Visual Novel Review: Fate/stay night

Just recently, I have had the opportunity to read Fate/stay night in its entirety for the first time. Highly regarded and widely loved, it is considered by many to be famed doujin circle Type-Moon’s masterpiece. Over the past week, I have been able to find out for myself why. There are no spoilers in this review, so feel free to read on after the jump without concern.

Fate/stay night (hereafter referred to as “Fate“, “FSN“, “F/SN“, or whatever the hell I feel like) is the brainchild of Kinoko Nasu, whom you may know as the creator of other popular works such as Tsukihime, Kara no Kyoukai, or Melty Blood (though I can’t imagine you playing Melty Blood without you having read Tsukihime). If you have witnessed any or all of these works in either their anime or visual novel forms, you should probably know what to expect from Fate–in fact, they actually take place in the same universe, and often cameo each other frequently. If you’ve seen the anime of Fate thinking that that’s all there is to be had, though, you’re dead wrong. The anime is terrible compared to the novel, and only covers one route (the least exciting one, unfortunately).

But enough about that. Let’s get to what Fate is really about. The protagonist, Emiya Shirou, shouldn’t be living, according to himself. He was undeservedly rescued from a terrible fire that claimed the lives of many, though at the same time he admires the lone magus that saved and adopted him. So grateful, in fact, that he vows to become a great magus and superhero just like he was. Ten years later, he is thrust against his will into the fifth Holy Grail War. Each participant is named a Master, and is given a Servant in order to fight. The last one standing is granted a wish from the Holy Grail itself.

Much like most other visual novels, F/SN is choice-based and divided into routes, each following three heroines that Shirou becomes acquainted with. These routes follow Shirou’s relationship with each of the girls as events rise and fall in order to reach the ultimate goal of having sex with each of them. But if you dismiss FSN as “just another eroge”, then you, my friend, are already on your way to a bad end. The reason being is that these girls have some of the most sordid, tragic, violent, and at times vomit-inducing backgrounds you could possibly think of, and none of them would be considered “easy”. Not to mention you have, you know, a whole freakin’ Grail War going on in the background, with absolutely every single thing under the sun trying to kill you.

The most interesting thing I found about the progression of the routes is that through each one, it gets harder and harder to not only reach the girl you desire, but also to simply survive until the end. With each passing choice, your chances of survival drop at least 50%. Less and less people are on your side, and more betrayals happen. That’s right, that means you have a negative chance of survival with the last route, Heavens Feel. That was not a mistake. I think it might be good to have a breakdown of each route just to give you an idea of what we’re dealing with.

The first route, simply titled Fate, is your Servant Saber’s route. I found Saber’s route to be the weakest and easiest of the three. What do you expect? She’s by your side all the time, anyway, and the first route is like the calm before the storm. It was very entertaning, yes, but don’t be surprised if you come away from Fate wishing that it was something more.

As I found later, this was the intended reaction. The next route, Unlimited Blade Works, is your classmate Rin’s route. It is decidedly more dangerous, more risky, has an overall darker tone, and is way more badass. In this route you have a limited supply of allies, and Shirou relies on himself more. In addition, questions raised in Fate are answered and new questions arise. The route is suitably and incredibly epic, and by the end you’ll wonder how things could get any better.

But the final route, Heavens Feel, is the most epic, twisting, jaw-dropping, and unbelievable story I have ever seen told in a visual novel, and maybe in any medium. If the rest of Fate is a game, then this route is your pissed-off brother coming to upend the entire game board. It is your friend’s sister Sakura’s route, and let me just tell you: it’s no coincidence that “Heavens Feel” and “Hell” have the same letters in them. Shirou goes through pure, unmitigated torture, resisting absolutely fucking everything in his path, having to basically fight the entire world of FSN on his own, all for the sake of one girl. And it is just awesome. It will make you laugh, cry, and rage. It will surprise you constantly. During the endgame I was just staring in disbelief at my computer screen almost the entire time, wondering how it could get any worse–and then it just exceeds all expectations.  But it’s also very dark, very heavy, and the plot is probably not for everyone–only mature readers need apply. But then again, it is Nasu.

Indeed, as you progress through the game, you’ll learn very quickly that there are many ways to get yourself maimed, mauled, stabbed, disemboweled, and in worse cases, exploded. Luckily, for that you have the Tiger Dojo! Easily the most hilarious part of the game, you can access the Tiger Dojo when you get a bad end. It is a successful exercise in breaking the fourth wall, and features the FSN characters completely out of their element as they tell you exactly what you did wrong. I found, though, that their advice can be quite helpful, especially if you’re going through the game without a walkthrough.

So overall, the game is awesomely fantastic. But is it perfect? No, it has its shortcomings. Is it close? Pretty damn.

For this novel, Nasu employs a precise impressionistic writing style which may get on some reader’s nerves. The fact that this is translated by Mirror Moon, a group that tried to stay as irritatingly close as possible to Nasu’s original vision doesn’t help matters. As a result, some sections of text make little to no sense whatsoever, and you will see a lot of redundant lines, such as “I’m dead. I’m dead. I’m going to die. I know right then that I am going to be killed.” So if you can get used to that, and get used to the phrase “a puppet with its strings cut” repeated over and over again, then you should be good.

The other gripe that I have with the game are the sex scenes. They just aren’t that good. They feel completely tacked on and get lost in the rest of the story, making them almost completely unnecessary in a lot of cases (not Heavens Feel, but that’s always the exception).  The way that Nasu writes just isn’t suited to erotica, in my opinion, although there are some out there who absolutely love his stuff. So I guess that’s just a matter of preference and opinion.

I can’t call Fate/stay night the best eroge ever, because it’s really not even an eroge. It’s so much more than that. I would call it the second best visual novel that I’ve ever read. My head is still spinning from the thrill ride that I just got off of. And that’s why despite its shortcomings, it still delivers. 10/10 from me.

Posted on May 18, 2010, in Visual Novel Reviews and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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