PS4, PC, Nintendo Switch, PS5
September 29, 2023
The Fate series has been around for decades, but you’d be forgiven for not diving into its rich lore and back-story up until this point. Fate/Samurai: Remnant serves as a solid way to get involved with the broader Fate universe, offering its best combat mechanics to date, with several RPG systems intertwining. Combine that with a deep narrative spanning generations and timelines along with an Edo Japan setting that is gorgeous to roam around, and you have the recipe for a sleeper hit, even though its overly-long campaign and lore dumps can sometimes leave you feeling a little exhausted over long stretches.
For background (bear with me here), the Fate series kicked off with a visual novel back in 2004 called Fate/stay night. Through visual novels, animes and video games, including one incredibly popular mobile game in Fate/Grand Order, the franchise has bounced between different mediums. Still, the common thread is the event known as the Holy Grail Wars. These Wars include Masters and Servants, but these Servants are actually powerful spirits that can be summoned to aid you in battles.
Set in the fourth year of the Keian Era (1651) during the Edo Period, Fate/Samurai Remnant follows swordsman Miyamoto Iori, who is suddenly dragged into a conflict known as the Waxing Moon Ritual, where seven Masters and Servants fight so that one can grant any and all wishes. This sets the tone for a high-stakes battle of the ages, but despite the franchise existing for so long, Fate/Samurai Remnant smartly places you in the shoes of Iori, who doesn’t really understand all the chaos he has been dragged into. This means that you’ll be learning about it – the history, the characters, the Holy Grail Wars, all of it – just like Iori is, which makes it a good entry point for newcomers to Fate.
“…worldbuilding moments that give a real sense of place and purpose to the large cast of zany characters, which I really appreciated.”
Even though the game does a good job of explaining what’s going on, it does so in a not-so-elegant way. Large chunks of the early game are spent with characters dumping lore on you. Sharing their long back-story, talking about the War, talking about Servants, all of it. It’s a lot to process, and while the voice acting is generally very good, it’s entirely in Japanese, which means a lot of reading subtitles for English-speaking audiences. I can have a short attention span, and there were multiple times my brain tuned out from long dialogue scenes that went on for anywhere between five and fifteen minutes. It’s well-written and interesting, don’t get me wrong… it’s just a lot.
This text-heavy approach is at least mitigated somewhat by the anime-style visuals, with a cast of colourful characters set in a mostly gorgeous backdrop of Edo Japan. While towns don’t often have much to interact with apart from some stores to peruse, citizens to chat with and four-legged friends to pat, they’re all well-realised, and it’s a joy to wander through towns like Asakusa, Yoshiwari, Ueno and others in this Edo period.
Your main companion, Saber, adds another layer to the world, as they have come from a different time period. They’re excited to explore and have a serious love of food (relatable), and their child-like wonderment as you head to various parts of Japan is quite heartwarming. They have their own mysterious past, of course, and their real name hidden. In fact, there are a lot of compelling side-stories I came across when encountering other Servants. Through Digressions (which disappear if you don’t do them promptly), you’ll get flashbacks, side quests and other worldbuilding moments that give a real sense of place and purpose to the large cast of zany characters, which I really appreciated.
Fate/Samurai Remnant has several gameplay systems at play, but at its core, combat is musuo style, à la Dynasty Warriors. It’s fast-paced and wild, with multiple enemies rushing onto the battlefield at any given time, and it nails the satisfying feeling of juggling them in the air as you combine strikes and abilities in a glorious fashion. Battles against grunts in particular are fairly easy to slice through, demolishing hundreds of foes swiftly.
There are some combat encounters that require a bit more thought, however, with stronger enemies that need strategy, not just slicing. There are four different fighting stances to switch between, each feeling unique from the others; Water stance is fast and reliable when dealing with large crowds of foes, while Earth stance is more suitable for grounded, slower-paced one-on-one combat. Switching between the stances once they’re charged up gives you buffs and damage bonuses mid-battle, so it pays to switch between them frequently, even though I did find myself favouring Water most of the time and investing in that skill tree more heavily.
You’ll also have magic spells to keep track of, four of which can be equipped at a time, and can be charged up and unleashed to help turn the tide of battle, as Iori is lucky enough to be proficient in magic. Then, on top of all stances and spells, you have your Servant with you, who can trigger spells as well that are quite powerful. You can even take control of them fully as an ultimate ability, and they really rip through enemies fast, so they’re incredibly useful for getting you out of tough spots or dealing massive damage to a boss. Did I mention that other Servants join you as well, so you can switch between them on the fly?
It’s a testament to the quality of Fate/Samurai Remnant that it manages to weave all of these combat systems together successfully in a way that is not overwhelming. Once you crack it, there’s a fluidity to combat, switching between sword-play, magic, Servant abilities and ultimate attacks as you break the shields of enemies, all the while dodging for that elusive slow-motion counter and inevitably watching all the bodies hit the floor. Even after tens of hours of play, I still found myself pushing the wrong button or choosing the wrong ability amidst the wild fight scenes, but it’s bloody fun finding that harmony within battle scenes regardless.
I was expecting fast and furious combat in Fate/Remnant Samurai, but I wasn’t expecting the tactical overlay that is introduced early on known as Leylines. These lines (or tracks really) add a layer on top of the world map view, where you can move from city to city in a sort of territory-control game against enemies on the opposing side. You’ll often need to get from one location to another, moving between other cities, like pieces on a board. You’ll collect power-ups along the way, and enemies move a turn at the same time as you, so you’ll need to block them from reaching your home, either by cutting them off (destroying them instantly) or by engaging in battle with them directly, musuo style.
What seemed like a mini-game at first turned into an important ongoing part of the main gameplay, and the tactical part of my brain very much enjoyed taking on these challenges, slowing down to think about enemy positioning, using abilities to increase the number of turns I had and engaging in combat on my own terms. There are even bonuses for finishing battles within a set time limit, and you’ll earn experience along the way, so it’s just as useful using Leylines as it is roaming around the open zones fighting grunts.
“…the tactical part of my brain very much enjoyed taking on these challenges…”
Other systems throughout bring Fate/Samurai Remnant into more RPG territory; each stance and each Servant (and their various abilities) have skill trees that you’ll be working through, activating new spells and upgrading their health, defense, attack, and so on. At your home, you have a Magecraft workshop that is used for upgrading everything, and you can change the mounting of your weapon for additional buffs and perks. You even have minigames like sharpening your sword for an EXP boost or carving a small statue. The lore, while it’s plentiful, is all catalogued reasonably well with lots of additional detail on characters, locations and overarching themes, which is certainly helpful to keep track of everything that’s going on.
It must be said that Fate/Remnant Samurai is a really meaty experience, and I don’t just mean the dumplings and other Japanese treats you’ll eat to regain health. A playthrough, without even factoring in all of the Digressions available, will take around 40 hours or so, with a lot more to uncover for those who want to complete everything. Then, in a second playthrough, new story elements and additional quests open up, adding even more to the story. It must be said that during the review period I did not have enough time to delve into a second playthrough, but if you enjoy the game or if you’re a fan of Fate in general, there’s a lot of content here to sink your teeth into.
- Deep combat system that is satisfying and fun
- Leyline's add a unique spin on gameplay overall
- Likable cast of characters with interesting side stories
- Good entry point into the Fate series for newcomers
- Lots of lore for the uninitiated and an overly long campaign
- A little complicated to wrap your head around its various systems
A surprisingly well-rounded package, Fate/Samurai Remnant has lots of ideas, and somehow makes them all work together well. It manages to satisfy both musuo-style combat aficionados and tactical strategy folk alike, with fast-paced slasher combat mixed with numerous abilities and an overarching territory control component that is deeper than it looks at first glance. The Fate history and lore can be a lot to take on board, and long stretches of dialogue feel like a burden to the pace of things, but an intriguing cast make this a solid entry point for newcomers with enough content to make long-time fans incredibly satisfied as well.