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Fate Unlimited Codes
Fate Unlimited Codes is a fighting game by Capcom for the Sony PSP, originally meant for Japanese arcades and which was shortly translated into a PS2 title. Both of those original versions got skipped for US release, and instead we got the portable version meant for Sony PSP, which is unfortunately exclusively available via Sony's PSN store. As far as I know, there is no retail version, even if it would only include a download voucher like Patapon 2 does. A shame, really, as this title deserves a full blown retail UMD release, though it serves as another confirmation of Sony's plans to have a slew of download only titles ready for the PSP Go release (and that PSP 1000, 2000, and 3000 owners can purchase already).
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What is Fate? First Impressions
Fate Unlimited Codes is a one-on-one Sony PSP fighting game based on what seems to be one of the most successful visual novels in Japan. There is also a Japanese animated series based on this novel, and frankly I believe exposure to both may be necessary if you're interested in making any sense of the convoluted storyline.
Fate Unlimited Codes presents the player with a total roster of 17 characters, some of which are unlocked as you keep beating the Arcade mode with other characters. Like many other 3-D fighters, the characters engage each other in a 2-D plane, with the third dimension used for a sidestep move that can come in handy to avoid attacks or to try to regain an advantage when cornered. Most of them use weapons to fight, and some have special gauges not found on other characters that control certain factors such as limited projectiles, or stocks of special attacks. Interestingly, the game uses a somewhat simplified control scheme, as even though it feels like a 2-D fighter with 3-D models, the moves are performed using simpler motions more commonly found in 3-D fighters such as Tekken. Rather than perform circular motions for a fireball type move on some characters, you'll have to press forward two times quickly and then an attack button. Of course, grapplers still retain moves that require a 360 degree spin on the control.
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Fighting System at a Glance
Rather than use a more traditional fighting system in which characters have separate punch and kick buttons of varying strengths, its developer has opted to use three attack buttons and a button reserved for a special parrying move. If you've played the Bleach fighting games for the DS, you'll feel right at home, as there are light, medium, and strong attack buttons and a reflect guard move that can be a dash, just like in the Bleach DS titles. Pressing this buttons in a sequence from light to medium to hard (with some varieties allowed depending on the character, such as medium, down medium, hard, down hard) performs what the game calls a Slash Rave. It's their fancy name for a chain combo.
As previously mentioned, moves are performed using simple commands, such as back, forward, attack button rather than by doing complex circular motions, and it is worth noting that this change is a PSP feature. The original arcade and PS2 versions used standard circular commands for its moves. This makes the title quite accessible with the PSP's uncomfortable directional pad.
Matches are simple fight until a fighter runs out of health affair, or the timer reaches 0. There's no fancy tag team feature or any of the sort, so they're a pure fighter against fighter affair. Characters also possess a Super meter (called a Magic Gauge) divided in three sections that allow them to perform deadlier moves, burst escape moves, and some special moves also use some of this energy. There's also a Holy Grail gauge that both fighters share, and that when full it confers one of the characters the chance to perform its most devastating attack. Some characters also possess their own additional gauges that control certain factors tied to them. All in all, it's an interesting fighting system that will feel familiar and enjoyable.
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A Detailed Look at its Fighting Engine
The fighting engine in Fate Unlimited codes is very fast paced, easy to get into, and quite capable of putting out a big assortment of fun, over the top combos and moves. The previously mentioned chain combo system can be used creatively to create juggling combos that can last for quite a while, with the possibility of big Super moves or Special moves at the end for flair and extra damage. Each character has its own way to come into its own with this combo system, and it's a lot of fun. You can also interrupt a standard chain combo by pressing forward and the Reflect Guard button, which creates what the game calls a Reflect Dash. This uses up a stock in the Magic gauge, but it allows you to start the combo over if you're fast enough, and can be used to create some devastating combos if properly used. Air combos can be performed by creatively using any of the myriad of launching moves that characters have. Some of these launchers are standard moves, and a few others are special moves and it depends on the character that you're using.
While most characters seem to favor the flexibility of the combo system to perform devastating combos, there are also two characters that can perform big damage with 360 degree motions for grapples. Unfortunately, pulling those off with the Sony PSP pad can be difficult, so these characters feel slightly handicapped.
For mobility, Fate Unlimited Codes has a few options that are fairly common in fighters these days. You can tap twice forward to dash, and twice back to do a backstep. These serve to close gaps, or to help in avoiding attacks. The backstep has a small invincibility window. Neither forward dash nor backstep can be performed in the air. There is also the obligatory super jump by pressing down / up quickly, though it's not the sort of really high jump seen in Marvel vs. Capcom; it's similar to the one in King of Fighters.
Characters in Fate Unlimited Codes have a two tired life gauge. At first you will diminish their health, the life gauge turning yellow. Once it's completely yellow, this yellow life gauge will diminish as well. While it's mostly just a cosmetic difference from a standard health bar in a fighter, it's important to note, as chip damage will appear to be extremely high due to this mechanic. Fortunately, rounds can't be terminated by chip damage; once you're at 1 health, you won't suffer anymore of it.
Just like many other 2-D fighters, Fate uses a Magic gauge at the bottom to stock Super attacks and allow Reflect Dashing, Burst Saves (uses up all your available stocks but allows you to escape from combos and replinishes health for a while), and access to the Holy Grail Special Move.
There's another Gauge, located right between the fighter's life gauges and it's shaped like a cup. This is the Holy Grail Gauge, and it fills out as both characters receive damage. Once it's full, it will confer a "Holy Grail Advantage" to one of the characters, allowing it to perform its most devastating special move. Of course, the Magic Gauge must also be full, and a Burst must be performed. You can only use the Holy Grail Special Move before the burst is over, but connecting with it will do extreme damage, so it's worth it for its power to quickly turn the tide in a fight.
Some characters also possess their own specific gauges or stocks for combat. Kotomine, for instance, has a blade stock. Once he runs out of those, he can't throw blades for the remainder of the round. Archer has an "Aria Counter". He has a Super move that uses up a Magic stock that fills out these Arias. Once they're full, he can perform his most powerful move. Rin has a stock for the amount of magic jewels she has available in a round, and so on.
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Characters and Story
Fate Unlimited Codes draws its pool of characters from the anime and Japanese visual novel Fate Stay Night. These 17 characters diviced in two groups: the Masters, which are human characters such as Shirou and Rin, and the Servants, which are magical beings that depend on their Masters to take form on the physical world, such as Saber and Rider. Servants possess a real name, but they're named by the "class" that they belong to. These Servants are heroes from all ages of history, some even from the future as the pool that they're drawn from does not know any limitations imposed by the linear perception of time that humans possess.
So these characters are locked in a struggle to posses the power of the Holy Grail, a powerful artifact that will grant the wishes of the person that acquires it. Of course, the Grail is useless until it's been filled with magical energies, and these energies happen to be the souls of the Servants that the Masters have summoned to fight in their name. To be honest, and I know fans of the visual novel and anime will disagree with me, but I find the whole story to be unnecessarily complex and difficult to follow. The game also takes tremendous liberties with established historical facts or oral tradition, such as reimagining Arthur Pendragon as a female, and the Holy Grail having no relation to the artifact in the Arthurian legends as the cup that Jesus Christ drank from, and instead being some sort of spiritual vessel. There is also a Catholic priest that fights by throwing dark daggers that bring to mind the concept of sacrificial blades. Anyway, this may all make sense if you're a fan of the source material, but the game makes no effort to truly explain what is going on.
As for the characters, most of them have somewhat generic anime designs. Yes, they animate well, and there are definitely some moments that they expose to possess actual personalities, but their designs just bring to mind some other character elsewhere. Rin, for instance. I can't help but confuse her with a certain Soryu Asuka Langley of Evangelion fame. Fortunately, they handle wonderfully in combat, so any generic feeling is quickly forgiven once the gameplay starts.
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Visual and Aural Presentation
While the quality of the character models in Fate Unlimited Codes is nothing to write home about, their colorful designs stand out, even if they're not wholly original. Animation during gameplay is smooth and satisfying, and the gauges are easy to read and never detract from the battle.
Music is very well done, with a multitude of great tracks that fit the game very well. The voice acting during combat is well done, and their storyline related conversations seem to be well acted out (as I am not a fluent speaker in Japanese, I can only judge it when compared against other games and some anime titles).
Menus are easy to navigate and big, bold, and colorful. In general, I'd say the presentation is very well done.
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Fate Unlimited Night has the obligatory Arcade mode, which you will play to unlock the additional characters and to experience each character's story. You need to finish this mode with each character to unlock additional costumes for the characters, some images for the art gallery, and the character's models to view them in the model viewer. Beating it multiple times will also unlock certain movies to watch in the theater, though most of these are related to titles that have not been released outside Japan. Unfortunately, if you've played any other fighting game, you'll find that the Arcade mode is quite easy, posing very little challenge even in the hardest setting.
There is also a Survival mode that will be unlocked as you finish the game in Arcade mode with most of its characters. Of course, there is also an ad hoc versus mode, so if you have any PSP owning buddies with a copy of the game, you can take them on.
The game also includes an obligatory Practice mode, and a few handy modes to learn to play the game. The first of them is the Tutorial mode, in which you'll be taught all the basic commands shared by the game's cast of characters. The Advanced Tutorial will teach you certain techniques that are a little trickier to pull off. The really interesting learning feature is the Mission Mode. This mode sets a series of challenges that you need to beat to complete. These may be things such as performing specific combos (which will teach you many useful attack combinations), beating opponents with the odds stacked against you, or even besting certain mini games. You need to keep completing missions to unlock new ones, and there are quite a lot of them, adding tremendous replayability if you enjoy that sort of thing.
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Content Advisory and ESRB Rating
Fate Unlimited Codes is rated Teen by the ESRB. The ESRB based this decision due to it containing the following elements:
- Mild Language
- Mild Suggestive Themes
I believe that it is also important to note that there is some innuendo present in the title, some of it unavoidable due to its source material (the original Fate / Stay Night visual novel on which the anime and the game are based had a few sexual situations, and is considered as an "adult visual novel" in Japan).
Female characters are rendered with voluptous figures, and the developer made ample use of bouncing physics for their chests. Some female characters also possess certain Special moves that have them perform erotic looking acts, such as Sakura's move in which she gets on the floor on all fours and crawls towards her opponent, her clothes revealing as much of her chest as possible without it being considered formal nudity while performing it. Some characters also wear attire that make panty shots inevitable during closeups if the underwear was modeled. Instead, what happens is that you see skin colored polygons with no discernible features; think of a Barbie doll. Parents should consider their individual parenting philosophies before purchasing this title for their children if they are concerned by any of this material.
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Final Evaluation and Recommendation
Weird storyline, generic looking anime characters and a dumbed down difficulty seem like negative marks against this game, but thankfully those are just the weak elements. The fighting engine is fun and quite solid, while the simplified command scheme suits the PSP's directional pad quite well.
What really matters is that at the end of the day, Fate / Unlimited codes is an incredibly fun fighter to keep with you on the go. It may not have the deepest engine, but it certainly has a very fun and enjoyable fighting system that should keep you happy for a long time, especially if you dig into the Mission Mode to unlock everything the game has to offer.
This game will take up 519 MB of space on your PSP's memory stick (or its insternal memory in the case of a PSP Go). Frankly, those are some very well spent storage bits!