Thirteen years ago a Visual Novel was released in Japan. That VN was Fate/Stay Night. Over the last decade plus it has gone from an obscure game with a mediocre anime adaption to being a juggernaut franchise. It has multiple anime adaptions, novel and manga sidestories, the most popular Mobile Game in Japan and a set of more traditional console games. We’re going to talk about one of those, Fate/Extella – The Umbral Star. (Be aware this post will contain major spoilers!)
Your eyes open. You blink into focus. Your memory is hazy, you remember who you are, but not much else. As if parts are missing or distorted. In front of you stands a young woman. Her hair is like threads of gold. Her eyes brilliant emeralds. Her dress is a crimson shines like a flame. A name comes to your mind. Nero. Nero Claudius.
Your eyes open. You blink into focus. Your memory is hazy, you remember who you are, but not much else. As if parts are missing or distorted. In front of you stands a young woman. Her hair is the pink of cherry blossoms. Her eyes a piercing topaz. Her blue robe reveals as much as it conceals. A name comes to your mind. Tamamo. Tamamo no Mae.
All you have is your name. No other memories. Where you came from or how you got there. Around you is a mountain of treasure. On top of that treasure sits a Titan. Her hair is platinum white. Her eyes are blood-red rubies. Her skin is a dusky brown. She speaks to you, she asks…what is your name?
Fate/Extella is not a Visual Novel, but its roots stretch back to one. Fate/Stay Night had three routes. Each route branched off into its own direction, and while they did not interact directly, the knowledge you the reader gained in one route would help you understand what happened in the next. Fate/Extella is much the same. When you start the game you are given a screen where you can choose your route, however there is no actual choice. You must do the routes in a specific order. The first one you are presented with is Servant Saber: Nero Claudius. The girl in the crimson red dress. Once completed you can move on to the next route. Servant Caster: Tamomo no Mae. The woman with sakura-colored hair. Finally the last route unlocks. Servant Saber: Altera. The woman with blood red eyes.
Unlike Fate/Stay Night, you do not play as the same person in each route. Also unlike Fate/Stay Night, you may choose to play as a male or female. It does not alter the events at all, simply some pronoun choices and the visuals. We will assume the female avatar is chosen. Though calling them an “Avatar” may be inaccurate. The Main Character is not faceless, nor are they without personality. They are not voice acted, but they have a distinct way of speaking. It is also different in each route. The face is the same, the name is the same, but each route is told from a distinctly different perspective.
As the game progresses. As you go from Nero’s route to Tamamo’s route and finally Altera’s route, you learn the truth. “You” have been split in three. Mind. Soul. Body. Each piece has gone to one of the servants. Mind to Nero, Soul to Tamamo, Body remaining with Altera, where the split happened.
Mind is intellectual. She debates with Nero, engages in banter and has a penchant for florid speeches. She is everything that Nero wants in a partner and lover, and Nero is everything the Mind wants.
Soul is impulse. She cracks wise. She makes moves on Tamamo. She’s everything Tamamo would want in a partner and “Husband”. Likewise, Tamamo fits Soul like a glove. Their passions run hot and wild.
Body is blank. All she has, all she is, is her name. She finds herself with Titan Altera. The embodiment of destruction. A being who only exists to destroy and consume civilizations. And she finds herself…curious. She wants to learn more.
All three aspects of the Main Character love their servant. Their love is evident in how they speak of them, how they act around them. Their servants love them in return. Nero and Tamamo both remember the Main Character from before. From the events of the Moon’s Holy Grail War. Both loved the main character. They still do, but now they have the aspect they relate to most put to the forefront.
Nero’s route ends in tragedy. A Mind cannot exist without a Soul or Body. After the final battle, the Mind dissolves, as if it were a stray thought. Leaving Nero distraught and alone. Tamamo’s route ends in triumph. The Soul strong enough to live on its own, forming a new Mind and new Body to support it. Tamamo conquers the SE.RA.PH, making it her own.
Altera’s route, Altera’s route ends in tragedy as well. For both the Body and Altera herself. Altera, the King of Destruction. The Avatar of the Umbral Star. Sent to Earth 14,000 years before, where as the White Titan she laid waste to the great civilizations of the time and reduced the few survivors to barbarism. Struck down at the last moment by a great unknown hero, she has slumbered inside the Zero Dark until your intrusion.
Altera calls the body “Prisoner”. She is keeping you prisoner, because she needs the power of your Regalia, to destroy the Moon Cell and call down the Umbral Star. But as Body and Altera become closer, cracks appear in her facade. The sealed Titan Altera, who’s face is gentle and voice is kind. The stoic Hero Altera, who charges into battle against the forces of Nero and Tamamo. Two sides of the same being. Body gets to know them, and grows to love them. But tragedy is unavoidable. The Titan Altera transformed once more into the mindless White Titan of destruction. Hero Altera, forced to kill her own other half, dooming herself in the process. With the power of her third of the Regalia, Body sends a memory to another past. To another her. A her that can perhaps avert this Fate. Body collapses. Dissolving into particles of data, leaving nothing behind but a thin read of of hope.
Another past. Another Mind. This Mind awakens with memories not her own. Memories she could never have had. With these memories and with Nero by her side, she forges an alliance with Tamamo. Mind and Soul merge. As one they confront Altera and another Body. They are successful. They save Altera, it comes at a price. The Sacrifice of that other Body, the one from a future that was not, came at the price of all the Bodys. She understands. She is an existence unlike Mind and Soul. She is just an empty shell, filled with a few weeks of memories. But she is happy. She was able to save the one she loves. The Titan born to destroy. The Hero born to fight. The Girl who rode on the plains. All of those are Altera. This Body dissolves, as does the Hero, bereft of her master. Leaving just the Titan behind, and a gift for Saber. Altera’s Sword, the Sword of Mars.
Taking up the Sword of Mars, Nero vows she will not let Body’s sacrifice be in vain. She wraps herself in its power, but not as the god of War and Destruction, but as the God of Love and Beauty. With the power of Venus Nero severs the final chains holding Altera to the Umbral Star’s power. The Titan Altera crumbles to dust, but left behind is a fragment. Born again as a young girl. This is not the Altera who destroyed the world. This is not the Altera who rode the plains. This is not the Altera who fell in love with Body. But it is Altera. The offspring of Body’s fervent wish to save the woman she loved. Body’s sacrifice across all timelines, and Nero’s absolute belief in the power of love. Together they, bound by the power of the combined Mind and Soul, allowed a new life to be born.
Fate/Extella is a game about love, first and foremost. Quiet, intimate love. Wild, passionate love. Nervous, timid love. The love of battle, the love of peace. The love of a lover and the love of family. A love that bloomed inside an empty shell, grew and flourished to allow the defeat of an unimaginable evil, and the freeing of a kind girl who just wanted to live a life without destruction.
Maybe more games should be about Love.