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Title: Fate/Samurai Remnant
Genre: Action RPG
Platform: PS4, PS5, Switch, PC
Developer: Omega Force (Koei Tecmo Games)
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Release date: 28 September 2023
Official website (US): https://www.koeitecmoamerica.com/fate-sr/

This review tries to avoid spoilers, but does refer to some Servants that have previously appeared in other Fate media by their true names

Since making its debut with a relatively niche PC visual novel in 2004, Type Moon’s Fate series has grown to become a massive multimedia phenomenon, with tons of anime, manga, novels, games, and more. Fate/Samurai Remnant is the latest and most ambitious video game entry in the franchise.

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As one might guess from how the game was developed by Omega Force of Koei Tecmo Games, best known for their work on the Dynasty Warriors games, Samurai Remnant is an action RPG with heavy emphasis on the action, which borrows heavily from the games Omega Force is famous for, like Persona 5 Strikers.

The central premise of the Fate series revolves around the “Holy Grail War”, a secret battle royale where seven mages (“Masters”) summon seven Servants, familiars that are copies of legendary figures from history and mythology with powers and abilities taken from their tales, each with a different RPG-style job class, and fight for the Holy Grail, which is said to grant the winner any wish they desire.

As many such legendary figures also have famous weaknesses – For instance Achilles and his heel – Most Servants hide their identities so as to not disadvantage themselves in the fight, preferring to be referred to by their class names, which are generally self-descriptive (Saber uses swords, Lancer uses lances or spears, Archer uses bows or other ranged weapons, Rider tends to come with a mount of some kind, etc.), and Fate is thus loved by history buffs who find fun in guessing the true identities of Servants based on the clues given, or fantasizing about what their own favorite historical figures would be like as a Servant.

Fate/Samurai Remnant Archer
Archer’s Master is the historical figure Zheng Chenggong (Koxinga), a Ming Dynasty general

But while most of the installments in the franchise take place in modern or futuristic settings, with the Masters being original characters, Samurai Remnant gives it a twist by having it set during its own historical period, namely 1651 Edo Japan, with many of the Masters themselves also being historical (or semi-historical) figures.

The protagonist of Samurai Remnant is Miyamoto Iori, adopted son of the legendary Miyamoto Musashi, and the story begins with him being unwittingly being drawn into the “Waxing Moon Ritual”, a version of the Holy Grail War being conducted in Edo, with him summoning the ritual’s Saber servant (whose identity is kept a secret even to Iori for most of the game). An additional twist to the Waxing Moon Ritual is how in addition to the seven Servants tied to participating Masters, it also summons a number of “rogue” servants who have no Masters that may stir things up or ally with certain Masters.

From the point of view of a Fate fan, Samurai Remnant does not have much to contribute to the overall lore of the series, unlike, say, Extella, the series’ first attempt at a Dynasty Warriors style game, which introduced concepts with massive ramifications for the series’ cosmology, and a character which heavily influences multiple worlds’ histories. In fact, it throws in things that seem to outright contradict things established as early as the very first game, Fate/Stay Night (though of course this can be easily handwaved away by saying that this is a parallel world that has things different).

Conversely, this means that Samurai Remnant is detached from the greater Fate mythos, making it a great starting point for people  who are not familiar with the franchise. The only things a new player might miss out on are some superficial fanservice, and perhaps a single red herring when it comes to guessing one of the Servants’ identities.

Combat uses gameplay that will immediately feel familiar to anyone who has played a Dynasty Warriors game, but has enough unique features to make it feel distinct in its own way.

The Earth style gives the player a few hits of limited invincibility that regenerate after some time, attacks to focus on a single target, and later on in the game, a block and a parry

The player spends the majority of the game playing as Iori, who starts far weaker than Saber (as he should, being a regular human), but has access to a style switching system (unsurprisingly based on the Book of Five Rings), starting with the Earth style (defensive, for single enemies) and Water style (for taking on large numbers of enemies at a time) and learning more as the game progresses. The game also incentivizes style switching by making it so that fighting in a style for a certain amount of time will allow the player to get a powerful buff based on that style when switching to another.

Iori can also cast magic, which uses up gems which are crafted, bought, or picked up as loot from battles, and level up to get higher stats and more moves and abilities through a skill tree. He can also perform special counter attacks by dodging right before an attack enemy hits, or later on (unlocked via the skill tree) by releasing a guard right as an enemy attack hits.

Servants can use special attacks that require their own resource

While the game does give you full control over Saber, who starts off far more powerful than Iori, in certain parts, you generally play as Iori with Saber fighting by your side. While doing so, two gauges build up: One turns into pips that can be used to have Saber perform a powerful attack, while the other gives you temporary control over Saber for as long as the bar lasts (basically functioning like a super mode you would see in other games in the genre).

While the main Servants mostly fit nicely into the period setting, the rogue Servants are a more diverse lot, with characters such as the Greek sorceress Circe

The player can also in most cases bring along a second servant, usually one of the rogue servants who have allied with Iori in the story. The second servant shares their gauges with Saber, so this does not result in any significant advantage, but it does give the player a wider variety of things to play with in battle, thus making it less likely for things to get boring.

The game notably differentiates between human enemy and powerful supernatural enemies (not just Servants but also powerful boss yokai) by giving supernatural enemies a “Shell Gauge” in addition to their health gauge. The shell gauge, while active, makes most of Iori’s regular attacks bounce right off the enemy, and the player has to either attack them only during the short window while they are recovering from an attack (indicated with a light blue glow), or use alternate attacks like counters, Servant moves or magic to deplete it before Iori can deal any real damage. In some cases, enemies will also regenerate the shell gauge after taking a certain amount of health damage, sometimes multiple times in one battle.

The player also has plenty of chances to roam around the different areas of Edo and do things like buy items, fight random battles, and do side quests, many of which give attention to the other Servants besides Saber, including some which allow the player to take control of other Masters’ Servants.

Spirit Font Conflict mode can be surprisingly fun and satisfying

An interesting thing that Samurai Remnant does is the “Spirit Font Conflict” mode which takes place at many points in the story. Though clearly inspired by Fate/Grand Order’s “Grail Front” mode, with the player moving units around a grid and fighting battles when coming into contact with enemy units, this mode has far more depth than its FGO counterparts with mechanics such as splitting Iori and Saber apart to cover more ground, special skills with varying effects, and being able to summon rogue Servants once liberating the areas they are tied to. This mode also lets the player have full control of Saber and the other participating Servants, which can be a nice change of pace.

The gameplay in Samurai Remnant is generally enjoyable, especially once Iori gets access to the last two styles, but one should keep in mind that it is primarily a story-driven experience. The game goes through very long story sequences at times, to the point that if the player turns on the auto mode (since the game is fully voiced) and lets them play out, they might even run into the controller turning itself off from inactivity at times. While this may not be surprising to a Fate series fan, new players might have to temper their expectations. That being said, the story is mostly enjoyable, and the presentation as well is top-notch.

Fate/Samurai Remnant

Unfortunately, Samurai Remnant does suffer from a myriad of problems. While the combat does manage to throw in enough factors to refrain from going stagnant, the camera can be frustratingly hard to control at times, and the aforementioned “Shell Gauge” system is an extreme buzzkill: Taking a swing at a crowd in Dynasty Warriors fashion only for the attack to bounce off a shell, resetting the chain and thus canceling the move one had planned is extremely frustrating, and this occurs on a regular basis. It also makes it impossible to gauge exactly how much health a boss has left, since there is no way of knowing how many times the boss will reactivate their shield.

Ironically for a game descended from the Dynasty Warriors series, this reviewer found that the combat in the game shone its best in the few one-on-one duels: The camera is far more manageable in those fights, the Shell Gauge is less of a problem when it’s not randomly cutting off combos when swinging at crowds, and most importantly it boils down to looking for tells and dodging or parrying attacks, which is just more fun.

When it comes to exploration, both the main story and side quests involve a lot of running around the city of Edo, sometimes doing silly fetch quests with little substance to them. While it’s clear that the game is trying to put a lot of emphasis on exploration, however, most of the environments are simply just not interesting enough to justify this much running around, and it ultimately just feels like padding.

To make things worse, the game has multiple routes and endings, and the forced exploration sequences in subsequent playthroughs are mind-numbingly boring if one is going through all the routes in succession – Loading a save from before the split and just doing them from there is not advisable as levels, items, collectibles and such are carried forward to new game plus, and NG+ also unlocks additional story and battle content including another ending. Though NG+ does let the player skip the first chapter of the game entirely, starting them at chapter 2 as this is where additional side story content starts to show up from in NG+, there is no new content to be seen from the third playthrough and on. Letting the player skip any and all chapters where all story content has been seen – and the game does already identify if the player has seen text or not, in visual novel fashion – would have gone a long way. Alas, that is not the case.

Furthermore, as the game is extremely story-centric, this reviewer was extremely disappointed at feeling that the story loses the wind in its sails at the very end, in all routes. While the early to mid-game does an extremely good job of portraying a battle royale story, with things like the chaos of a search for an enemy turning up a different one, with other factions crashing the party as well, this reviewer found the latter parts of the story ve simply just not as interesting or exciting, and the endings likewise unsatisfying.

While this may of course be subjective, there are objective problems with the story as well: While the rogue Servants are all introduced within the main story, most of them end up barely involved, and just kind of fade out of it at the end.

Aside from maybe two or three exceptions, the rogue Servants end up as little more than fanservice for series fans who know them from other media. This is especially silly when one considers how Arjuna does not even show up for a confrontation with a major enemy that has ties to Hindu mythology (and even says as much prominently in a cutscene), or how Li Shuwen next to no interactions at all with the Chinese faction, nor anything interesting to say regarding to how, being born in 1864, he is in fact from the future in this setting (granted, the latter does fit his personality, but it is still disappointing).

This reviewer took roughly 48 hours to clear all three endings and side story content, but this includes a lot of padding in the form of having to do a large amount of the main story multiple times when aiming for other routes and endings, and it feels someone short as a result. This reviewer cannot help but feel that the game might have been better off without multiple routes, with the last ending being optional and branching off at the end.

Despite its flaws, however, Samurai Remnant is still, in terms of presentation and scale, without a doubt one of the most ambitious Fate games yet. Despite the series’ popularity, it has somehow never seen a non-visual novel game that did not feel extremely low budget, and Samurai Remnant is the first time a Fate game has a presentation living up to the quality of the shows and movies series fans might have seen. The action is still great fun, the story is mostly enjoyable, and seeing Iori get stronger as game progresses is satisfying.

All-in-all, Fate/Samurai Remnant is a great game both for fans and new players who have never tried anything from the Fate series before.

 

The Good: Great combat, interesting characters, and an enjoyable story.

The Bad: The last parts of the story are somewhat weak in comparison to the earlier parts of the game, and subsequent playthroughs feature a lot of unnecessarily repeated content.

Conclusion: Fate/Samurai Remnant is a great game both for fans and new players who have never tried anything from the Fate series before.

Score: 78/100

 

Also see:

Review: Tsukihime – A piece of blue glass moon-

Fate/Grand Order 8th Anniversary Player Survey Results

Event Report: Fate/Grand Order Fes. 2023 -8th Anniversary- (Part 1)

 

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