A truth for the ages. It took me 42 hours to learn this, you know, and I'm not going to act like it wasn't a tough trip. It wasn't like the time I watched LoGH, eagerly devouring hours of material every sitting. It wasn't like when I was 14 and I had the free time to consider 40 hours a medium-length game. It was a serious test of patience getting through the first third of Fate/ stay night. There's a lot you need to get past.
Obviously, the visual novel format is not for everybody in the first place: player input is minimal and you really are reading a book. It's quite removed from even something like Phoenix Wright: you read that game too, but you're also thinking critically, solving puzzles, and being involved. By contrast, Fate and its ilk are a different approach to game narrative altogether: just make the player the viewer instead of the player.
It's not really a bad idea in theory, and Fate's extremely user-friendly interface makes it easy to specify exactly how you want to read the story: I put it on auto-play, sped up the text, and shortened the pauses between lines a little bit. A custom-tailored sit back and relax situation. A lot of people argue that this isn't a videogame at all. I beg to differ. It's obviously a videogame. You have to vicariously save a fictional princess. That's a damn videogame.
"You", by the way, are Shirou Emiya, a young dumbfuck who winds up a Master in the Holy Grail War. Simply put, seven mages are chosen as Masters, summon Servants-- each of whom is the reincarnated spirit of a legendary hero-- and do battle in hopes of obtaining the Holy Grail. Shirou accidentally summons the strongest servant, Saber, and the two fight a superhero war and (genre requirement) fall in love. I rather like this part of it: there's no question that Type-Moon has built a really rich mythology for their characters. The game actually has, for example, an RPG-styled status screen that you can use at any time to read up on the particulars of the Servants, their histories, and their abilities.
As I mentioned elsewhere, the particulars of all this are explained at great length, which is fine, but writer Kinoko Nasu has a serious problem with restating himself: the line "people die when they're killed" is famous at least partially because it's emblematic of the kind of obvious statements these characters regularly make, over and over again. A lot of the time I would just put on my headphones, get up from my chair, and fix my figure shelves, looking back every so often at the dialogue as the characters repeated themselves without end.
The only time you will be thankful for this is when Shirou makes repeated, in-depth descriptions of the horrific abuse he takes in battle with Servants. This is because Shirou is a total, unbearable douchebag and by far the worst thing about this game. He's not a "I don't like him but at least he's interesting" character like you see in stuff like Eva or Macross Plus. He's just straightforward, honest, stubborn and when presented with a choice, he always makes the wrong one. He doesn't make reasonable decisions that happen to go wrong: he purposely makes the most boneheaded moves imaginable, all the way through. He's supposed to be self-sacrificing and heroic, but he just looks like an idiot with a death wish. Not a bad guy: just too fucking stupid to live. To make matters worse, the game-- and Saber's subconscious, and indeed, the universe itself-- is one hundred percent on his side.
Like, okay, let's say you're Shirou and you're protected by this ghost of a swordswoman whose abilities are miles beyond human, and the two of you have got to fight a bunch of things like her. Let's say that. Would you really be so unwilling to suck up your chauvinism as to say "Hey, listen... you're a girl. You can't fight, see. You've got a pussy." (protip: not actual game dialogue)? Would anybody? Seriously? I can accept swords that shoot god lasers and a dude who has to die twelve times, and even a spear that hits whether or not it hits, but for the life of me I can't imagine the inborn superpower that made Shirou such an imbecile. Even love is only so dumb!
In fact, one of the best parts of the game is-- when given the chance-- making even dumber choices than Shirou would normally make, and getting him killed in gruesome fashion. Dying in Fate is not really a bad thing at all: writing about slow, nasty deaths is probably Nasu's strong point. Furthermore, you're actually rewarded with the comic-relief Tiger Dojo sections, which are a worthy goal in and of themselves. Ostensibly, minor characters Taiga and Ilya are around to tell you what you did wrong. In practice, the choices are usually pretty obvious, so when you die, you probably did it to see this comedy twosome's wacky antics. Beware of lions!
The fighting is surprisingly well-done for a game of this genre: it's still on the cheap and done in stills, but the engine at least ghettoes out some movement with a lot of visual effects that really do go a long way towards making the slideshow feel kinetic. I did have one big complaint about the fights: the reuse of artwork. Each character has five or six "fighting" illustrations used during all fight scenes, and it's extremely rare that two characters are ever shown onscreen in battle with each other. You hear them fighting, Shirou describes it, you see stock art of the flash of a blade, but you never really see what the hell is going on. The servants always look like PVC figures, no mater what condition they're in, and there's never a point where I visually feel the impact of the battle. It's a little frustrating when the verbal description of battle is so grand and the visual presentation thereof is so not.
Also, like a magical girl show or a super robot anime, Saber's big attack is always the same two drawings in sequence, all the way to the very end. Coupled with all the other reused artwork, it feels really lazy that even a special moment like this is never treated as such. I'm pretty sure they even use the same voice clip.
Speaking of action, let's use this opportunity to giggle like children about the sex scenes. There are two on this route--one as a result of a hilarious, too-convenient plot device-- and they are both written as though by aliens who are trying to figure out this "human sexuality" thing. Nasu writes his sex scenes more or less the same way he writes his horror, except the music is different. "The white flower is violating the red flower" is particularly silly. And you know, I really hesitate to call this porn. Porn is about getting what you want right now, or at least sometime today. If you wanted porn, there are much easier ways to get it than to read a videogame for twenty hours and then read it for twenty more hours when you wanted some more. Just sayin'.
In conclusion, I am curious enough to maybe trudge through the next part. So I might. In any case, look forward to my reimagining of FSN, "Fate/ Puppet Show" (tm), coming soon to a cardboard box near you.