One Year of Fate/Grand Order

It’s been a long time ever since I played Fate/Grand Order. Considering it’s 1 year anniversary and Summer Event had just passed (yes, I procrastinated until recently), perhaps it’s a good time for me to sum up my impression and experience with the game.

(Early disclaimer: I’m kind of a fan of Fate series, but I’ll try to give more neutral opinions.)

Fate/Grand Order (FGO) was released as a mobage (aka Japanese mobile game) by DELiGHTWorks (DW) back on July 29 2015. It’s only available on Japanese AppStore and Google PlayStore and follows the trend of many recent mobage, being a card-collection combat game with huge cast of character artists and voice actors. This game is meant to be a reboot for the planned online game which started off the Fate/Apocrypha novel series. Though Nasu did mention that the idea for it to be a mobage is based on the reception of other similar games on smartphones. This was a rather pleasing news for me when it was announced because I had been anticipating since the development and cancellation of the original Fate/Apocrypha project.

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Early phase after release:

There was a pre-registration event for the game with limited edition Servant card and in-game rewards for players. No doubt, I signed up for it but joined the game 1 week after it’s official release in Japan. (Somehow I had a delay in learning about the release despite being an Asian haha.) Many fans including the game developers themselves were caught off-guard with the overwhelming response during it’s release. In fact, there were too many players that the servers could not handle the load and went down every once in a while. This happened especially after each updates or scheduled maintenance, leading to the infamous meme of Unlimited Maintenance Work. Thankfully, this haven’t been much of an issue as of late, though there are still occasional bugs or issues during major updates, mainly due to phone requirements.

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If you ever wandered into FGO subreddit last year, you’d probably seen this.

So, what’s the gameplay of FGO?

Here’s the rough setting of the story:

In near future, humanity’s existence will be destroyed due to several anomalies in the history. Deploying the forbidden technique of time travel, the protagonist and the secret agency Chaldea have to retrieve the Holy Grails present during these events to correct the error. It serves as an alternative timeline to Clock Tower 2015, a short story by Kinoko Nasu himself.

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The game delivers the stories in the form of visual novels and switches into a turn-based combat mode when entering battle scenes. The basic mechanics are rather simple: a combo system using 3 Servants (another 2 as backup Servants) based on Burst (Raw-Damage based), Art (charging and using of Noble Phantasm) and Quick (Critical-damage based) moves. Each Servants have their own movesets and skills to diversify tactics.

In-game Class-cycles for servants, part of the game mechanics. (Taken from FGO web-manga series)
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That being said, FGO can be either enjoying or boring depending on your playstyle. The basic strategy can become repetitive if player chooses to stick some of the common basic build, especially during grinding period. Thankfully, DW implements new meta or adjusts enemy lineups from time to time to allow players to try out different variation of builds thanks to the diverse pool of Servants available.

Combat scenes in FGO, featuring the 3 front line Servants and available combos/Noble Phantasm
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Coming back to the story aspect, the visual novel format offers occasional dialogue choices, but the overall plot progression are linear so it doesn’t actually affect the main story apart from possibly having some comical scenes. All these scenes can be replayed in the game after unlocking, a plus to players who are fluent in Japanese and wish to read the story again.

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FGO’s Main attraction: Nasuverse and the Heroic Servants

In comparison to some other mobage games, the popularity of FGO mainly come from the fandom of the Fate franchise or Nasuverse. For the game, Nasu himself is in charge of the scenario supervision, with Takeuchi Takashi handling the character design and art direction. Apart from the prologue, the main story chapters are actually written alternatingly between Yuuichirou Higashide and Hikaru Sakurai. Perhaps that’s the reason why I felt slight changes in the writing style or quality throughout the main plot.

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Recreating Fate/Stay Night Servant and Master (in the form of Craft Essence) Combinations

With Fate in title, one can already expect familiar faces across the franchise to appear in the game. FGO features various returning Heroic Spirits from the Fate series with many new characters drawn by active Japanese artists as well. This also became a perfect moment to bring out Shielder, a special servant class originally designed for Fate/Stay Night but was never put into use.

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For anyone who’s not familiar with the Fate franchise, Heroic Spirits or Servants are historical figures or fictional heroes from legends/folklore which are being summoned by Master/Magus as familiars with superhuman abilities. While not necessary as accurate as their origins or sources, it’s always interesting to see how these characters are brought into life with their designs and personalities molded by Type-Moon. Samples posted by Richard Eisenbeis from Kotaku last year.

While many think that Type-Moon had been reusing materials from previous works to attract players (eg. the army of Saberfaces), I do think the original contents in the game deserve some merits as well. Apart from contributing to the main story progression, some Servants (especially those that debuted in FGO) are also given proper development to become enjoyable characters rather than just being another deck card in some standard TCG. One of my favourites being the little moments between Caster Mozart and Rider Marie which was based on the lore of the musician and the queen.

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Army of Saberfaces (source: FGO community)

Apart from the main story, there are also a few in-game events featuring special story missions and limited-time Servants (either from Gacha or recruitable by clearing event). These are often parodies of festivals or folklore, which seems like good opportunity to bring in some gags for the Heroic Spirits (example the Otaku personality of legendary pirate Blackbeard...don’t ask why). During the past year, there were also collaboration events for Kara no Kyoukai and Fate/Zero with involvement of the original writers. (At this moment, Fate/Kaleid collaboration event is ongoing.) For me, I enjoyed the Fate/Accel Zero Order event the most as Gen Urobuchi came up with a twist from the original plot, quite a decent alternative storyline apart from some trolls along the way.

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Drunk Kiyohime from Onigashima Event (My friend’s favourite moment throughout the whole game)

“Cards” and Gacha:

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In FGO, players can obtain the Servant cards and the Craft Essence (Equipment) cards via a summoning system in the form of Gacha. These cards have a range of variety, with 1 star Bronze cards being the lowest rarity and 5* Gold cards being the rarest. Although rarity doesn’t necessary represent one’s effectiveness or usability, having rarer cards usually allows one to have better advantage in terms of overall combat stats (or at times it’s just because the servants are better looking/more popular). Which is why many hardcore fans have been pouring in tons of money just to get the rarer cards from the gacha. This isn’t an easy goal as well, because FGO has a rather low draw-rate for rare cards.

As mentioned earlier, one should not be fooled by a Servant’s capability based on its rarity. In fact, there are quite a number of 3* and 4* Servants with skills and team synergy that make them on par with those ranked 5* in terms of versatility. As time passes, I notice that some older cards have been overshadowed by the improved effects and abilities of newly released cards. However, it’s kind of nice to know that DW is also trying to tackle this by implementing buffs for old cards or balancing new cards(with either demerits or situational usability). Though occasionally they end up releasing broken Servants which are either overpowered or hard to fit into team synergy.

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Jeanne d’Arc, personally my favourite Servant throughout FGO

I still remember the time when I actually drew Ruler Jeanne d’Arc as my first 5* Servant. She remained as my core Tank team until the need of offensive-based teambuild few months ago. (Which I then gratefully swapped in my Avenger Jeanne d’Arc Alter.) Many players including myself had gone through the repeating cycles of joy or salt with each announcement of new rare servants. But considering I’m a free-to-play only player, I’m rather contended with the few rare servants I had except for some limited event-only servants which I failed to get.

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Leveling and Grinding:

Considering FGO is an RPG game, another common complain apart from the Gacha rate would be the grinding required. Unlike other games, all the cards in FGO does not level up by continuously bringing them into battle. Rather, players need to farm for EXP cards and materials to level up and ascend (evolve) the cards. The drop-rates of the materials for Servant cards may be punishing at times and there are few worthy/efficient EXP source for Craft Essence cards apart from some limited-only cards. Perhaps the toughest of all would be the upgrading of the Noble Phantasms (aka Ultimate move of Servants), which requires one to have exact duplicates of same Servants. Oh, the horror of low Gacha rates.

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For non-fans of Fate series, Fate Grand Order may be another typical mobage game. Though the game itself had gone through significant improvement from its past issues as compared to a few other mobage I’ve played before. Perhaps the biggest issue nowadays is the game optimization, which may cause crashes or phone performance issues due to the relatively higher spec demand for the phone. However, I am still pretty hopeful for FGO future considering it’s only out for 1 year, and Nasu does have contents for at least another year for the continuity of the story.

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This is a casual sharing by greenhorn blogger, so hope you don’t mind the amateurish writing. Feel free to let me know your thoughts about this game.

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