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September 23, 2009 • Reviews

Fate / Unlimited Codes for PSP Review

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It is fairly amazing given the fairly thin release schedule for the PSP to think that there might have been two games released in the fighting genre in the last month … so it is simply stunning that we have gotten three! Alongside Dissidia: Final Fantasy and Soul Calibur PSP comes a fighting game from Capcom based on a Japanese adult graphic novel turned anime show called ‘Fate/Stay Night’. Each of these games provides fans of the genre with a satisfying array of the core elements required of any good fighting game, yet they are very different from one another. Matt and I will take a look at Dissidia in the coming weeks, but for now I take a look at Fate / Unlimited Codes.

The Hype:
Fate/Unlimited Codes is a 3D fighting game based on the visual novel Fate/stay night.

The game is Fate/Unlimited Codes, a fighting game based a to 2008 Japanese arcade and PlayStation 2 game of the same name. Those games were themselves inspired by Fate/Stay Night, the 2006 line of vision Nobel, or interactivates animates, for the PC and PS2. Like most members of the fighting oeuvre, the game will feature a tournamentlike structure, set in a small town in Japan. There, seven pairs of “masters” and “servants” duke it out using a variety of weapons for an all-powerful, wish-granting artifact.

The original Fate/Unlimited Codes’ combat system has been tweaked for the PSP’s control layout, making attacks “easier” with the “most basic fighting controls” in the portable version, according to Capcom. It will support local ad-hoc multiplayer for up to two people, and will also feature more than 250 missions and mini-games in single-player mode, as well dozens of unlockable items such as costumes.

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The Reality:
Fate / Unlimited Codes (which I’ll call Fate from here on) is only available as a digital download through the PSN store, with a regular price of $29.99. That puts it on the higher end of content pricing for the PSN store, but in line with standard retail prices. However, from discussions I have had, it is clear that the thought of paying the same price for downloadable as retail games has not been willingly accepted for the PSP yet. That makes the value proposition tougher to satisfy and is one of the questions I hope to answer with this review.

Let me immediately dispense with the thought that because this is based on an anime/manga series that it is a story-based game. The game doesn’t attempt to provide the full depth of the story as one of the Naruto game would, but there is enough depth provided to give you some interest in the characters and their ‘missions’ in the Holy Grail War. And just to be clear, this Holy Grail quest doesn’t involve killer rabbits or Holy Hand Grenades!

Here is the plot summary for the original manga: Shirou Emiya lost his parents in a fire when he was young and was later adopted by a sorcererby the name of Kiritsugu Emiya. Although he was full of admiration for his adopted father and yearns to become an ally of justice, Shirou has limited powers and was unable to become a strong sorcerer like his father. That is until one fateful day, he was drawn into the Holy Grail War and had to summon a female “Servant” known as Saber in order to protect himself. It turns out that the Holy Grail War involves a series of battles among powerful sorcerers to fight for the possession of a relic that will grant one’s wishes, the Holy Grail. There are altogether seven “Masters” who can summon their respective “Servants” from different classes known as Saber, Archer, Rider, Berserker, Lancer, Caster and Assasin. These “Servants” have to hide their names in order not to reveal their weaknesses to the enemies. The story revolves around Shirou and his entanglement in the Holy Grail War.

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The game offers a staggering amount of content that falls into a few areas: Arcade, Missions, and ‘Quick Play’ modes. Actually the ‘Quick Play’ doesn’t exist, but there are two modes that let you jump immediately into the action: ‘Vs. CPU’ and Practice. You can also go through a tutorial to get familiar with the gameplay, but the game is generous with help and advice throughout, and easily accessible help menus offer tips.

The game is presented as a standard 2D arena match-based fighter with a limited 3rd dimension. The general flow of battle is back and forth in linear fashion, with the ability to side-step to avoid attacks that results in a slight rotation of the game stage. Technically it falls in line with that style of game. The characters are drawn in detail but given an anime graphical style, but the animation of action is given priority, with every movement, attack and counter flowing naturally and providing a satisfyingly realistic sense of feedback for the controls the player chooses. Given the highly detailed graphics in so many recent fighting games, I would say that looks are not the reason to grab this game – they are acceptable but not a major draw.

In terms of gameplay, Fate is a pretty typical button mashing fighting game. There are face buttons associated with ‘light’, ‘medium’ and ‘heavy’ attacks; the arrow keys move your character back and forth, and also make them jump or crouch. Naturally each movement is associated with an attack key to form a specialized attack, but that is only the beginning of the vast array of attack and defense combos. The tutorial forces you to start making use of special moves, magic overloads, and the Holy Grail meter – but again it goes deeper, since each of the myriad characters has there own set of specialized combos and overload attacks.

This is where Mission Mode comes in. While this might sound like the natural place to find the story-related activities, Mission Mode is actually where you work on improving your skills by overcoming challenges. There are skill and combo challenges, each at different levels, with several of each type to master for each character. A % indicator displays and updates as you complete each challenge, which moves slowly through the over 250 mission challenges! Some are pretty easy, while others left me terribly frustrated after multiple failures. As you get to higher levels and at harder difficulties, even the seemingly simple challenge takes considerable skill to master.

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For me, the most fun was going through each of the Arcade-mode character sets. The game starts off with the core group of seven Servant & Master pairs, with the servants known as Saber, Archer, Rider, Berserker, Lancer, Caster and Assasin. Starting off as Saber, you see the story of the Holy Grail War as told through the manga, learn of her motivations serving her Master after his death and ultimately defeating the grand master and destroying the Holy Grail. But other characters have different motivations – and some are pretty sinister. It is clear that this is aimed at teens and above, as once character has used the souls of those he has killed to impregnate a young girl he rescued and raised in order to create a creature of ultimate evil to wipe out all of humanity.

The structure of each Arcade session is the same – you get some story background up front, then fight a few battles, then get a bit more story dialogue, then fight a few more battles, then have more dialogue leading into the final showdown, after which you get to see the resolution of the conflict before the credits roll. Then, in classic arcade style, you get the option to enter your initials which accompany your score. Your score is based on the time it takes to defeat an enemy, as well as whether you simply score a K.O. or manage to defeat your enemy without taking any damage yourself (rank of Perfect). Naturally, there are some characters that will easily defeat others, and some where you are happy enough to emerge the winner!

Unfortunately, once you’ve beaten a bunch of Arcade sessions and played a bunch of missions, you have seen pretty much everything there is. Sure there are more characters to unlock, more missions to beat, and more Arcade challenges for the new characters, but that is simply more of the same.

One thing that I really enjoyed that others will likely dislike is that the dialogue is all done in Japanese with English subtitles. The subtitles are clear and well written, so even if you simply turn off the audio you will get the whole story in detail. I found that the Japanese voice acting was very well done and despite my minuscule understanding of the language I was able to infer the emotion and context from the voices and it added to the overall drama in some of the sequences.

Fate also has two-player local WiFi multiplayer. The inclusion of such a mode seemingly rates as a ‘duh’, since some of the most fun in playing fighting games is standing next to your enemy and having fun beating the stuffing out of one another in a virtual arena. Regardless, with spotty multiplayer inclusion on too many PSP games, I have to applaud Capcom for making sure it was included. In limited play between members of my family there was much laughing and boasting, especially as my non-gamer wife took down my hardcore gaming older son 2-0 in her first match!

Overall Fate is a solid fighting game with loads of options, tons of content, and plenty of charm. I spent hours upon hours playing and enjoyed it thoroughly. This brings us to the final question – is it worth $30? If you are a fan of the genre or the manga, the answer is undoubtedly ‘yes’. You will get your money back many times over through the loads of content. However, since the depth of content isn’t matched by a similar breadth, you might find yourself looking for more fairly quickly. If you are not a huge fan, or are looking for a game that offers solid fighting in the context of something more, it might make sense to check out one of the other two games mentioned at the start of the article.

Sadly there isn’t a demo available – this is the sort of experience that would seem to be simple to pare down to a limited but informative demo. Regardless, my verdict remains the same – easy to recommend for fight genre fans, but not the best of the pack of new fighting games and therefore easy enough to skip for now if you can only choose one game to play.

Where to Buy: Sony PSN Store (accessible from PSP)

Price: $29.99

What I Like:
– Solid fighting mechanics
– Loads of characters and missions
– Nice multiplayer
– Original Japanese voices add to drama
– Solid graphics and animations

What Needs Improvement:
– Graphics not up to level of other recent fight games
– Original Japanese voices might put some folks off
– Good depth, but not enough breadth

Originally reviewed for VGBlogger

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