Fate/Stay Night, the flagship title of studio Type-Moon, is recommended as everyone’s first visual novel. But while many know its story through the anime or elsewhere, some have yet to slog through the 800,000 word epic. And with at least three days playing time of reading, what could Fate/Stay Night as a visual novel possibly offer? In all honesty, it’s up to you.
Fate/Stay Night takes you through the fifth Holy Grail War – a fight between magi from across the world to win the chalice that can grant any wish. In order to fight in this archaic battle royale, a select few magi (also known as masters) summon heroic spirits as servants who battle on their behalf. These spirits are drawn from a vast pool of famous and mythological beings which are then sorted into seven classes according to their strengths and history. The war concludes when the last master and servant are standing. This particular war focuses on Shirou Emiya and his servant, Saber, as they fight in the Japanese city of Fuyuki.
The game spans three lengthy routes, separated according to the main love interest. You’re forced to play through everything in order, from Fate to Unlimited Blade Works to Heaven’s Feel. Each route takes a drastic turn from a point early in the game, and it’s hard to believe that the story can vary so much after a few choices. Each route also expands upon ideas brought up in the previous route, so while the forced playthrough can be annoying, it’s all for the story in the end.
Fate, Saber’s route, tends to explain and re-explain the core concepts and rules of the Holy Grail War to the point where it’s almost irritating. However, it needs to be established as most of the story is in how these rules are kept and broken. As Shirou is thrown into the War, he develops his relationship with Saber who turns from someone he is compelled to protect to someone he fights alongside.
Unlimited Blade Works features Rin, a fellow high school student and prominent magi in Fuyuki. Branching off from the Fate route, Unlimited Blade Works allows you to form an alliance with Rin and interact with her servant, Archer. As with Fate, you can develop your relationship with Rin and also learn more about Shirou. Enemies and servants who didn’t get much spotlight in Fate are given more attention here.
In Heaven’s Feel, Shirou is pushed to almost non-human limits. Contrary to the jokes, Shirou couldn’t die even if you killed him, but the game delivers enough suffering with his almost-deaths that angry cries of “plot armour” can be cast aside. Everything established in the previous two routes reveals itself as a gruesome can of worms and cements that the fifth Holy Grail War has twisted into something far from the intentions of the original. To make it through Heaven’s Feel is to make it through hell but god damn is it satisfying.
It’s no lie that the graphics are somewhat dated. Jumping into Fate/Stay Night expecting something visually on par with If My Heart Had Wings is asking too much. At the same time, the game is creative with images and fight scenes. If you’ve played Tsukihime, there’s a noticeable upgrade in battle effects giving static images a sense of movement. The soundtrack also has quite a few notable tracks, from EMIYA to Sword of Promised Victory to Ever-Present Feeling.
The PC version of Fate/Stay Night is 18+ and there is explicit content with no option to turn it off or skip it. It keeps to a maximum of three scenes per romantic interest and doesn’t tie into the game that much, save for Heaven’s Feel which is constantly undercut with sexual themes that tie into the larger plot. It doesn’t ruin the game, nor can you expect to play the game for this kind of content, it’s just there to serve as a mild plot-pusher.
If you haven’t played Fate/Stay Night before and have a fair amount of free time, there’s no real reason why you shouldn’t try it. The graphics aren’t a deal-breaker and the game is creative with battle effects and general atmosphere. The story is interesting and intricate enough to warrant most of its 800,000 word length. As a title which has inspired many and is well-known as a defining visual novel in the medium, it is worth your time.
Fate/Stay Night is available for Windows, PS2 and PlayStation Vita. You can find the game via Jbox or Play-Asia. J-List also offers its sequel/concurrent story, Fate/Hollow Ataraxia, as a hard copy. It’s prequel, Fate/Zero, is available as an anime on NicoNico Douga (for free) in a range of subtitled languages. Fate/Extra and Fate/Extra CCC are both side-stories and are available for PSP only. As you can see, it’s an extensive franchise.
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