A fun, if merciless grind
By The Fighting Hobbit
Among the ‘gacha’-style games, “Fate Grand Order” stands among them as the most popular boasting nearly twelve million downloads in the US alone, an enthusiastic fan community and several dedicated guide pages in forums, Wikis and even in online publication Den of Geek. With a colorful, attractive cast of playable ‘Servants’, heroes and heroines culled from the annals of history, mythology and popular culture, as well as mainstays from other Type-MOON properties such as “Fate/Kaleid Liner”, it’s easy to find your favorite and raise them up to be a force to be reckoned with. These Servants fall, with some exceptions, into one of seven Classes based on their traits and deeds - Saber, Archer, Lancer, Rider, Assassin, Caster and Berserker. The lore of the game and the accompanying media franchise is exceedingly deep and shows a passion and creativity that is to admired, especially since the series creator, Type-MOON, released the original Fate game, “Fate/Stay Night”, some sixteen years prior as soft core pornography.
There are, however, a few drawbacks.
The premium economy can be rather unforgiving. At $30, you can purchase a ten-roll with some extra Saint Quartz, the in-game currency, sprinkled on top, with the promise of a guaranteed four or five-star Servant or Craft Essence, essentially a piece of equipment for a Servant to wear that increases their stats and provides a beneficial effect (“Volumen Hydrangeum”, for example, provides three hits of invulnerability, or “Kaleidoscope” can have your Servant enter the battle with their Noble Phantasm Gauge, a meter that rises to unlock that Servant’s ultimate attack, have a starting charge.) However, the rates for Craft Essences are much higher than Servants. Therefore, it’s easy to roll multiple 10s and not come out with a single four-star or five-star Servant. And while the game is balanced wonderfully in such a way that even lower rarity Servants can still be viable (the three-star Robin Hood is widely regarded as one of the most powerful single target Archers in the game, while the two-star Hans Christian Anderson, a Caster, provides powerful team support) the attraction to getting rarer and rarer Servants is the draw and lends to the insidious nature of gacha games that promote gambling addiction.
And then there’s the grinding. FGO is an extraordinarily ’grindy’ game, even among contemporaries such as “Granblue Fantasy” and “Raid: Shadow Legends”: raising your Servants to higher echelons of power require leveling them up using ‘Embers of Wisdom’, which come in bronze, silver, and gold variations, with level caps requiring specific materials farmed from the game, events and as random drops from enemies. The game can be downright parsimonious with the drop rates of some of these materials outside certain time-sensitive events, and some cannot even be accessed until later stages of the game. So if you happened to roll the four-star Berserker of El Dorado in an event but have no access to the Agartha story chapter, her power will be severely hampered and you’ll find your enthusiasm likewise hampered.
However, the game alleviates this by drip-feeding events into the player base: at the time of writing, the Valentine’s Day event is underway where the player must collect various item drops to make chocolate, create a factory to produce more and more chocolate and clear a tiered item shop where more chocolate means rarer and rarer items. As a cute bonus, you have the option to give Valentine’s chocolate to your Servants or have them given to you by your Servants in a special cutscene, adding a bit of personality to what would be faceless anime avatars (the four-star Berserker Ibaraki-Douji, for example, will reluctantly give you chocolate that she herself has taken a bite from, and the five-star Rider Ozymandias, will take you on a midnight stroll while proclaiming his own greatness before presenting you with a box of Sphinx kittens) and endearing this colorful cast of characters to players.
Because that is the greatest strength of the game, and the Fate series as a whole: character. The wide variety and depth of character makes what should be a money mill for the developer evolves with smart writing and simple, easy-to-understand but nuanced gameplay that rewards creativity and understanding the mechanics of the game.