I’ll freely admit that, up until the time of writing, I’ve had little to no familiarity with the Fate series as a whole aside from recognising various Saber incarnations and Tamamo no Mae on sight, and having some complicated feelings towards Astolfo.
But with the North American release of Fate/Grand Order — accessible outside the US by using a service such as QooApp for Android to download the app — I decided that I’d jump in. (I’m also planning to jump right back to the beginning of the series and the Fate/stay night visual novel in the next few months, so please look forward to that.)
And what do you know? I’ve been having a grand old time with a game that, while superficially similar to other mobile-social RPGs such as Granblue Fantasy, successfully distinguishes itself with a strong degree of audio-visual polish, some interesting mechanics and one hell of a lot of words. Pretty appropriate for a work whose source material is notorious for being roughly on a par with Lord of the Rings in terms of length.
In Fate/Grand Order (Fate/GO hereafter), you take on the role of a new recruit in a mysterious organisation that is attempting to protect the future of humanity. Before you get a chance to really understand what is going on — but after you fall asleep in your orientation session and get yelled at by your new commander — there’s a huge disaster in the base that culminates with the discovery that humanity will become extinct at some point within the next year. Not the best start to your new career.
As one of only a few apparent survivors of the disaster at the base, you find yourself Rayshifted to Fuyuki City in 2004, setting of Fate/stay night. Something seems to have gone terribly wrong here, too, though; the city lies in ruins and things have not unfolded as history suggests they should have. Accompanied by Mash Kyrielight, a friend from the base who absorbs a Heroic Spirit into herself and becomes a “Demi-Servant” in the process, it’s up to you to investigate what is going on, correct it and see if that has an impact on humanity’s chances of survival.
From here begins a long and complicated tale of time travel, temporal singularities, historical figures and concepts made flesh… and lots and lots of chopping up skeletons and dragons.
Like most games of this type, Fate/GO is split into a number of different components. At its core is a linear storyline that you progress through a quest at a time by completing battles. In between story chapters, you have the option of revisiting areas on the node-based world map that you’ve previously cleared and fighting enemies for drops, completing daily missions to earn experience-boosting items and money, completing “Interlude” chapters for the characters you’ve unlocked… and, of course, collecting and powering up new Servants to add to your party.
Let’s look at Fate/GO’s battle system first, as it’s probably the most interesting and unconventional aspect of the game in a crowded, often rather copycat genre. Rather than being a simple case of telling characters to attack and perhaps occasionally unleashing skills, here we have a card-based system that adds an element of chance to combat.
Each character in your active party — two of whom are from your own collection and a third who is either drawn from other players or, at various moments in the story, an NPC, has five different cards, all of which are shuffled together into a fifteen-card deck at the start of battle. Cards are one of three types: Buster cards are strong attacks, Quick cards create more “critical stars”, which are distributed across the next turn’s hand to increase the chance of critical hits, and Arts cards allow a character to build up their Noble Phantasm gauge in preparation to unleash their special moves. Each character has a different combination of these three types of card, making some more suited to various roles.
Each turn, you draw a hand of five cards and can play three of them. The first card you pick adds an element of its effect to all subsequent cards, but the later cards you play have a more powerful impact. For example, play a Buster card first and all cards will do more damage than usual even if they aren’t themselves Buster cards, but a Buster card played third will do considerably more damage than a Buster card played first. Obviously you can use this fact to your advantage by playing a Buster card first to buff all cards’ damage, then ensuring that there’s another Buster card in the last slot for maximum pain.
It’s not just a case of playing what you think are the “best” cards, though. The order and combination in which you play cards is important. Playing three cards depicting the same character is called a “Brave Chain” and allows them to unleash a fourth, powerful “Extra Attack”, for example — but the tradeoff for this is that if this character defeats an enemy before all their attacks have gone off, they won’t automatically switch targets. Instead, for efficient killing, you need to use multiple characters in a single turn, since if one character defeats an enemy, a different one jumping into the fray will head for a new target rather than wailing on the foe their peer has already made mincemeat of.
Then there’s the fact that if you play three cards of the same colour, their effect is considerably enhanced, so playing three Arts cards in a turn will net you a much bigger increase in your Noble Phantasm gauge than just one or two. And this can be combined with the Brave Chain mechanic, too, so if you, say, play three Buster cards from the same character you’ll not only do obscene amounts of damage with each attack, you’ll also get an extra (buffed) bonus attack, too.
The card-based system can, at times, be frustrating if you find yourself with a poor hand, but you can mitigate unfortunate circumstances to a certain extent by using characters’ skills, their Noble Phantasms (which aren’t always offensive in nature) and even your own Master Skills from the “Mystic Code” you have equipped. What it does mean for the game as a whole is that battles are always interesting and varied, and it adds an extra layer of strategy to the metagame, as for an optimal party you’ll need to pick not only characters with good stats, but those with a good deck of cards too.
Building a party in Fate/GO is a little different from Granblue Fantasy in that it pays to have a bit more breadth rather than focusing on a single type. Instead of elemental weaknesses, Fate/GO uses classes, which interact with one another in various ways. There are two main “triangles”, for example — Saber beats Lancer, which beats Archer, which beats Saber; Rider beats Caster, which beats Assassin, which beats Rider — but there are also characters from outside these triangles too. Berserkers, for example, are strong against everything but also weak against everything, while Mash’s Shielder class, which you have from the beginning of the game, isn’t strong or weak against anything. You’ll also encounter others, such as Jeanne D’Arc’s Ruler class, as you progress through the story.
Because characters in Fate/GO don’t level up simply by use as they do in Granblue Fantasy, you’re a lot more free to experiment with party lineups, shifting around according to what you think might be most helpful. Before you embark on each quest, you get an indication of the enemy classes you’ll encounter — though just the types and not the number of each. Using this information, you can predict which characters will be the most useful to you at any given time, but the flip side of this is that it’s important to keep a broad array of characters — ideally at least one of each class — levelled up appropriately in order to not find yourself underpowered when you come up against a boss.
Characters in Fate/GO can be buffed up in a number of ways. For one, a temporary increase to their attack and HP parameters can be achieved through the use of Craft Essences, equippable items that can be levelled up independently of the characters. These also often carry a useful passive skill of some description, with some complementing particular classes better than others.
More permanent upgrades can be achieved by fusing your characters either with other characters or, more practically, with various grades of “Ember”, which award varying amounts of experience according to their rarity. It’s also possible to fuse characters with special cards that increase their attack and HP parameters directly — up to a cap, anyway. On top of that, you can level up their Noble Phantasms by fusing them with copies of themselves, increase the power of their skills by using special items, break their level cap (or “Ascend” them) by firstly reaching said cap and then using a particular combination of items, and break their level cap further by using Holy Grails.
Further incentive to keep all classes levelled is provided by the game’s “Support” system, whereby you can mark one of each class as available for borrowing by other players. Both the player who borrows your characters and you are rewarded for this, so it’s in your interests to make your offerings attractive to other people by keeping them levelled, ascended… and, to be honest, ensuring they’re popular characters, too.
Fate/GO’s gacha system comes in two parts. The premium draw allows you to use “Saint Quartz”, most commonly acquired by completing story quests, to summon three-star or higher Servants and Craft Essences. Meanwhile, you’re able to draw ten low-rarity Servants and Craft Essences for free every day to use as fodder (or even to put in your party, if you ever wondered what it would be like to see William Shakespeare, Mozart and Mata Hari fighting skeletons), with further “free” draws available through the use of Friend Points, which you acquire both by using other players’ support Servants and having your own used. The gacha is notoriously unforgiving, often throwing you a handful of admittedly useful but not very exciting Craft Essences rather than new characters — but it’s important to note that the North American incarnation of the game is still in its early days, and so far there are only 59 Servants available to acquire anyway, many of which you’ll acquire naturally through casual play.
While the new game’s translation to English has drawn some criticism for textual errors that should have probably been caught in proofreading, the overall experience for those who didn’t play the Japanese original — and those who are new to Fate in general, for that matter — is very good, and the team has already said it’s working on updating and improving the typos and other errors that have been reported.
For now, the few flaws the game has certainly aren’t enough to outweigh what a compelling, enjoyable experience it offers, particularly for free — so if you’re a fan of pretty girls and burly men chopping up bad guys and shouting a lot punctuated by reams of entertaining and dramatic dialogue, Fate/GO most certainly deserves a place on your phone.
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