RATING - R18
DEVELOPER - Type-Moon
TRANSLATOR - Mirror Moon and Insani
LENGTH - 50+ Hours
VERSION PLAYED - Voice Patch (adds voices), Realta Nua Patch 4.2 (adds CGs and BGM)
If you've read my Sharin no Kuni review you might remember that G-Senjou no Maou is my favourite Visual Novel of all time. Fate/Stay Night hasn't quite found its way to the very top, but is has rewritten my expectations for the Visual Novel genre and given me nearly 3 days' worth of exceptional entertainment (and more, if you consider the anime adaptations that I now have to watch). I could go on about how much I enjoyed it, but I think my time would be better spent convincing you to play it so you can see for yourself.
Fate/Stay night is set in Japan, where a deadly battle for the mysterious artefact known as the Holy Grail takes place. The aptly named Holy Grail War isn't an ordinary scrap, either - Heroic Spirits from the past with extraordinary powers are summoned by 7 Magi (chosen by the Grail itself, incidentally) to compete for their prize: the granting of any wish their hearts desire. The Heroic Spirits, known as Servants by the Masters that summoned them, are grouped into 7 classes: Saber, Archer, Berserker, Rider, Lancer, Caster and Assassin, each with their own specialities and each with the desire to claim the Holy Grail.
Emiya Shirou lives to help others; after being rescued from certain death as a child he can think of no better reason to live than to repay the kindness that was shown to him. However, Shirou is forced to confront his own ideals when he is dragged into a war he has never heard of to fight for an item he doesn't need, with only the thought of what others might do with its power spurring him into action. He can't let the disaster of ten years ago be repeated.
While my above description may sound like the blurb for a Hollywood action movie, Fate/Stay Night's plot is incredibly deep and thus very hard to do credit to in only a few paragraphs. The story starts off rather slowly, but quickly gains momentum to become a tale that you just can't stop reading or thinking about. Plot twists abound and although they aren't of the same calibre as others you might have experienced, they still keep you wanting more. The bottom line here is that Fate/Stay Night has a top-notch concept and some of the best writing I've seen in a visual novel.
The high quality continues with the characters, main or otherwise. Each character is interesting, consistent and has a reasonably detailed background that fits and explains their personalities. Honestly, there isn't much more you can want than that. Even the character that, to me at least, seemed bland to begin with goes on to gain a more developed personality while at the same time justifying the way they were before. If I were forced to make a complaint it would be that liberties are taken with the story behind each of the Heroic Spirits, but that's par for the course with this sort of novel and doesn't detract from the overall experience even a little bit.
When first exposed to the art style chosen for Fate/Stay Night I wasn't at all impressed. I started to justify it to myself by saying it was because the Visual Novel was old, but in truth I didn't need to justify it at all. While different, Fate/Stay Night's art works for it and by the time I was a decent way into the story I fully appreciated the developers' art style choice. I'll admit that the CGs won't make a random bystander swoon with awe, but while I was reading they were able to perfectly visualise the situation described and help me feel immersed in the story despite their simplistic design overall, which is really all I can ask for. Beyond the CGs themselves, the character sprites have a variety of poses that are tailored to their specific personalities. I especially enjoy the "how can I bullshit my way out of this situation?" expression, which is done particularly well on two of the main characters (in situations which usually resolve peacefully, because the protagonist is completely oblivious).
For a Visual Novel made in 2003, Fate/Stay Night uses more visual effects that any other VN I've read. A character surveying a scene will be shown by the camera moving around and zooming in on different aspects of a CG, and the mental breakdown of a character can be shown in any number of interesting ways. The real highlight, however, is the way battles are displayed, with slashes and sparks flying across the screen and some attacks causing the camera to shake due to their sheer power. It's something you have to see for yourself to appreciate, but I assure you that it works perfectly. When mixed with the sound effects, and a BGM which suits the story excellently (but wouldn't necessarily stand up on its own), Fate/Stay Night becomes an incredibly immersive experience. I should probably also note that the voice acting is stellar, although you will need a patch to add the voices as they were only recorded for the PS2 release. It's important to note that the audio and visual components aren't spectacular on their own, it's when they come together with the rest of the novel that they really stand out.
Fate/Stay Night has three main routes, each acting as a near-standalone story with only basic details being missed out in each successive route, which is alright because you are forced to complete them in order. An anime adaptation and movie have been created which follow the first two routes, with the third being exclusive to the visual novel (and the most entertaining, in my opinion - so don't you dare try to get way with only watching the anime) [Edit: An anime for the third route is currently being made. Still no excuse though.]. Fate/Stay Night has a staggering amount of content, taking me 68 hours to complete, easily the most time it has taken to complete a Visual Novel with no gameplay components to speak of (and I read pretty fast, folks). On top of the five main endings, there are 40 bad endings that you must try to avoid during your playthroughs, though there are some bonuses for those persistent (or bad) enough to find all of them. Some of the bad endings are pretty decent in their own right (and some of them are pretty gory, to boot), so I would recommend following a guide to watch them all.
SUMMARY - To be honest, I thought it would take a while longer for this day to come. An Excellent score is not one that I give out lightly - in fact, I try not to give them out at all. Despite my attempts to find something wrong with Fate/Stay Nightthe only negative things I can say about it are incredibly minor when compared to all the things it does right - and it does a whole lot of things right. The degree to which each of its components complement each other is unmatched in my experience, and anyone referring to Fate/Stay Night as anything less than a classic is doing it an extreme disservice. For all that is good in the world, YOU MUST PLAY THIS GAME.
PLOT - 10/10
CHARACTERS - 10/10
AUDIO/VISUAL - 8/10
OVERALL SCORE: 10/10 - EXCELLENT