PlasyStation 4/Nintendo Switch
BELIEVE it or not, the Fate series originates from a visual novel that has never been officially released in the West. Despite the absence of a licensed English translation, however, Fate/stay night became immensely popular, and fast; in fact, so captivated were eroge audiences by its spectacular storyline that it spawned a franchise boasting of intellectual properties in various media. In the last decade and a half, publisher Type-Moon has gone on to produce titles collectively generating 10 figures — yes, 10 figures — in revenues.
Needless to say, Fate/EXTELLA LINK carries many of the themes that have allowed the series to thrive even as it takes place in a parallel universe first unveiled in Fate/Extra and expounded on in Fate/EXTELLA: The Umbral Star. The peace that reigned following the end of the war between Nero Claudius, Tamamo no Mae, and Altera is again under threat, with Karl der Grosse bent on the “Oraclization” of the Servants, historical figures serving as the players’ champions during gameplay. In this regard, the objective is clear: the takeover of SE.RA.PH, the artificial realm within the Moon Cell, itself a construct with reality-altering properties, must be stopped.
Players familiar with Musou-type games will be glad to know that Fate/EXTELLA LINK stands as one of the genre’s best to date. It’s certainly superior to Fate/EXTELLA: The Umbral Star, coming off as a far more polished version of its immediate past predecessor. For one thing, it manages to do away with constant exposition; newcomers to the series won’t have to jump through hoops to keep up with the narrative. For another, Marvelous and XSEED Games have seen fit to minimize the grind typically accompanying hack-and-slash ventures; attack options ranging from the usual button mashing for weak enemies to special skills and buffs for mini bosses to the full-gauge-triggered, all-powerful Noble Phantasm provide variety and complement the capacity to choose which missions to undertake at any given time.
Fate/EXTELLA LINK boasts of 26 Servants all told, including all 16 from Fate/EXTELLA: The Umbral Star. Each features unique and often over-the-top characteristics that become apparent in the narrative and especially in combat. Visually and aurally, it’s several notches above its older sibling and distinguishes itself in exposing the wealth of its content. The art style is more representative of its source material, and animations are more fluidly constructed. Meanwhile, the expressive Japanese voice acting is accompanied by an excellent English translation and supported by a flashy soundtrack.
Thankfully, Fate/EXTELLA LINK does not suffer from input lags and slowdowns on the Nintendo Switch; holding steady at 30 frames per second, it makes up in smoothness of movement what it gives up in sharpness. Even undocked and with a busy screen, the action holds steady and flows freely. Needless to say, it’s even more impressively presented on the PlayStation 4 Pro; colors jump out and the imaginative backgrounds show purposeful detail, serving to enhance the gravity of the proceedings.
In keeping with the conscious effort to cut down on the elucidation of series lore, Fate/EXTELLA LINK clocks in on the short side for a Japanese role-playing game. It offers four difficulty levels, and players can breeze through the easiest setting in under 10 hours. That said, those inclined to stay around won’t be disappointed. Finishing the Story Mode is one thing. Completing the game is quite another; there are, simply put, tons of content to sift through, alternate endings to unlock, mission ratings to improve, additional costumes to be had, and new objectives to meet.
All told, Fate/EXTELLA LINK is a release that both takes pride in its roots and takes pains to be better. If it merely capitalized on its name and provided more of the same old, same old, fans of the franchise would still have flocked to it. Instead, it stands out as an exceptional sequel to Fate/EXTELLA: The Umbral Star and, in the process, rightly heightens expectations for what’s still to come.
• Streamlined storyline that newcomers to and longtime fans of the Fate series alike can enjoy off the bat
• Improved gameplay that provides variety and choice
• Visually and aurally superior to predecessor
• Larger number of unique characters
• Truncated narrative pushes new characters to the sideline
• Even the local multiplayer mode requires multiple copies of the game
First things first: R.B.I. Baseball 19 is the best licensed Major League Baseball product on the Nintendo Switch, but by default. There’s simply no competition on the console — which can be, and is, both good and bad. The biggest plus: As its developer and publisher, the league allotted significant resources to its conception, progress, and release. The biggest minus: It remains lacking vis-a-vis MLB The Show 19, the gold standard of baseball video games and available only on the PlayStation 4.
That said, R.B.I. Baseball 19 offers incremental but no less significant improvements over its predecessor. Weekly roster updates and the presence of the league’s all-time greats serve to add value to the series’ latest iteration, but vastly upgraded game physics proves to be its biggest come-on. Even as it promises to provide an arcade-like experience, it has clearly taken pains to make subject and object actions and reactions more realistic and, therefore, appealing. And, for good measure, the much-smoother flow of visuals augments its superior feel.
R.B.I. Baseball 19 isn’t perfect by any means. Hitting and pitching options remain limited, and fielding continues to be iffy even with practice. Frame drops are evident with the Switch undocked, and, perhaps concomitantly, those angling for online multiplayer matches will find themselves disappointed. On the whole, though, it’s a step in the right direction, and one that fans of the sport cannot but welcome with open arms.(7/10)
Board games on digital platforms are hit-and-miss propositions, and with reason. Many of the very factors that add to their popularity as tabletop must-haves wind up by the wayside as they make their way to consoles. Fortunately, Warhammer Quest’s Nintendo Switch version manages to retain much of its intrinsic appeal. It sacrifices all the emotional feedback actual dice rolls, paper-and-pen maintenance of statistics, and physical add-ons provide, but, in turn, presents myriad conveniences modern-day players take for granted en route to making lasting positive impressions.
As a role-playing offering, Warhammer Quest makes up in compelling gameplay what it lacks in story. Its depth as a dungeon crawler is evident at the onset; players are asked to choose from among 11 different types of character classes, and are then made to go through a set of helpful tutorials to get controls down pat. Turn-based mechanics abide over movement of the party of four in close-quarter, ranged, or magic-based combat, with type-specific items at its disposal. Victories translate to level-ups and the acquisition of new skills and abilities.
Enemies abound, but of limited variety, and battles can be protracted as hits either way aren’t guaranteed at every instance. All the same, Warhammer Quest provides challenges that escalate fairly and progressively, resulting in a satisfying experience well worth its $29.99 price tag.(7.5/10)
Available on other consoles since 2016, first-person platformer Valley finally finds its way to the Nintendo Switch. The port may be long in coming, but it is no less welcome. It deftly tells the tale of a male — or, depending on original choice, female — protagonist exploring in the not-too-distant future a vast valley with the end-view of acquiring the Life Seed, which holds extraordinary power over life and death. Exploration is aided in no small measure by the Leap Effortlessly through Air Functionality suit, allowing for superhuman movement.
Valley’s narrative is rich and engrossing. Audio logs and notes scattered about reveal remnants of a government-backed program aimed at producing distinctive advantages for combat purposes. The playable area itself is a sight to behold, boasting of a detailed expanse of lush colors that seem to stretch without limit. Parenthetically, testing the horizon through the use of the L.E.A.F. suit becomes in and of itself an end. Danger lurks, but not often enough — and not overwhelming enough — to accentuate action over adventure.
If there is any big negative, it’s that players can finish Valley well before reaching the double-digit mark in hours. And while it presents itself as a leisurely romp in the go, it suffers from visual softness and frame drops on occasion. Which is just too bad, because much of the game’s value is derived from its painstaking presentation of nature, a crucial factor in underscoring its message. Still, it makes full use of its time on the Switch, and, absent high expectations, proves that even on gaming consoles, stories can get top billing.(8/10)