Hands-on: Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star is like Dynasty Warriors but even faster

It seems that the Fate series does something drastically different with each installment. Fate/stay night was a visual novel. Fate/Extra was a dungeon-crawling RPG. There have even been a couple of fighting games in the mix. Now, the series is getting yet another makeover with Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star. Watching the trailer, you might think that this is just Dynasty Warriors with a Fate coat of paint on top. While that assessment isn't entirely inaccurate, Marvelous is doing a few things to make this particular game stand out.

I played Fate/Extella at the XSEED and Marvelous booth at this year's E3, and I have to say the game plays as crazy as it looks. If you're into high-action Japanese games, you're going to want to keep tabs on this one.

Leap of Fate

Anyone who's played the Dynasty Warriors series knows that the initial moments playing those games can be overwhelming due to the large number of enemies that appear on screen all at once — we're talking hundreds of baddies here. Once you get over that shock, though, you realize that the whole thing is just sort of lighthearted and kind of comical. This is especially apparent when you swing your sword or other weapon and watch as entire clusters of enemies get sent flying.

When I first jumped into the Fate/Extella E3 demo, I watched as countless enemies charged at me, and I was instantly reminded of the times I've played Dynasty Warriors games. To add to the insanity of it all, the movement speeds in this game have been increased significantly. This intense speed applies to both character movement and attacks. If Dynasty Warriors is all about accelerated combat, this title is about hyper-accelerated insanity.

The game map for each mission is split up into multiple sectors. In the playable demo, I traveled from sector to sector — which is presented with a stylish animation where the player character leaps through the air and travels outrageous distances — and was tasked with defeating boss characters. While normal enemies tend to just take your abuse, bosses are a lot tougher. Oh, they still get tossed around, but they also move faster than the regular grunt types and can dish out some devastating maneuvers themselves.

Speaking of powerful moves, you've got a meter that fills up as you play and defeat your foes. Once full, you can unleash a strong attack of your own. This cuts away to an animation of your character shouting out quick battle cries anime-style and then slashing away at everyone nearby. If you've played Dynasty Warriors, this will all be very familiar.

Aside from bosses, certain sectors require that you defeat machines that spawn enemies. You can take down all of the enforcers you want, but if you don't destroy these machines the stronger enemies will just keep spawning, so it's best to target these first.

To call Fate/Extella a mindless hack-and-slash action game wouldn't be selling it short, nor would it be a negative remark. This is the type of game that's meant to give players a freeing, cathartic experience, even if it can get tough in spots. Still, if you want to make any sort of meaningful progression, you'll have to know exactly where to go next in the large multi-sector environments. Thankfully, a clear onscreen map always indicates where your next objective awaits, so you won't be getting lost among the sea of baddies.

Dynasty Warriors: The Anime

Where the main Dynasty Warriors games utilize lots of earthy tones for their presentation, Fate/Extella is a much brighter and more colorful game. The visual style fits with the almost anime-like action that's depicted. If you're a fan of the Fate series, or just dig anime in general, chances are you'll be able to appreciate the cartoon-ish visuals. And if you've been playing the Dynasty Warriors series for a while now and are burnt out on those games' graphics or just want something different to look at, you'll find a much-needed change here.

I was playing the PlayStation 4 version of Fate/Extella, and there's no denying that it wasn't exactly a masterpiece in terms of technical visuals. As far as performance goes, however, the game ran smoothly the entire time. That's usually the trade-off with these games — the graphics aren't exactly of the highest quality, but hundreds of enemies litter the screen and you rampage through them all with no frame rate hiccups. For a game so focused on delivering nonstop thrills, that's a decent compromise. And, at least with this title, the brightly colored visuals add to the aesthetic value.

Whether you're a fan of the Fate universe or are just looking for a new game in a similar style as Dynasty Warriors, Fate/Extella has plenty of entertainment value to offer. Its blend of high speeds and colorful graphics makes for a fun action experience. It's not exactly deep but, then again, that's not why people play these games. Of course, if you're looking to get the most out of it, you'll be glad to know that there will be three playable characters, so you'll be able to approach the story from different perspectives.

Though an exact release date has yet to be announced, Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star is due out on the PlayStation 4 and Vita sometime this coming winter.