Fate/Stay Night and why it isn’t worse than Fate/Zero

Okay, so. I know I’ve neglected this blog for a while. I’ve been lazy, doubting my validity as a writer, etc. But I’m going to try to stop being stupid about this again. Besides, I have a thing I want to write about right now. Something I’m currently very passionate about. That thing is Fate/Stay Night.

 

You may remember a while back I did a review of the Fate route. It took me forever to actually finish this VN, but now, years later, I actually have, and I have a lot to say.

 

Honestly, the biggest thing driving me to write this is actually the popularity of the Fate/Zero anime. I agree with everyone who thought it was excellent. It was. I’m glad it’s bringing more people into Type Moon’s works. Type Moon does excellent work and more people should expose themselves to it. However, I’ve noticed a trend among some Fate/Zero fans who have no other exposure to the Fate/ universe that has been frustrating the living hell out of me for ages now. That trend is, of course, to bash Fate/Stay Night while praising Fate/Zero.

 

This post is about why those people are wrong.

 

No, I am not going to tell you that you have to like Fate/Stay Night because it’s the original. That is absurd. Instead, I am going to point out why Fate/Stay Night is a finely crafted story and not at all throwaway like so many people are suggesting now. Expect spoilers for both Fate/Stay Night and Fate/Zero.

 

A common complaint I see levied against Fate/Stay Night is that its characters aren’t complex enough compared to Fate/Zero’s. This is the most egregious attack Fate/Stay Night gets and I am beyond tired of it.

 

Yes, Fate/Zero’s characters are delightfully complex. Kiritsugu is a prime example, given what a divisive character he is among fans. Some people identify with him while others detest him. The same goes for Kotomine, his foil. Very few characters can be completely written off as “evil”, or “bad”. Not even Caster and Ryuunosuke really can, as they have a sort of charisma that makes them likable despite being serial killers. I’d say that only Zouken and possibly Kayneth can truly be written off as entirely detestable (and if anyone here likes Zouken, please go play the Heaven’s Feel route of Fate/Stay Night, then get back with me). Nor are any of the characters in Fate/Zero entirely likable. Even the iconic Saber has her morals called into question. Though it is certain that neither she nor many other cast members can be called evil by any stretch, the majority of them make rather questionable decisions at some point in the series itself or in their pasts. Pretty much only Irisviel can truly be considered innocent (and to some even she can’t entirely since her relationship with her husband’s servant seems a bit too friendly. Maybe my lily tinted glasses are on too tight, though).

But on what planet is all of this not also true for Fate/Stay Night? The actual story of Fate/Stay Night is complex and leaves quite a few questions of morality to ponder. For instance, is Kotomine evil? You may say “yes, of course he is, look at what he did to those orphans!”, but there’s so much more to him than that. Kotomine throughout the whole of Fate/Stay Night is far more complex than Kotomine as he is in Fate/Zero. Kotomine is a man who genuinely wanted to be moral and good and upright. It was the way he was raised, after all. But he discovered that the things that bring him happiness are the things believed to be wrong. In Fate/Zero this revelation is what brings him to the forefront as a villain, but it’s so much more in Fate/Stay Night, particularly in the Heaven’s Feel route. Kotomine does have some values that are actually quite beautiful, particularly that someone or something cannot be judged as good or evil before it is born.

 

Even fairly minor enemy Servants like Rider and Caster are portrayed as having more to them than just good or evil. Caster in particular is a far more complex character than she appears to be at first glance. So, she’s draining life force from innocent people? Using methods of deception? Evil, clearly! Except no. She’s not killing any innocent people. She doesn’t drain enough of their life forces to actually kill them. Also, we see a softer side of her at times, particularly her death in Unlimited Blade Works. She genuinely loves Soiichiro, and just wants to enjoy this fleeting happiness she’s been granted via this Grail War. Her life was pretty awful and generally involved her being used as a scapegoat. She just wanted to be loved for once, really. Even though she’s painted as a villain, it’s kind of hard to truly call her evil. Rider, meanwhile, is beyond sympathetic. Especially once you get to Heaven’s Feel. She’s remorseful about having to use Bellerophon on her pegasus to make him fight. She detests Shinji and truly cares about her true master, Sakura. She’s an incredibly loyal and trustworthy servant. Shirou may feel like she’s evil, but even her alignment, chaotic good, says otherwise.

 

I feel as though the most interesting example of twisting a character into ambiguity, however, is Alter Saber. It’s true that it was an outside force that warped her, but nevertheless, in Fate/Stay Night, even the glorious, righteous King Arthur can be corrupted and made irredeemable. Her becoming a force of evil was irreversible, thus making her fall from grace all the more tragic. It’s also noteworthy that it was her own arrogant decision, separating herself from her master in order to protect him without bothering to hear his input, that led to her fall. This indicates that it wasn’t just some random outside force that she couldn’t help, and it gives the feeling that Alter Saber is a dark side that Saber had inside her all along.

 

Fate/Stay Night has a reputation for being “just” an eroge, “just” moe garbage, not as good as Fate/Zero, et cetera. However, none of this is true. Anyone who is writing Fate/Stay Night off for it having sex scenes is completely misguided. This is a 40+ hour game, and the sex scenes make up 2 hours of that time or less. There are 2 sex scenes in the Fate route, one in Unlimited Blade Works, and 4 or 5 in Heaven’s Feel. None of them are that long. The majority of the game is plot, and honestly, there are more unnecessary cooking scenes then there are unnecessary sex scenes.

 

I can come up with plenty more specifics, but basically the point is that Fate/Stay Night is every bit as deep and multi-faceted as Fate/Zero is.

 

Also I honestly think it’s a shame that most people’s knowledge of Fate/Stay Night seems to essentially be limited to the Fate route. I don’t know if it’s because people don’t bother with the VN and just watch the godforsaken anime, or because people get tired of the VN’s length and drop it after the Fate route, or what, but basically in general I wish more people would pay attention to Heaven’s Feel. That route pretty much takes everything you know about Fate/Stay Night, punches it in the stomach, and laughs in its face. Gilgamesh is taken out in one blow. Saber becomes evil. Kotomine is actually more or less a good guy. Et cetera.

This has been a very incoherent excuse for a review. I’m sorry. Also no pictures this time because I don’t have access to my laptop, therefore I also do not have access to the screencaps I took for this.

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I have a secret that I haven’t told you…I’m a magi

I am so horribly behind on the times. It took me up until this past July to finally stop being lazy and start playing visual novels, after End Game spent the whole summer poking me to play Umineko. I refused to play Umineko since it wasn’t completely released yet, but all of her poking did convince me that it was high time to start playing VNs. So where did I start? Where else? Fate/Stay Night.

This was the most epic battle in the entire Fate route

I had watched the Fate/Stay Night anime when the American DVDs were released here. That had a lot to do with my choice to play Fate Stay Night. I enjoyed the anime, especially at first, but towards the end it started to get insanely confusing. I was hoping the VN would explain things better, which it did. Read on for a proper review. Heads up, though; the idea of porn starring Shirou Emiya was not something that sounded too appealing to me, so I installed the anti-ero patch that covers the Fate and Unlimited Blade Works routes.

Okay, I should probably start with a quick terminology lesson for anyone that doesn’t know much about visual novels before getting into the review. A visual novel is kind of like a video game, usually for the computer. However, instead of controlling a little sprite that walks around and fighting enemies, all you do in a visual novel is read text and make choices. What choice you make affects the outcome of the game. They’re kind of like those pick your own path books from the 90’s, only more sophisticated and detailed, and yes, they actually are fun. They’re especially nice for people like me that suck at video games. I also mentioned the term “routes”. In this case, I’m referring to the fact that Fate/Stay Night has three different versions of the game, so to speak, and you play them in order. They’re Fate, Unlimited Blade Works, and Heaven’s Feel. As I’ve only just started playing UBW, this review obviously only covers Fate. From what I understand, “route” can also refer to the choices you make affecting which girl you end up with in dating sim VNs, too.

So, the basic premise of Fate/Stay Night is…not simple at all. Every 10 years, the Holy Grail appears in Fuyuki City, where the story takes place. 7 magi each summon a “Servant” from 7 different classes (Saber, Lancer, Archer, Rider, Caster, Berserker, Assassin), and proceed to duke it out in a battle royale for the right to possess the Holy Grail and obtain a wish from it. The only problem? You play as Shirou Emiya, a pitiful excuse for a magus with no idea what’s going on.

The game starts with a prologue from the perspective of another major character, Rin Tohsaka. If only the whole game was that way. Sigh. The biggest problem with Fate/Stay Night is that Shirou is so annoying. I’ve heard that this gets better in the later routes, but I’ve yet to see. You probably all know who Shirou Emiya is regardless of whether or not you’re familiar with Fate/Stay Night. You probably know him because he is the great philosopher of anime that told us “People die if they are killed”. Yeah, you get to play as that guy. And trust me, his Fate wisdom extends beyond that. He also lets you know that you can’t catch lightning because it is lightning. There are plenty of these and I should have written them down, but now you can discover them for yourself by playing the game. As annoying as Shirou is, this game really is worth playing.

The best part of Fate/Stay Night is to get to know the Servants. Shirou, despite being pathetic, somehow manages to summon Saber, who is regarded as the best of the Servants. Note, the Servants are all epic heroes; historical figures or mythological characters that have become legendary. So as you go through the story, each Servant’s identity is revealed. Saber is the Servant that gets the most development and screen time, but all of them are fascinating. I still have a soft spot for Caster left over from the anime, despite her minute role in the Fate route. Rider is awesome on many levels, as her battle against Saber displays. Seriously, Rider and Saber  scale a skyscraper while they have at it. Is that not total badass? There’s even a Pegasus involved. Towards the end of the Fate route, Lancer is just plain badass and wins at life in order to go out with a bang. It’s tough because you get attached to almost all of the Servants, but only one can survive to the end, and none of them can stay…unless you count the second Archer.

Sometimes people are horrible and fuel a servant that has drunk from the Holy Grail. The fluid within the grail keeps the Servant sustained in the human world after the War is over. They’re fueled with souls. This is how a second Archer happened. End Game keeps referring to him as Girugamesh and making me unable to unsee really bad things involving the second Archer and Sakuracon and Vic Mignogna.

Also, Taiga is hilarious and made of win. The Tiger Dojo sequences that follow a bad end choice are hilarious, as is any scene with Taiga involved. If you’ve seen Azumanga Daioh, Taiga is comparable to Yukari Tanizaki. They might even be the same person in secret, but I don’t know because it’s a secret.

I can’t do a lot of compare/contrast stuff yet, since I’ve only played through one route, but I can definitely recommend playing Fate/Stay Night. It’s a good visual novel and definitely worth your time. Do yourself a favor, though, and don’t try to use the Studio DEEN TV series as a shortcut. Maybe use it as a litmus test for your interest in the Fate/Stay Night franchise, but otherwise it’s best to avoid it and just play the game.

I’d give Fate/Stay Night’s Fate route high marks, but it’s still not the best story I’ve ever read. Hopefully Unlimited Blade Works and Heaven’s Feel will be more interesting. I’ll probably do reviews of those as well when I finish them.