Fate/stay night (Visual Novel) – Review (Spoilers!)
Fate/stay night is one of the longest visual novels out there. I’m proud to have finished reading it. It was a long journey, but it has finally come to an end (at least for now). Instead of writing a separate review for each route, I decided to write one review for the whole game.
When I began playing Fate/stay night, I expected it to be long. However, I had no idea it would take me over a year (14 months and 2 days, to be precise) to complete it. Of course I didn’t spend all that time playing (reading) – as can be seen from my Rewrite and Night of the Forget-Me-Nots reviews, and I also played Grisaia for some time. My total playing time of Fate/stay night was somewhere around 8 days and 10 hours. A part of that time the game was either minimized or I wasn’t even using the computer. So the timer just ticked while I wasn’t playing. Still, a good ~120 hours were spent.
What do I think after spending all that time reading a single literary work? For the most part, good. As I mentioned, I’m proud that I completed one of the longest and most popular visual novels. Yet, I still have mixed feelings. I don’t regret reading it, but several parts could be better.
Lets start with the ‘Fate’ route. As in all three routes of the game, the main character is Emiya Shirou, a high-school student in Fuyuki city. One day, he gets dragged into the Holy Grail War that determines one person who gets their wish granted. To determine that person, a deadly battle commences, with 7 ‘Masters’ using their summoned ‘Servants’ to kill the others. There are also 7 servant classes: Saber, Archer, Lancer, Caster, Assassin, Berserker, Rider. Shirou summons Saber, who is also the main heroine of the ‘Fate’ route. The route is basically an introduction into the Fate/stay night universe. Many rules of the Holy Grail War are explained and several twists are revealed. Along the way, Shirou is helped by the most popular girl in school – Tohsaka Rin.
Everything goes according to the rules, until another servant appears. It is Archer, but he’s the Archer from the previous Holy Grail War. His name is Gilgamesh and he is the strongest servant ever. When he appeared, my excitement was probably at its peak. Such a plot twist was amazing. His ego and power to support it both make him one of my favourite characters in the VN. As expected of somebody like Gilgamesh, he easily defeats Caster, the last remaining servant except Saber and Lancer, and declares that he wants Saber for himself. They know each-other from the previous war, where Saber was also summoned, but defeated. The strange thing is the servants’ inability to retain memories from other wars.
Saber is an exception to this. She did not get summoned to the Holy Grail War because her wish was granted in real life (which would turn her into a heroic spirit). Her wish was to obtain the Holy Grail, since she is King Arthur (yes, Arthur is actually Arturia according to Fate/stay night). She willingly became a heroic spirit that is trapped in a cycle of summoning for eternity, just to obtain the Holy Grail. Shirou, as he is, of course disagrees with such outcome. He’s a guy with very traditional views like “girls should not fight”, “a man must protect a woman, no matter what”, and of course he can’t see Saber as anything except a fragile woman. Which is why he doesn’t miss the chance to have sex with her. This is the part I hated the most.
The sex scenes ruin the game! One of the qualities of Fate/stay night is a well-built universe with strict rules and boundaries. Suddenly, when the need arises, a shortcut appears – bang a hot chick and all your problem will be solved. Woohooo! That’s how Shirou and Saber survive the fight against Berserker. They have sex, which replenished Saber’s magical energy. Way to break the universe you spent so much time building.
Anyway, coming back to Gilgamesh. The reveal of his master is an even bigger twist. It’s the supervisor of the Holy Grail War, a priest name Kotomine Kirei, who isn’t even supposed to be part of the war. Not only does he cooperate with Gilgamesh, but also has Lancer as his servant in the current war. Nevertheless, he has no wishes, so he is willing to give the Holy Grail to Shirou if he wants it. Of course Shirou doesn’t, after learning that the Holy Grail is evil and grants wishes in the most evil ways. Instead he wants to destroy it, even against Saber’s wishes. As she learns about the war’s nature, though, she agrees with her master and together they try until they defeat Kotomine and Gilgamesh.
It’s a happy ending with a small bit of bitterness, because Saber goes back to her time and dies like King Arthur should. Not before taking away the sheath of Excalibur from inside Shirou, of course. Shirou continues living his peaceful life, filled with wishes to once again meet the girl he loves. Even though she’s been dead for hundreds of years already. Just like my excitement for the ending. Seriously, the route dragged on for waaaay too long. I understand that it is an interactive book, but the part after the appearance of Gilgamesh was just boring. This also played a big part in me having negative thoughts about Fate/stay night. Funny thing – people say that it’s almost impossible to unintentionally get to Bad End 13. I did.
Moving on, we get to the second route – ‘Unlimited Blade Works’. It is a route concentrated on Shirou himself, and his ideals. In this, he is assisted by the Archer of the current Holy Grail War. The love interest this time is Rin, the master of Archer. Unlike in ‘Fate’, here Archer doesn’t get injured by Saber at the very beginning, and hence has plenty of time to make fun of Shirou and criticize him. On the other hand, the boy has many opportunities to see the servant fight, and adapts his fighting style.
Just like Berserker (Hercules) was the main villain for the majority of the ‘Fate’ route, Caster (Medea) takes the spotlight in the ‘Unlimited Blade Works’. Her master is Kuzuki-sensei from Shirou’s and Rin’s school. He isn’t a magus, and has no wish, but is willing to help Caster obtain the Holy Grail. Caster’s Noble Phantasm is weak, but can dispel all magical contracts. She uses it to steal servants from their masters, and obtains Archer and Saber. Taming the female King of Knights takes a lot of effort, so Archer stands at the entrance to the church where everything is happening. There he defeats Lancer who came to help Shirou and Rin kill Caster and save Saber. He proceeds to go inside and skewer Caster with blades, just as she and Kuzuki turned the tide of the battle and were about to win. the protagonist duo are confused and happy at the same time, because it seems Archer willingly became a Trojan Horse (instead of blatantly betraying his master).
That’s just a momentary emotion. Archer attempts to kill Shirou just after finishing off Kuzuki, but is topped by the now free Saber, who forms a contract with Rin. Knowing that he can’t defeat Saber, Archer kidnaps Rin and demands Shirou to come to Berserker’s master’s (Ilyasviel von Einzbern) abandoned castle to face him. To face himself – because Archer is the heroic spirit Emiya, Shirou’s future self who followed his ideals and sacrificed himself his whole life. His final sacrifice saved the world, but deemed him the culprit of the disaster. He died and got added to the pool of heroic spirits. Why does he want to kill his past self? To use the last straw of getting free. He doesn’t want to follow his ideals anymore and hopes that by creating a paradox, he’ll be freed. In reality, that’s unlikely, because he has already been removed from the time axis and the Holy Grail wouldn’t just let a heroic spirit go.
The day of the fight arrives, and Emiya Shirou faces Emiya Shirou. An amateur magus from a normal high-school against a heroic spirit with unlimited blades. The outcome of the battle is obvious. And yet, Archer gets distracted and doesn’t strike the boy. And gets killed… I was almost facepalming at this point. What did the ‘Fate’ route emphasize to the point of constantly repeating it? That a human can’t fight a servant. The power levels are simply too different. There is no way for a human/magus to defeat a servant in a one on one fight. What do we see here? Shirou kills Archer. Okay, Archer didn’t really fight him, and was in a trance mid-fight. But what happens next? Shirou proceeds to use Archer’s Noble Phantasm, Reality Marble, to get access to an unlimited number of Noble Phantasms (their projected copies, to be precise), and defeat Gilgamesh. Yes, a magus defeats the strongest servant ever. It’s not even about Gilgamesh being serious or not. This defeats the whole point of ‘Fate. First Shirou completely forgets about his views on female warriors and lets Saber do all the work, and then he kills servants left and right. He doesn’t even use his own magical energy – he draws it out of Rin, which became possible after having sex. Whatever.
It turns out Archer was just wounded and conveniently appears to finish off Gilgamesh and save Rin and Shirou. And Matou Shinji, Shirou’s nasty childhood friend and Rider’s former master. There are two types of endings to ‘Unlimited Blade Works’ – True and Good. In one Tohsaka begins teaching Shirou magic, while in the other Saber somehow stays even after the Holy Grail is destroyed, depending on Rin’s magical energy. The True End is better ( and much more realistic) in my opinion.
But finally we get to the third route, ‘Heaven’s Feel’ featuring Shirou’s relationship with the final heroine. Her name is Matou Sakura and she is Shirou’s cute and shy kouhai. On the surface, at least. She’s the sister of Shinji, and lives with her brother and grandfather, Matou Zouken. A normal family, as it seems at first. Then we are told that Shinji isn’t a magus, and magic was taught to Sakura – through quite brutal ways. She’s the one who summoned Rider, and her grandfather lives in her heart. Literally. As a worm. He is 500 years old and was one of the three who designed the Holy Grail War. He wants to become immortal, having lost sight of his original goal of achieving world peace. Now he’s busy talking about not wanting to rot, letting his grandson rape his adopted granddaughter (who is actually Rin’s sister), and occasionally throwing Sakura into a pile of magic-eating worms in their basement. No surprise Sakura became a sex maniac and can’t live without sex. Once again, literally. If she doesn’t have sex, she will die from the crest worm living inside her.
Not just that. Sakura is a fake vessel for the Holy Grail. The real one is Ilyasviel (Ilya for short). Since Sakura is a fake Holy Grail, she can’t control the process very well. Her “shadow” goes around killing people and sucking their magical energy. She also takes in Lancer, Caster, Saber and Berserker. Kotomine dislikes how the rules are being broken and send Gilgamesh out. Gilgamesh looks down upon the Shadow, who turns out to be Sakura herself, and takes his sweet time killing the girl. Which he pays dearly for, as he gets swallowed like all others. What a lame ending for the King of Heroes who was the main villain of ‘Fate’ and ‘Unlimited Blade Works’. However, he’s still overpowered – the Holy Grail can’t overpower is ego and hence he doesn’t become a Dark Servant like Saber and Berserker.
Sakura quickly loses her sanity and finally turns evil. Now we learn that she’s not just the vessel for the Holy Grail. She’s also the contractor of the 8th servant. Avenger aka Angra Mainyu is eagerly waiting to be born, in order to flood the world with 6 billion curses placed upon him. He’s also the one taking Sakura’s sanity, up to the point where she takes her grandfather out of her heart with her bare hands, attempts to kill Shirou and lets Rin get raped over and over after swallowing her (in a bad end, of course). In the end we get to see Kotomine fighting – of course just to be beaten by Shirou who now has Archer’s arm that is about to flush his consciousness with its overwhelming magical energy. True End and Normal End both let Sakura be saved. How else could it be, after Shirou threw away all his ideals from ‘Fate’ and ‘Unlimited Blade Works’. The difference is in the protagonist’s fate. As the lack of Good End hints, Shirou dies either way. That is the sure price he must pay for sacrificing the lives of hundreds (potentially the whole humanity) to save the one he loves.
In Normal End that’s exactly what happens. Shirou dies and Sakura is saved. She lives her whole life waiting for the boy’s return. Based on the black-and-white background and how only the spring sequences were shown, Sakura lost any other meaning in her life. She’s just living from spring to spring, wishing for a promise to be fulfilled – a promise to see the sakura blooming. Then she dies of old age. The end. The True End is more like a happy end, and felt like the true/canon end of the whole Fate/stay night visual novel. Shirou doesn’t wipe out his existence, and is instead saved by Ilya. His death can’t be changed, but he can be revived as something similar to a human. I didn’t really understand what that meant, and reading the Internet explained that his soul was placed into a part of Ilya’s body, later found in the river by Rider. And so they live happily ever after with Rider and Sakura living in the Emiya household, Shirou’s soul remotely controlling the puppet body, and Rin studying magic abroad.
Even thought I found ‘Heaven’s Feel’ quite weak as a route, I must admit that it had some of the best Bad Ends. The first one is ‘Heart of Stone’ in which Shirou decides to follow his ideal and be a superhero. The way everything is said shows 100% certainty that Shirou will win the Holy Grail War. Not just assuming he will, or that he will attempt – he really will win. No idea how, but that kind of narrative was great. The second one, which in my opinion was more impactful than any real ending of the game, was ‘Sparks Liner High’. It is the final battle between Shirou and Black Saber (Saber Alter). Shirou draws the last bits of power from Archer’s arm and defeats Saber. It is not enough to kill the servant, but she is left immobile for 10 minutes. Saber tells Shirou to finish her off if he wants to save Rin. As he doesn’t answer, she looks in the direction of the boy. He’s lying there, looking up. He’s alive, but he’s no longer there. His consciousness is gone. Seriously, this scene was so impactful! Especially because of the OST! It’s not even called a Bad End or Dead End. It’s just ‘End’. After seeing that, I just couldn’t continue playing that evening. That’s how impactful the scene was.
And that’s it. That’s what I spent all those hours playing. This post contains many complaints, but as a whole, it was a good experience. I didn’t exactly become a fan of the Fate/stay night universe (Nasuverse), but I might read Fate/hollow ataraxia and Tsukihime sometime… later. Much later. For now I’m tired of such shounen’ish battle stories. Maybe after Grisaia, Saya no Uta and Umineko.
There was one big reason why I wanted to read this visual novel. It was also the main contributing factor why I picked it up again after months of not playing (played Rewrite and Grisaia). I wanted to see Fate/Zero. Yes, I came into this without seeing/reading Fate/Zero and came out the same way. Started watching it the next day, though, and I’m at episode 6 of the first season already. I take it with a grain of salt, since it came out after Fate/stay night visual novel, and there could be inconsistencies, which I will always interpret in favour of the original.
With another visual novel completed, I’m beginning to feel like my blog is actually becoming a visual novel blog. Incidentally, I’ve also started spending more time on VNs than I do on anime. That’s actually something I expected – when I began writing this blog, I intended it to have manga, light novels, anime, movies, OVAs, visual novels and any other medium. Right now it’s VN time, as I’ve discovered how interesting and captivating reading actually is!
Would I recommend Fate/stay night? Without a doubt, yes. Everybody should read it if they read visual novels or plan to read them. It is a classic. Some people might like it more, some less. It is still one of the most important visual novels in history.
Posted on January 6, 2015, in Fate/stay night, Visual Novels and tagged angra mainyu, archer, assassin, berserker, caster, emiya shirou, fate, fate/stay night, gilgamesh, heavens feel, holy grail, ilyasviel von einzbern, kotomine kirei, lancer, matou sakura, review, rider, saber, tohsaka rin, unlimited blade works, visual novel. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.