, it was because they were indeed that powerful.

The Player doesn’t have much agency in the game despite the illusion of choice when it comes to some dialogue options. In fact, I’ve found that no matter what they say, the NPC dialogue will always be the same, so it’s really just a matter of what the Player would say in that situation rather than it dictating events in the story.

Their main sidekick is their Servant, Mash Kyrielight, who is actually a half-Servant due to an anomaly while a Heroic Spirit was being summoned. Part of her character is wondering who the Servant was that she melded with as well as trying to discover just how she can use her Heroic Spirit abilities.

The tutorial level, in which the Player goes around the destroyed 2004 Fuyuki, really gets them in the groove for how the game is going to play out in terms of mission style as well as how combat works.
Missions are often broken up by story chunk and will compose of two-five stages of combat. They’ll usually cover the defeat of a major new enemy or try to advance the plot while the Player and their Servants fend off enemies. There aren’t too many missions to a single level, however with so many battles per mission it can feel like there’s a lot to just a single level to get to the end. However, this allows the story to play out more if there are cutscenes between battles. Sometimes there’s no real reason for there to be an extra battle other than for the Player to get an extra reward or gradually up the difficulty.

Combat consists of a pretty fun mechanic that can sometimes feel a bit repetitive. The Player has a party of Servants, with varying classes, that they use to fight. Combat is, technically, card-based, centralized around three different card types: Buster, Quick, and Arts. Buster Cards are brutal, meant solely for attack. Quick Cards are meant to give the Servants critical stars that they can build up for a critical hit. Arts Cards are meant to up the NP Gauge so they can unleash their ultimate attack.

Like I said, Servants have different classes, split over eight (technically nine) types, and each type has a strength and a weakness. The only class without a strength is the Ruler class, but other than that, it’s sort of like figuring out a puzzle piece. In combat there is a nifty map the Player can pull up to learn a class’ strengths or weaknesses, and at first it’s a bit daunting. Eventually, when played enough, it becomes second nature and easy to figure out.

The fun part about figuring that in is trying to assemble a varied team that also has enough power behind it to get the job done. It doesn’t help to have a team that’s strong against the enemy if their attack stat isn’t too high, but then, does it also help to have a Servant that is weak to an enemy if they’re technically stronger? There’s certainly a strategy to it all.

Not to mention that each Servant comes with Skills they can gain either innately or through Ascension, a method that basically gives them ten extra levels to level up, grant them that new Skill, and possibly give them an outfit change. These Skills either help them with boosted attack or defense, or can help the entire active party.

The most important part of the game is the collecting and levelling. Collecting cards will lead to levelling, and the best way to collect is to Summon.

Summoning is done in two different ways and leads to three different outcomes: Servants, Catalysts, and Boosts. Catalysts are power-ups that you can attach to Servants to boost abilities and stats, and Boosts just grant EXP, Attack, or HP. The way to Summon is through either QP acquired in Story Mode, or through Friend Points. Friend Points are by far the easiest thing to get in the game since each time the Player goes into a battle they have to bring along Support from another Player’s servant, and if those two Players are “Friends,” there’s a boost in the FP gained.

There’s a nice bit of thought that needs to go into a party, and thankfully the game provides ten different Party slots so that the Player can have the best variety. I’ve taken to breaking my teams up into my strongest team, my Story Mode team, a team of just Cu Chulainn (since he has like three cards), and a team comprising of the cast from Fate/Stay Night, plus some other fun assemblages. It’s best to make sure that proper Catalysts go with proper Servants, and Catalysts can be used across parties, so I can attach the same card in every single party, but only once per party. It helps when I need to boost the attack on a character and have a Catalyst that gives a major attack boost.

Fate/ Grand Order is certainly a game about management. Outside of combat, as I’ve said, there’s a lot going on in preparation for battle, but inside of combat, there’s several different things going into a single turn.

When a Servant dies in battle they are swapped out for the next one in line. Parties can have up to five members and then one Support member. Sometimes the strongest Servant falls and it becomes a game of deciding how best to approach the situation if a weak servant is coming up: build the NP gauge for an all-out strike or just go in with a bunch of Buster/ Quick cards in the hope of getting huge chunks of health at a time? Sometimes battles feature regenerating enemies so a single turn takes what feels like multiple turns. And as a Master, the Player has several different skills as well: to apply Evade (can’t be hit for a turn), or gradually increasing Attack and Health regen based on their Mastery Level.


Confused yet?

Despite all of this happening, the game does ease the Player into learning all of these things. Before they can do anything outside of battle the game guides them through the UI and the main selection screens to teach them what does what and where to do it. I’ve found that my Parties are often static so there’s no need to worry about a set Party.

Besides, I just like collecting all the stuff. Each time I summon I hope for a brand new Heroic Spirit to possibly add to my arsenal. Of course there are some I’m dying to get (Diarmuid and Arturia from Fate/Zero) but I’m glad when I get new Heroic Spirits that I didn’t know existed, like Mozart or Shakespeare. Or even a young version of Alexander the Great!

I also enjoy the levelling system. EXP is granted to Servants through the Boost cards and is granted to the Player by playing the game, by doing missions. Higher level missions awards higher-level EXP, and it is rewarding after an arduous mission to see that yellow meter shoot across the screen. When the Player levels up, it gives them more of an AP amount (so they can play more missions) and ups their Cost meter, which allows them to have either more Servants on the Party or have more Catalysts with the Servants, since they all have a small cost to be on the Party.

Outside of the story mode and the inclusive aspects of the game I’ve still found this game pretty engaging. As a fan of the series I think this is a must-have, despite a lackluster story mode with some pretty bad dialogue (that I’ll chalk to the localization team doing what they can). Collecting the Servants is a blast, levelling up your favorites is always fun (Saber Lily for life), and Summoning is exhilarating despite often being disappointing that nothing new was gained. There are 300 Servants to be collected and I think I’ve only got 40 or so. I want to see who else appears!

For new fans, this might be a good way to get into the series. If not, it is a fun mobile game just to pass the time with. Missions don’t take took long and have a bit of strategy involved so it isn’t just mindless gaming all the time. It’s visually amazing and animations are fluid. The sound is solid, with some bland music, but I don’t mind having it on and I certainly don’t mind looking at it. Overall, I’d say this is a nice addition to the mobile gaming card-game-like genre. Check it out, it’s free to play, after all.

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