Friday, November 28, 2014

Fate Stay Night: Fate


     Hello everyone and welcome back. So for today's article I will be discussing the popular visual novel titled Fate Stay Night well actually only a part of it. From this point on until I have completed the game we will be looking at the game's three main routes, the prequel, and the controversial bonus chapter. I may do other pieces of media that are associated with the franchise but for now I will be focusing my attention on the main dish.

     Before I begin I should explain to those who don't know as to what Fate Stay Night is as well as visual novels in general. By definition a visual novel is an interactive fictional narrative like a "choose your own adventure" story but in a video game format. They are mainstream in the country of Japan but getting your hands on one here in the states believe its a bitch of a time to acquire one and being able to play it especially if it isn't translated(or you don't know Japanese). Fate Stay Night is one of the more well known visual novels having had several anime and manga adaptions along with video games, spin-offs, and toys produced with two new animated adaptations being released by Ufotable. It was written by Kinko Nasu with art by Takashi Takeuchi and if you forget their names no worries because these guys will be coming up quite a bit in these reviews.

      Now that we got that out of the way lets begin with the first route appropriately titled: Fate.
    
                 

    Before we actually get into the story itself  I need to bring up. First is that while there are three story routes they don't necessarily stand on their own as certain details and questions can only be filled in by playing the other routes. Second there will be heavy spoilers so if you ever plan on playing this soon or in the near future then stop reading while you still can.

     Okay so I'm going to begin now...

     I'm serious if you don't want to get spoiled then stop reading.

     Last warning...

     Still here? Okay lets do this then. 
 
     So the before we actually get into the meat of things the visual novel starts us off with a prologue where we share the point of view of a young high school student and magus named Rin Toshaka who is preparing for deadly competition and ritual known as the Holy Grail War in which seven Magus called Masters face off against each other with the aide of powerful beings called Servants. Whichever pair remains standing will lay claim to the Holy Grail; a powerful artifact that can grant any wish. This war was the very same one her father fought and died in when she was young so ask the successor of the family it was her duty to fight as he did. For a majority of the earlier parts of this prologue aside from exposition we are introduced to several of the side characters and a bit of foreshadowing for later on.

     With the final hours of the upcoming battle counting down Rin makes some final preparations and attempts to summon her servant. In the Holy Grail War there are seven classes of combatants that can be summoned by a Master. These seven are: Saber, Archer, Caster, Assassin, Rider, Lancer, and Berserker. Out of all these the class that had made it the farthest in the battle was Saber and Rin believes that by summoning it her chances of winning would increase greatly. While the ritual seemed to be going well at first there were some unforeseen complications. What she brought into the human world wasn't what she expected.

     Lounging on a pile of wrecked furniture is a strange man with white hair and a deep red jacket. After a rather awkward questioning Rin learns that the warrior is of  the Archer class. What's more he cant recall his name or anything else about himself which most likely a side effect of the botched summoning. Rin decides to try to make the best of the situation and work with what's she's got.

    You see Servants are much more than just warriors or spell casters because each one is a legendary hero of myth and legend worshiped by mankind since ancient times and their prowess is measured by their fame. Every hero and heroine has a true identity and by extension a Noble Phantasm which is their ultimate weapon. Because Archer can recall who he is he wont be able to unleash his own Noble Phantasm which puts the pair in a rather big pickle. 


                  


     The two begin searching for other Masters and Servants. Its during this time that we learn about a park that once was part of the city but was destroyed by a catastrophic fire which killed many in its wake. In addition Rin and Archer discover a magic symbol on the roof top of Rin's high school which most likely was placed there by one of the Masters for a very sinister purpose. While she is unable to full remove it Rin uses her magic to suppress it power and delay it's creator's opportunity to use it. Its at that moment that the two are descended upon by a Servant who reveals himself to be Lancer.


                  


     Archer and Lancer clash in a grand scale melee with neither side giving an inch. Seeing no other option Lancer decides to unleash his Noble Phantasm to kill Archer. It looks like Rin's participation in the Holy Grail War is going to come to an abrupt and bloody end when suddenly a young man makes his presence known. Lancer turns his attention away from his opponent and gives chase in order to silence the boy as outsiders must never know about the Grail Wars.

     Rin and Archer try to stop Lancer but arrive too late and find the boy dying in a pool of blood. Upon seeing the boy's face Rin becomes determined to save him and uses the magic she had stored in her personal amulet(for many years I should add) to save him from the brink of death. After a job well done Rin and Archer retreat to her house but quickly realize that Lancer is not going to give up that is easily and will most definitely try to find the boy and finish him off. Knowing the location of the boy's home Rin and Archer makes their way there.

     As soon as the pair arrives they spot Lancer jumping over the wall that surrounds the house fleeing from something. That "something" leaps over the fall soon after Lancer and attacks our duo quickly overpowering Archer which forces Rin to order him to retreat. The young Magi tries her hand at dispatching her enemy but her spells are rendered useless and she is corned. The moonlight reveals her opponent to be a golden haired girl in plate mail wielding an invisible blade shrouded in a wind and air. Its at this moment that we cut to the main menu that's right we haven't even started the game yet.

      When we start the visual novel we jump into a new point of view that being of our main character Shirou Emiya. As a child he was one of the few survivors of the great fire that destroyed a large chunk of the city but was rescued and adopted by a man named Kiritsugu Emiya who reveals to his newly adopted son that he is a Magi. Shirou begins to look up to Kiritsugu and takes on the man's ideals of being a hero and lives by them throughout most of his life even after his adoptive father mysteriously passes away one quite night.

      We cut to present time where we get an idea of Shirou's daily life and his overall character. Shirou is selfless to an absolute fault and would be willing to help anyone in need or complete any task asked of him. While this is a rather admirable trait its clear that its rather unhealthy as well as his good nature is taken advantage of by others like his "good buddy" Shinji Matou who we have plenty to talk about down the road. No its more than that actually as Shirou has severe survivor's guilt and pretty places no value on his own life willing to throw away to save someone. The real focus of Fate Stay Night's narrative is not the Holy Grail but the ideals of Shirou and how he deals with them throughout his struggles in each route.

       So at this point we are pretty much covering the same three days that we did in the prologue with Rin and just like in those 3 days we meet several colorful side characters so before we continue lets do a quick run down of them. There is Sakura who comes over to Shirou's house everyday to cook for him and is also the sister of Shinji. Also there is Shirou's overly energetic teacher and guardian Taiga and his buddy Issei along with Archery Club president Ayako.

    We also learn that the young man who gets caught in the skirmish between Archer and Lancer and after being saved by Rin returns to his home only to get attacked again by Lancer. When it seems that he is going to become more familiar with the point of his attacker's weapon he inadvertently summons the blond iron clad woman who refers to herself only as Saber who then proceeds to drive off Lancer.

     In addition to what is mentioned above the first three days set the stage for when the story diverges into three different routes: Fate, Unlimited Blade Works, and Heaven's Feel. Since the game is structured in such a way that one needs to play them in that order that is how I will be handling the reviews in the future.
     Okay now that we've have cleared the prologue and the first three days lets finally talk about Fate here. I know I may be rushing a bit here but on top of the route covering these other earlier parts of the game has already stretched this article out big time and we still have so much more to talk about here so lets get to it. ヾ( ̄0 ̄; )ノ

      Every route here is an odyssey so to break it down I will be dividing each part of this review and most likely the others into different points of focus among them being the plot and characters.

Part One: The Plot    
 
     The storyline for the Fate route is well...difficult to really to describe mainly due to there being not much of one in the first place. This route mainly serves as an introduction to the world of Fate Stay Night and its characters explaining both the rules of the Holy Grail War and the magic used; things that were a bit skimmed over in the prologue and dumped on you head during night 3. So there is ALOT of exposition and boy was it a chore to read through it all. I mean it important to understand the setting and all but God damn!

    We do get a pretty good idea about Shirou and his ideals here but as I read on it didn't really like he was the focus of this route despite him being the protagonist but it being instead the route's heroine Saber as her circumstances are pretty much the driving force of the plot.

     The big events that occur feel rather episodic in a way as Shirou and Saber must confront a new Servant that is out to kill them. It kind of reminded me of the monster of the week formula that shows like the X-Files or the Power Rangers had. I liked some of the battles but none of them really had an effect on much of anything except one where a former Master joins our heroes after her defeat but that's it. To emphasize how much of a problem this is I have to tell you folks this: Each route takes place over the course of 15-16 days. Why is this a problem? The answer is that we don't get into the main conflict until Day 14! DAY 14! Its not until the near end of this storyline that our antagonist start making their move! Pacing is the worst enemy of this visual novel.

     So if the battles with the other servants or the villains are not the important parts of the Fate route then what is? Well as I mentioned above Saber seems to take the spotlight in this regards as her character arc is the actual main conflict.

    Throughout Fate we learn more about Saber's past as well as her goal in the Holy Grail War. Her character arc is really(in my opinion) the only thing worth noting in the entirety of this bloody route as it provides the best closure for her character.

      The lack of a plot is one of the things that has made the Fate Route rather unpopular with the fandom among other things and can potentially scare away new readers before they get to the better parts of the visual novel.

Part Two: The CharactersNote: In this section of the review I will be looking at the characters mainly those who play a major role in the route.

Shirou: As mentioned above we learn a bit about Shirou from this route and the first 3 days but he felt like the tag along kid. Because he lacks little to fighting abilities for a good portion of the route he has to rely on Saber most of the time. He is also kind of dense here. In a positive view of this it makes him a good fish out of water which allows him to be a sponge for all the things that he(and by extension the reader) will need to know about Fate Stay Night. On the negative side of it though he is actually pretty fucking stupid. A grand example is when he receives a phone call from Shinji(who he earlier learns is a Master) telling him to come to the school alone without Rin or Saber because he has to talk to him about "something" this is all be spoken in a rather unstable and creepy voice which should have been a dead give away. Instead of telling his allies about the situation and coming up with a plan the dumbass goes to the school and nearly gets his ass sliced off by Shinji's servant Rider. He doesn't get that much character development either when compared to the other two versions of himself in Unlimited Blade Works and Heaven's Feel but instead acts as a form of emotional support for Saber and plays a major role in her character arc.

Saber: I really like the character of Saber and thought she was definitely the highlight of this route. A dedicated knight from a distant time who hides her emotions behind a mask of stoicism and a suit of armor. What I found so likable and endearing about her was seeing the human buried beneath the veil and was one of the few reasons I kept reading the route despite how dull most of it was. She isn't the most entertaining of the characters in this visual novel as she can a bit too serious at times but her straight man act works well when it collides with the more energetic and animated members of Fate Stay Night's cast.

Rin: For this route Rin pretty much plays the role of the mentor to Shirou explaining to him about certain magic as well as important details of the Holy Grail War as well as help him out in a couple of battles. In terms of her character I think she is the most well rounded of the female cast as she has a nice size role in all three routes. Smart, resourceful, snarky yet has a heart of gold and can be pretty funny at times(especially when she messes with Shirou). She is awesome and I definitely give the visual novel a plus that we get plenty more of her as we read the other storylines.

Ilyasviel "Ilya" von Einzbern  & Berserker: The second boss battle duo of the route one being a creepy white haired child and the other a great hero whose sanity is removed turning him into a rampaging monster. Ilya is a pretty great character and one of my favorites out of the cast along with Rin, Archer, and several others. Her past and her connection with Shirou are not revealed as she hold some sort of grudge against out red haired protagonist but as we get into Unlimited Blade Works and Heaven's Feel those secrets will come into the light. Berserker is a face-wrecking tank but because he is constantly in a state of rage and blood lust there isn't much character to him aside from his very protective nature of Ilya and his job of getting killed off in different ways to showcase the threat of a much stronger enemy.

Shinji & Rider: Ah these two. So the first pair that Shirou and Saber have to contend with is this lovely team. I talked about Shinji rather briefly so I'll go into a little more detail here. Shinji is a bonafide spineless jackass who likes to talk big and is very manipulative. He is also a very crappy Magi and Master with a superiority complex. While he just seems to be just an evil counter part to Shirou he is actually much more complicated than that.
 
The Servant Rider is tall, beautiful, and mysterious woman dressed in black. In the Fate route we learn almost nothing about her and she just serves as a mini boss. Her design is rather odd and sticks out like a sore thumb. While everyone else looks like a warrior from ancient times Rider looks like she stepped out of a S&M hentai or something it is really odd to be honest even if I have seen much stranger character designs. Its not bad just jarring when looking at everyone else..



                        

We will learn more about these two later on in the visual novel but for the time being what we see is what we get.

Kotomine & Gilgamesh: Our main villains of the route who don't do shit till the climax. Despite that these two are pretty great. Kotomine is more or less the game's main antagonist and very interesting when the readers learn more about his inner workings but in the Fate route he is just a mustache twirling villain and doesn't appear much in the route. His partner/Servant Gilgamesh is a nasty piece of work but is the kind of villain you just love to hate(or just love for some folks) and is a very intimidating and poweful figure whose only weakness is his sheer arrogance. He has some pretty awesome moments but he is kind of wasted here as well since he doesn't show up for a long time either and his sole motivation is trying to force Saber to become his bride like some cheesy "Magical Girlfriend" villain or something.

Part 3: The Romance   
 
    Fate Stay Night isn't just a visual novel but also an eroge. Yes there are sex scenes in this(at least the original version) but not as many as you may think. Now I'm going to get this out of the way right now: the sex scenes in this game are awful! These are embarrassingly bad like they were written by a God damn 14 year old. I never felt so awkward reading anything until I read the first 'erotic' scene and I knew this wouldn't the last or the worst for that matter.

     Now I don't know if Nasu himself wrote them or not but I really would have loved to have been the fly on the wall when the folks who were putting this thing together thought this was a good idea. Thankfully in the updated version called Réalta Nua("New Star" in Irish) these scenes are removed and are instead replaced with alternate scenes. These new scenes are not exactly great but given the choice between them and these sad excuses for pornography I'm going with the former any day even if the sex scenes are good for a laugh or two.

    Okay so now that elephant in the room is out of the way lets talk about the relationship between Shirou and Saber. This pairing is definitely popular almost to almost insane extremes I mean you can make a fat ass dictionary sized book of all the fanart, fanfictions, and doujins of these two. I think part of that has to do with the anime adaption by Studio Deen which was mostly centered around this route which some believed to be the main and/or only storyline since a good number of them haven't or will not read the source material(some don't even know about the visual novel's existence). But popularity aside how is it in the actual story? Well...
 
     The romance is not the worst thing I have read but it is definitely not great either. I guess to better understand this part of the review I need to spoil a big reveal which revolves around the identity of Saber. I mentioned earlier that all Servants have an identity that they must keep hidden from their opponents well take a guess as to who Saber really is. I'll post a second pic of her below and you can guess away.

                               

     If you have never heard of this franchise, read the visual novel, or watched any of its adaptions I bet that none you would have got. The most common(and understandable) mistake is that she is Joan of Arc but no its no existing female warrior from history or legend but in fact a well known hero who has gone under a sex change. That hero is none other than the Ruler of the Britons, the wielder of Excalibur, and the Once and Future King: Arthur. I'm not trolling you folks.

     Originally Nasu wanted to create a story where King Arthur was just doing awesome stuff but someone(I'm looking at you Takeuchi) talked him into making Saber a woman and so the Saber that has become the face of Type Moon came to be. What does this have to do with the romance you ask? Well while it seemed that most of the guys were fine with gender bending Saber I think Nasu still saw her as a man. During the early part of the route Nasu beats the reader over the head with the Gender Hammer constantly trying to remind them(and/or most likely himself) that Saber is a woman and it is fucking obnoxious. What's more we then have to deal Shirou's "girl's can't fight" bullshit that was flanderized and made infamous in Deen's anime adaptation resulting in many hating Shirou's guts. Now I know from reading the visual novel that Shirou's overprotectiveness of Saber is due to his lack of self worth and the fact that he doesn't want anyone getting hurt for his sake and this could also be attributed to her being his love interest in this route because in the other routes he doesn't do that at all but it doesn't make the earlier scenes between him and Saber any less cringe worthy.

     Despite that the romance isn't completely terrible as there are several heartwarming moments in between and I wish there could have been more of them instead of having to wade through the awkward crap from earlier. At the end of the day its a mixed bag so one can take it or leave it.

Part 4: The Finale and Epilogue    

    If there are any positive things that I can say about Fate is that it finishes strong. We learn that Saber's desired wish is to save her kingdom from its destruction as anyone should remember the bitter end that Camelot suffered in the Arthurian legend. What's more she wishes to redo the selection of the King believing that it was her failure as a ruler that led to the fall of her country. In addition we learn that the Grail is not what it seems and was the cause of the great fire years ago.

     Shirou helps Saber accept her past and finds the strength to move forward. Together the two defeat Kotomine and Gilgamesh who wish to unleash the corrupted artifact's power in a climatic battle. With their enemies slain Shirou uses his last Command Seal to order Saber to destroy. Before she fades away Saber declares her love to Shirou and returns to her time.

     Shirou moves on forever remembering Saber and the love he held for her and lives out a peaceful life with his friends. We flashback to Saber's time as she is dying during her final battle and while her life may be ending she is proud of what she managed to accomplish and doesn't wish to change her past. After giving one final order to her loyal knight Bedivere her end draws near as the King of Knights Arturia dies peacefully and without regret.
 

                            

       This epilogue: "Continuation of a Dream" is one of the most well known endings of the game and it certainly had a bit of a punch but if I had an issues it would be that the impact could be lessened if the reader didn't care about Saber or her relationship with Shirou.

Part 5: The Final Verdict   


At the end of the day the Fate Route is very mediocre and doesn't show the best of Fate Stay Night. I personally wouldn't recommend that any new readers start their experience with this one and if they have the ability to skip over then they should do it. I know some folks like it and that is totally fine but man could this use a rewrite I see a lot of potential in this storyline amongst all of its problems and if the day ever comes that a new adaption of this route is made I hope its better than what we got here or with Deen...especially Deen.

     So lets look over the good and the bad of the Fate Route before we finish.

   The Good

+ Several exciting fight scenes

+ The Finale and Epilogue

+ Saber's Character Arc

   The Bad

- A rather directionless plot

- Awkward romance

- Shirou's lack of growth and development

- Way too much exposition along with other pacing problems


     If I could score this I think it would fall into the range of a 5 out of 10. Part of me feels that it should be lower but the good points help it from taking on any more water.


     That is for this article thank you for reading I know I kind of skimmed over some stuff and simplified others but if I tried to go over every small detail then you might as well just go and starting reading the Visual Novel because there is a lot of information and lore in this thing.

    I know its been awhile since I posted anything but between reading the route, writing this review, and other things I've been pretty swamped. Stay tuned for my review of Unlimited Blade Works along with future episodes of