Fate/Unlimited Codes First Impressions

We get our hands on this portable fighter and send our Servant out to capture the Holy Grail.

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Type-Moon's popular Fate/Stay Night series of visual novels has spawned a number of multimedia products, including an anime and the fighting game Fate/Unlimited Codes. Though it has been out in Japanese arcades for over a year and was subsequently released there on the PlayStation 2 and PSP, it had yet to see the light of day elsewhere in the world until now. Capcom is finally releasing this anime-style fighter beyond the land of the rising sun in the form of a PSP download-only game, and we recently had a chance to dive right into the Fifth Holy Grail War.

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Fate/Unlimited Codes is a hybrid 2D/3D fighting game in which a group of powerful magi known as Masters summon legendary warriors called Servants to battle each other over the Holy Grail. Nearly all the action takes place within a flat 2D plane, though the characters and backgrounds are 3D and some special moves and attacks feature a much more dynamic camera. Fate features a wide selection of game modes, including the standard Arcade mode, which is a series of nine battles for the Grail that feature story cutscenes for each character; Practice mode, which allows you to test out special moves and combos; Tutorial mode, which helps to teach you about basic and advanced battle techniques; Mission mode, which allows you to select from a list of specific tasks to perform; and a mode that lets you battle a friend over ad hoc Wi-Fi.

The battle system is very straightforward, and we were surprised at how easy it was to learn. Though there are a number of more advanced techniques that require finesse and skill to pull off, the basic gameplay is easy to grasp, and the special-move button combinations are simple to execute. Battles consist of best-two-out-of-three contests of strength, and each participant has two overlapping life bars to blow through to proceed to the next round. Characters have light, medium, and heavy attacks, and special moves are for the most part performed by inputting simple commands such as back-forward or forward-forward and one of these attacks--the move will be performed differently based on which attack type is used. As you brutalize your opponent, your magic meter gradually fills to one of three charge levels, and you can expend it to perform powerful and flashy super moves, to cancel out of attacks, and more. As both fighters beat up on each other, they also charge up the Holy Grail, and whoever is able to top it off gains a powerful advantage that can turn the tides of battle if effectively used. It may seem like a lot of absorb, but between the Tutorial and Mission modes, it's really easy to figure out how everything fits together.

There are a total of 17 characters, and though their special moves are generally performed the same, each contestant plays drastically different and commands the battlefield in a different way. Saber, for example, can easily chain together her special attacks and constantly keeps her enemies on their toes with charging attacks. On the other hand, Caster works best by keeping her foes at bay with ranged attacks. Rider is excellent at misdirection thanks to her ability to leap into an attack stance that can be followed up or simply canceled, and Assassin's long sword lets him keep the punishment up while keeping his distance. Other characters we saw that fans should recognize include Bazett, Berserker, Archer, Gilgamesh, Luviagelita, Kotomine, Rin, Shiro, Lancer, and Sakura. If you beat Arcade mode and fulfill certain requirements, secret characters, new costumes, and additional stages can be unlocked.

Rider sometimes gets a little too hands-on...
Rider sometimes gets a little too hands-on...

The cel-shaded visuals are true to the art style of the anime and visual novels, and they look quite striking on the PSP--everything from the backgrounds to the various attack animations looks great in motion, in particular the super attacks and special moves that feature a more 3D camera. Additionally, the music heard thus far is top-notch from menu screens to individual battle themes. One final thing to note about the audio is that Fate/Unlimited Codes comes with the Japanese audio fully intact, so fans will be able to hear the voice talent that they've become accustomed to in action once again.

Fate/Unlimited Codes will come out exclusively as a PSP download this September. Be sure to check back then for our final word on this portable fighter.

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