Fate/Stay Night (Import) review
Was This Success Fate?
For most people Fate/Stay Night is an anime, and indeed there is an anime adaptation of it out there. Yet before that there came something else. Fate/Stay Night started off as a visual novel, and is a product that has yet to see an official release outside of Japan. This, my friends, is a real shame, because after going through every route in this novel I have come to one conclusion - Fate/Stay Night is an amazing visual novel and a fantastic representation of what the genre can bring to the consumer.
Before going any further it should be noted that this genre is one that relies a lot on text displays to get the entertainment value across, and FSN has not been released outside of Japan. This means that unless you happen to be fluent in their language then you likely will miss out on a lot of the impact this title has. Thankfully there is a fan translation patch out there by the people at Mirror Moon that converts it all into English, and you'll need it.
In terms of the graphics the setup is similar to most visual novels. A majority of the time consists of watching character half-body sprites on mostly static backgrounds. These sprites may move about, fade in and out or switch to alternate expression versions to express the story that is happening. Generally you may be disappointed if you're expecting proper fluid animated sequences that you could find in the actual anime.
On the other hand the artwork used is amazing. Every character possesses their own unique charm and design that lends itself well to the experience. Saber's young feminine body shrouded in her blue dress is made more complex by the cold metal armour that shields her body from harm and presents a more fierce side to her. Rin's dress sense may appear as more 'normal' with either her school uniform or her distinctive red jumper and black short skirt, but it's her expressions that really hit the player. You can almost feel a chill when she grins mischievously at Shiro.
The backgrounds are impressive too. There is a surprising amount of them to represent the various locations around Fuyuki City, and a clever use of colour and shading effects bring about differences like the time of day or magical fields of energy. It's almost as if someone took a camera around an actual city, except these are done in anime style. You have such details like brickwork extending all around, houses in the distance, classroom entrances stretching down the hallway and more.
The event CG images are a treat too. There are a lot of these scattered throughout the novel that help convey scenes that the normal sprites on background setup can't do by themselves. Whether it's a character closeup, a battle conflict or witnessing a large scale event each CG brings about a fresh viewpoint on the current story development. The level of craftsmanship on these is also at a very high standard that it is not hard to imagine that collecting these could be a main goal for the player as well.
One complaint I do have is the text box, which takes up almost the entire screen. You can still see what's happening behind it as the opacity of said text box is low enough to see the scene behind it while still having the text as readable, and button presses can hide the box entirely plus the box hides during graphic changes (like if someone changes expression or a different CG is loaded). I just feel it would have been better if a reduced height that other titles of the genre use.
Although the novel lacks true animation such as an actual anime the developers did put in a lot of work to convey the effects well. When a battle occurs you're have effect overlays flashing onto the screen, while the scene may rock and shake in time with clashing attacks. Blurring and sliding of images can also be used to represent movement. Sepia tones are in effect for memories. The combinations of effects is excellent and goes some way to involving the player in the story.
The sound effects really help here too. Explosions, crashes, slashes and thunderous roars blast out when battles take place, enhancing those experiences quite well. Other effects like the sound of blood being forcefully removed through... various means, the creaking of doors opening or the thud of footsteps as the protagonist runs here and there sound great and are well timed.
The music is this title can easily be described as epic. The opening song This Illusion has such a great rhythm to it, setting the scene for the fantasy wars that will follow. The OST itself has a great range of tracks for situations such as fights, tender moments, comedy scenes and more. Even better, the majority of tracks leave their mark on the experience without overpowering the sequences, and the tracks are the kind you might consider putting on your music playlist.
One thing to mention is the total lack of voice acting. On the one hand it means you don't get to listen to the characters interacting, but it also means you don't have to worry about potentially ill-suited voices. Having played other novels with full voice work I do feel that FSN would benefit from it.
The real draw of a visual novel is the story and how it is conveyed, and this is where Fate/Stay Night secures its biggest win. The story itself is split into three main paths consisting of Fate, Unlimited Blade Works and Heaven's Feel. It is necessary to play these paths in order (you can't reach UBW without first completing Fate, and HF's remains locked until the other two are completed), although this works as later paths reveal details that relate back to the previous ones. Although technically the three paths are different stories they also compliment one another and flesh out the details, making it one compelling experience.
You also have a prologue section that puts you in the shoes of Rin Tohsaka, and you get to experience the events from her side right up to where Saber is summoned, which helps to provide a lot of background information and it is interesting to see things from her side. At that point the game's main menu becomes accessible and you get to start the story from Shiro's perspective.
Each path starts out the same. Shiro is an amateur magus who finds himself dragged unwillingly into the Holy Grail War - a bloody contest between seven Masters and their seven Servants to win the ultimate prize that is the Holy Grail. Although he did not actually try to summon Saber he accepts the task before him (or not if you choose to make a quick exit). The story generally flows on from there as Shiro fights against the other Masters.
At this point the differences between the paths start to become more noticable. Some sequences will differ slightly (the battle against Berserker is different in UBW due to Archer participating in the fight) while most of these paths will consist of entirely difference sequences (Saber only fights Assassin in one path for example).
Saber and Archer take on Berserker.
It's worth noting just how each path approaches the story. Fate is mostly the same as the anime, where Shiro is at his most idealistic. His drive for helping people is what allows him to push ahead, and even though his aims are unrealistic his goals are admirable, although he is forced to face some difficult circumctances. This path also focuses on Saber as the main girl, which exposes her weaknesses that remains deep within her tough exterior. She is driven to seek the grail out of a sense of duty, but throughout her time with Shiro as her master she begins to see things a little differently and the change in her is a positive one that works nicely. It's a great path but it also the weakest of the three.
In UBW he is forced to face the reality that he cannot save everyone, and the source for this revelation comes from an unlikely character. This story helps to flesh out Shiro's character a lot more by examining the ideals he holds dear and how they clash with what is around him. We also get to see more of Rin and her ideals as a true magus. Despite her composed appearance she possesses a certain vulnerability that she tries to hide with bravado. We also get to see other servants getting more storyline details brought out that were sidelined in Fate, such as those for Caster, Assassin and Lancer. I find this to be the best of the three routes on offer as it offers us a lot more insight with great set pieces.
Heaven's Feel is the darkest route to reach. This tale focuses more on Sakura as the main female, and the Holy Grail war takes a strange twist when a dark power starts attacking the servants, their masters and soon the townsfolk. Here Shiro is forced to make a choice between fighting for his ideals or fighting for what he holds dear. Like Fate some characters get sidelined in favour of fleshing out others. In this instance Sakura and Rider get a lot more screentime, plus we are introduced to new characters like Zouken and True Assassin. Relegated to a bit part character for two paths Sakura really shines in this story as the troubled girl with dark secrets and a family that simply uses her as they need to. The emotional turmoil she goes through really works as the backbone for this tale. This is a very good story route with a lot of depth to it.
Generally speaking the story sequences are very well scripted and indepth enough to provide the reader with all the information that they need without boring anyone to sleep. Character interactions are genuinely interesting to watch, whether it's Rin explaining the finer points of the war to Shiro, another home cooked meal gathering at the Emiya residence or a confrontation between Masters. We are given a lot in the form of spoken dialogue, descriptive actions and inner thoughts that help piece every scene together.
There's also a clever balance of styles. Most of the novel takes the form of serious drama as the characters fight for survival and try to find the best course of action to take. Sometimes though the story will take an unexpected turn and inject some much needed humour into proceedings. Shiro's clashes with Taiga are a prime example, or if he manages to annoy someone (try refusing to stop for lunch when sparring with Saber for a great sequence).
Another neat touch are the intermissions. During these the perspective changes to another character - usually to portray a scene Shiro himself could not see. We get to witness Saber's clash with Rider for example. Since the view has changed we also get the thoughts and actions of these characters, and it's refreshing to get alternate takes on the action.
Fate/Stay Night is an adult product, and as such does include some sex sequences as well. The associated CG images are not quite as explicit as you might have expected, and it's worth noting that subtly works well. The writers have not overkilled these moments and while you do have to partly question the motivation at times it never feels too forced and does not suffocate the story so these sequences have been handled well.
As a visual novel should this is littered with event choices. At set points you will be given a list of actions to pick from. These choices will influence the events that follow and will ultimately determine the ending you receive. There are five normal endings across the three paths and a scary forty bad ends that you can run into should you make a bad choice. The novel offers a huge amount of save slots though so feel free to abuse them at any given point. It can be rather fun to explore the different options and try to figure out which options are needed to progress through the story, and there are a lot of them to work through too.
The five proper endings are worth working for, as each one draws its own conclusions to each story. Some are happy endings while others have a more melancholic feel to them. Bad ends are also awesome, which may sound odd but it's worth seeing what would happen if you screwed up. In addition each bad end treats you to a Tiger Dojo, where you receive advice on how to avoid that bad end, done entirely in a comical manner.
The control interface is sweet too. The mouse or keyboard can be used to control the actions like cycling through text or selecting options. You also have an extensive configuration menu to tweak settings such as mouse commands, text speed, music volume and more.
There's a lot of extra content tucked in here too. As you progress through each story path you'll unlock information pieces. Servant data is recorded in the status screens and shows a lot of information such as stats, abilities, history and noble phantasms. The level of information offered is staggering and I found myself spending time just reading through these and eagerly awaiting the next unlocked piece of info. You can also get information and pictures of the weapons used, like Rider's nail or Berserker's axe-sword.
All the unlocked CGs are viewable in the gallery, and there are quite a lot of pictures in there even if you exclude the similar ones. The pictures are split up based on the path they are found in or those that are essentially combat CGs for ease of browsing, and you can even copy your favourites to the clipboard to be accessible anywhere in the gallery. Music is also playable when unlocked in the music menu, and the two ingame movie sequences can also be replayed whenever.
Fate/Stay Night is an excellent visual novel with a compelling trio of story paths, a wonderful art style and a music collection that is impressive. If this sounds like your kind of thing then grab this title, grab the fan translation and get ready for what would undoubtedly be the most awe-inspiring experience you'll get from the genre.
was this review helpful to you?
In order to comment on this user review you must login
About the author
Based on 1 reviewsWrite a review