If the banner change hasn’t tipped you off, I’ve been on a Fate/ kick lately.
Of all the big franchises to get hit by the so-called “dirty secondary” syndrome, I believe the Fate/ series is one that genuinely gets hit pretty hard by it. I’m not going to lie, I sound like a giant snobby prick for even using the term “dirty secondary”, but in Adaptation Land, if you’re one to actually care about media besides animation/movies enough venture into what’s often used as source material, you’ll find that the term often holds… well, some painful truth to it.
Although in Fate/stay night’s case, I blame it a little more on Studio DEEN than the fans themselves. Regardless, it’s utterly depressing seeing diehard fans of the Fate/Zero anime write off the original Fate/stay night as being inferior because of the DEEN anime and movie. I suppose ufotable’s new Fate/stay night Unlimited Blade Works anime is fixing that divide somewhat, but it’s still there to a certain degree mainly because UBW is only 1/3rd of the full experience. Plus, there are secondaries who recommend newcomers to start with F/Z, skip the Fate route – by this, they mean the DEEN anime – then watch the UBW anime (according to them, “the definitive adaptation”; it’s good, but not definitive – it’s only one route), and then after that, watch the upcoming Heaven’s Feel movie… and I’m like “no, that’s wrong, please stop for the sake of your own experience.”
While I did enjoy Fate/Zero and what it had to offer as a spin of the Fourth Holy Grail War, which was constantly and vaguely mentioned in F/sn, it’s merely a prequel at the end of the day (note: different from preceding work) meant as an expansion to an even greater tale that people are unfortunately diluting their own experience of. F/Z spoils more of F/sn than the latter does for the former, and I wish more people that are thinking of getting into the franchise had that in mind, instead of getting fed a bunch of crap from, well, dirty secondaries.
With the context and details that weren’t present in any of Studio DEEN’s animated adaptations, the visual novel is certainly one hell of a ride, even with the shoddy English fan-translation desecrating the Nasutext. I’m 21 now and dislike using the word “epic” to describe, well, anything. But here I find it the word extremely fitting, because it is fucking epic.
I mean, okay, as much as I loved it, it was far from perfect. Like the onslaught of info-dumps, diarrhea of the mouth, cooking scenes that make you hungry, etc. Art-wise, Réalta Nua PSVita should have updated the art to match Takeuchi’s current style. But the pros definitely outweigh the cons of Fate/stay night. Nasu’s world-building is excellent, so as a person who appreciates that kind of imagination in High Fantasy stories such as this, it’s no wonder that I enjoyed it so much.
Alright, enough with my unnecessarily long preambles, and onto the review!
AW SHIT, WRONG SERIES
Visual Novel Structure
PC Original (Full MV)
Here we have it: FATE/STAY NIGHT, FOLKS. Whether we got into this series from here, through the anime, from the prequel, or even from Fate/Kaleid Liner PRISMA ILLYA, we all should be well aware that everything concerning Fate/ is pretty intense.
—-The one who obtains the Holy Grail will have any wish come true.
The Holy Grail War.
A great ritual that materializes the greatest holy artifact, the Holy Grail.
There are two conditions to participate in this ritual.
To be a magus, and to be a “Master” chosen by the Holy Grail.
(The experience as a magus is not questioned if one has the aptitude)
There are seven chosen Masters, and seven classes of Servants.
There is only one Holy Grail.
If you wish for a miracle.
Prove that you are the strongest with your powers.
The story of Fate/stay night is set in a Japanese city called Fuyuki, where the Holy Grail War takes place. As the name of the battle implies, it’s a fight to obtain the Holy Grail – based on the Holy Grail from Arthurian literature, it’s an ancient artifact that is said to be able to grant any wish. The Holy Grail War is a battle royale in which seven participants – usually magi, but there are exceptions, chosen by the Holy Grail – act as “Masters” by summoning an Heroic Spirit each to become their Servant. What is a Servant? No, before that, what is a Heroic Spirit? Well, the gist of it is that they’re heroes. Heroes that have been engraved in our legends, fables, myths – their great deeds were immortalized by humanity’s memories of them, and in turn, they became our guardians even after death, receiving a seat in the Throne of Heroes, a place that exits outside the world’s time axis and cycle of reincarnation.
When the seven chosen Masters make a contract with these Heroic Spirits for the ritual known as the Holy Grail War, the essence of seven Heroic Spirits that are pulled from the Throne of Heroes by the Holy Grail and are given vessels to serve their masters. These vessels are seven “Classes”, and in the Holy Grail War seen in Fate/stay night are as followers: Saber, Lancer, Archer, Berserker, Rider, Assassin and Caster. The proof of the magi’s status as Masters lie in their Command Spells – three claims of absolute obedience that a Master has over their Servant, which appear as marks on their body.
But enough of the info-dump; you get it in better detail by simply playing the visual novel. All you need to know right now is that the last Master/Servant combo standing are the victors of the Holy Grail War.
The majority of Fate/stay night‘s “gameplay” is, of course, like most other visual novels: the game is mostly spent reading and enjoying the narrative, with “decision points” appearing at specific intervals of the story that can either raise flags, branch out to different events or routes, or simply offer alternative scenes that don’t really change the path of the story in any way.
As most people that are familiar with the anime series are aware, the main protagonist of Fate/stay night is, of course, the amatuer magus Emiya Shirou, a boy with a strong case of survivor’s guilt that lives his life to help others. However, a freshly-installed game will start you off with a prologue from resident tsundere-super-magus prodigy-extraordinaire Tohsaka Rin’s point of view, who botches up her summoning of Saber and instead summons an Archer. It goes by pretty quickly if you don’t read like a turtle, and mostly serves as an introduction to how under-the-radar the Holy Grail War is supposed to be and how intense/superhuman the fights between the Servants are when you witness Archer going at it with Lancer.
The prologue pretty much happens at the same time as an earlier portion of the next segment that you’re allowed to do once you get the prologue done, which is the common route where you finally play as Shirou. After Archer’s fight with Lancer, Lancer retreats because Shirou, presumably a bystander at the same, saw the fight. Cue Lancer stabbing Shirou and Rin using up the magic in her father’s pendant to revive him. From Rin’s POV, she realizes that she’s an idiot for leaving it at that, because Lancer goes after Shirou again in Shirou’s POV. As she goes to rescue Shirou, she finds that Saber is there and fending off Lancer instead. Once Lancer retreats, Saber changes her target to Rin and Archer. She almost mortally wounds Archer and is prepared to kill Rin. This is where the prologue ends. After which, Fate/stay night *really* begins and you’re now allowed to start the rest of the story from Shirou’s point of view.
In the original PC release of the visual novel, there were three routes. You started off with the Fate route during the first run, and after you’ve completed that, the game unlocks the ability to diverge into the Unlimited Blade Works route by making specific decisions during the first few days. After you complete that route, you unlock the ability to branch into the Heaven’s Feel instead.
The PC port of Fate/stay night Réalta Nua, which was a CERO C (Age 15+) version of the visual novel for the PS2, had the three routes as three separate games with shared saves. So, the readers were allowed to choose which route to start with right off the bat. However, as the novel was originally written to be read in the “Fate → Unlimited Blade Works → Heaven’s Feel” order as evidence by the original, I don’t recommended doing so.
(If you have the OP patch for Réalta Nua PC where the route openings are replaced with the PSV ufotable versions, one of the three PS2 openings will play after you finish the prologue, depending on which game you’re reading the prologue on. Click to view: Fate | Unlimited Blade Works | Heaven’s Feel)
(SPOILER WARNING FOR NEWCOMERS, READ WAHFUU’S OLD REVIEW FOR A MORE SPOILER-FREE REVIEW)
The Fate route is the obligatory introductory route that you start out with in most versions of the visual novel (again, the order is “optional” in Réalta Nua PC). It’s mainly used as a set-up to let you get familiar with the world of Fate/ and how its rules work, easing you into the intensity that you will experience in the other two routes. For this reason, the Fate route has the misfortune of being widely agreed to be unable to stand alongside UBW and HF when they’re compared separately. Even though the heroine is arguably one of the most popular Servants in the franchise, Saber. If you’re a giant Saber fan, you’re going to at least appreciate the amount of screen time and focus she has in Fate.
On its own – and I really mean on its own, since I don’t think any of the routes are meant to be compared to each other – it’s not as bad as what the DEEN anime made it seem. I think it does what it sets out to do really well. There’s some cool fights and twists in this route, and plenty of mysterious “Chekhov’s Gun” drops that are further explained in the other routes, so as a so-called “vanilla route” in Fate/ terms, I think it’s pretty solid for what it is. Not excellent by any means, but solid. Shirou’s admittedly still a moron; thinking that he can somehow fight against the other Servants in Saber’s stead because he’s a big strong man and she’s a woman, even though she is a Servant and demonstrates multiple times that she can break him in two. Goddammit. But everything in general about him isn’t really that infuriating when there’s context behind how his character works, what he’s been through, and what drives him. I honestly think people were too harsh on the guy because of the anime adaptation, where a lot of the character development and context is taken away in favor of worshiping Saber and her waifu-bility.
Saber and her lovely sidekick
Despite this though, Shirou does play somewhat of a back seat role compared to Saber in this route, but I think it works here. The dream-flashback sequences that Shirou has of Saber which shows how much she sacrificed for the sake of others were pretty powerful, in my opinion, and her entire arc in general connects nicely with Shirou’s idealism and kind of prepares the reader for how the other routes start tackling Shirou’s character directly in different ways – namely his ideals. Also, this is the only route where it’s thoroughly explained that the reason (partly) why Shirou keeps regenerating like Piccolo whenever he gets the shit killed out of him was because Kiritsugu put Saber’s sheath, Avalon, within Shirou’s body. Again, it’s a good introductory arc, and contributes to what Fate/stay night is as a whole, so I don’t think it’s worth skipping.
A handful of Servants get the shaft in this route, who will be focused on a lot more in other routes, which is, uhhh… kind of a pattern throughout all the routes, really. Fate/stay night isn’t a standalone deal and will never be a standalone deal like the secondaries will tell ya’, but there’s no denying how pitiful it could be for each individual case. Improper Assassin, “Sasaki Kojirou” (who shares a seiyuu with a certain other blue-haired character named after the swordsman), gets a really badass introduction here, only to vanish off-screen for no explanation. Did Caster get rid of him? If not, who killed him? We’ll never know.
Then there’s Caster herself, who gets killed literally in the same scene as her introduction by Gilgamesh, a.k.a. Zero Archer to show how much of a bad motherfucker he is with his Gate of Babylon. Poor Rider is the first Servant to get offed, while doing her Noble Phantasm, to show how cool and amazing Saber‘s Noble Phantasm is, though her deaths leads to her pitiful douchebag of a “Master” Shinji (ex-friend of Shirou, how they even became friends, I’ll never know) getting smashed by Berserker. Thank you Illya, my darling.
*insert obligatory Monty Python and the Holy Grail joke*
Yeah, pretty much Saber, Berserker, Lancer, and Archer are the only Servants to have some of sort of larger presence in this route besides Gilgamesh. Well, okay, Archer is in spirit form most of the time because of the wound Saber inflicted on him in the prologue and then dies right after he sorta recovers, but he gives Shirou some teasing/helpful advice that leads to Shirou’s projecting Caliburn to defeat Berserker – which foreshadows Archer’s identity that will be explored in the next route – and then earns the name GARcher by going out whilst taking six of Berserker’s twelve lives, without his Reality Marble. Okay, he uses it in the anime, but that isn’t canon (I give DEEN credit for keeping Archer in-character here even though they get POWER LEVELS wrong). Lancer is similar in the fact that he’s mostly MIA after his initial battle with Saber, but he gets a cool scene where he double-crosses Kotomine and Gilgamesh to let Saber/Shirou escape (because Cú Chulainn is a bro among heroes) and going out with dignity while keeping Gilgamesh at bay for almost an entire day. In the anime, he goes out rather quickly, but once again, not canon.
Concerning the focal character of this route, Saber, her being a genderbent version of King Arthur was always pretty cool to me. Fate/Prototype, which is basically Nasu’s original idea for Fate/stay night, has a female protagonist and a male Arthur Saber, and it’s not bad at all, but I think the way the actual Fate/stay night was handled commercially ended up just fine. Saber, being a female that was obligated to act as a male her entire life, is a great non-intrusive twist and added to her character who gave up her individuality to be an ideal king.
But… yeah, I enjoyed the Fate route. The final battle was… not as jawdropping compared to what’s to come, but regardless, seeing Gilgamesh getting owned by Saber was pretty sweet. Seeing Shirou punching the Azoth Sword into Kotomine’s chest was pretty sweet. Seeing Illya not die and getting along with Sakura and Fujimura was pretty sweet.
Saber’s ending is pretty bittersweet, in contrast, but even without taking Réalta Nua’s additional “True Ending” into account, I thought her epilogue was beautiful. Last Episode was a good ending though, and I’ll get to that after I finish going over the next two routes, since their completion is a requirement to unlock it anyway.
Moving onto to the second part of the VN!
-I am the bone of my sword-
-Steel is my body and fire is my blood-
-I have created over a thousand blades-
-Unknown to Death-
-Nor known to Life-
-Have withstood pain to create many weapons-
-Yet, these hands will never hold anything-
-So as I pray, UNLIMITED BLADE WORKS-
Unlimited Blade Works
And here we have it, folks, the Rin route. And by “Rin” route, I mean that as loosely as possible because it’s mostly about Archer and Shirou, the living swords. Truly, rule of thumb for visual novels is that the love interest gets priority in “shorthand” no matter what! I just stick to the official route names, honestly. Fate, UBW, and HF are just as convenient to write anyway, if not more, at least in English.
Although Rin doesn’t get as much character development or exploration compared to the other chicks, I don’t think she needs it as much because her character’s pretty developed from the get-go. That isn’t to say she doesn’t get character development or nice scenes (she gets pretty rad scenes in all the routes, actually), but if you’re expecting LOADS AND LOADS of tragic background or gigantic focus on her “romance” with Shirou, you’re not going to get it here. That isn’t a bad thing, in my opinion, because you have none of those elements detracting too much from the main storyline, while at the same time, you still have Rin being a solid, relevant character. Sasuga Rin.
Anyways, Unlimited Blade Works is the route that REALLY made it hard for me to take a break from reading. It’s a shame that some people ruined it by watching DEEN’s UBW movie, which was basically just a slideshow of the route’s battles without… well, everything else that made the route great. Which isn’t bad if you’ve already read the VN and just want to see those fights animated, but if anyone’s serious about getting anything out of Fate/ period, just…a big fat no on the anime. ufotable’s anime, on the other hand, is… pretty good so far, but I’ll save that for another post. Gist of it is, it’s almost exactly the same as the VN’s UBW with minor cons, but ufotable themselves kind of nudges that it’s best to read the VN’s Fate route first before watching anyway. Certain plot threads revealed in Fate aren’t explained that well in UBW, because you’re supposed to already know about them.
The main draw of this route is, well, the deconstruction and analysis of Shirou’s ideals. And it’s kind of necessary to experience the sheer insanity of Shirou’s heroism in the Fate route in order to truly receive the full impact of Unlimited Blade Works. It’s this route where you really begin to understand how Shirou’s mind works. He’s stupid, for sure, but it’s hard to hate him. The kid has massive survivor’s guilt from watching countless of innocents die towards the end of the Fourth Holy Grail War, and really, all he wants to do is create a world where no one cries, and giving them what Kiritsugu was able to give him on that day. As unrealistic of an ideal it is, it’s a beautiful fantasy. The problem is, he values the lives of everyone except for his own. He acknowledges he’s abnormal. People like Rin acknowledge he’s abnormal. He isn’t just some generic shounen hero that Nasu came up with on the spot to fill in the role of a VN protagonist. There’s something legitimately wrong with Shirou.
Rank E Luck at its finest
And here we have his foil, Rin’s Servant Archer. Since the entry ticket into this route is stopping Saber from injuring Archer, you get to see a lot more of him now. A super cynical, nihilistic, and mysterious Heroic Spirit that, while similar in many ways to our lovable red-headed buffoon which may come across as contradicting to the previously mentioned qualities, he looks down on Shirou’s “borrowed” idealism at every turn and… while he definitely can’t along with Archer, Shirou consistently finds it hard to retaliate against a lot of Archer’s criticism. Especially the “borrowed” part. And it makes him angry.
Which leads into to a very cool twist that was cleverly foreshadowed since the prologue and the Fate route. The pendant, which Shirou still has, yet we see Archer giving back to Rin. Caster’s comments about their similarities. Rin’s flashback dreams about Archer’s past, with a field of swords. Swords, swords, and more swords. In the Fate route, Archer’s advice to Shirou: “Emiya Shirou is not a fighter. He’s a maker.” Rin suspecting in both routes that Archer might have a connection with Saber. Then, very early into the UBW route, Shirou finds himself captivated by the twin Noble Phantasms that Archer uses, Kanshou and Bakuya, and finds himself mimicking Archer’s fighting style with positive results (much to Saber’s cute jealousy as a sword instructor). Then he finds himself utilizing projection – or rather, tracing – magic to create those exact weapons himself.
If you happen to be very perceptive, these clues start jammin’ hard in your head until the satisfying reveal. And if you’re not as perceptive, the reveal will shock you instead, and then you start recounting what has happened in the VN up to that point and then feel incredibly stupid. Either way, it’s an awesome twist. Archer is the Heroic Spirit, Counter Guardian EMIYA. The embodiment of the “ally of justice” that Shirou has been striving to be. Future Shirou. Or rather, a possible future if Shirou keeps blindly chasing his ideal without regarding himself and allowing it to consume him. Although Archer became an “ally of justice” of sorts, it’s not exactly the future that Shirou really wanted. The older EMIYA Archer, of course, is played up to be somewhat of a wild card. Not as a villain like Gilgamesh Archer or Caster, but not as a straight up good guy either. I mean, he’s out to kill Shirou and is a revolving door of betrayal, voluntarily breaking off his contract with Rin to join Caster, only to reveal that it was an elaborate plan to kill Caster by surprise, only to reveal that it was also a plan to cut ties with Tohsaka so he could… kill Shirou using his Independent Action skill to survive without a Master for a set amount of time. On the surface, Archer doesn’t have allies, he has goals.
The “Blacksmith” Heroic Spirit
I guess Fate/Zero entry-goers might have a bit of fun with this route in a different way than intended. Whereas parts of the reason why I thought Fate/Zero was somewhat fun to follow were because of the opposite reasons, I think some people… well, at least the Kiritsugu wankers, will enjoy how much Shirou became so much like Kiritsugu in the timeline EMIYA came from. The Shirou that eventually became Archer was desperately trying to cling onto his fantasies by killing one to save ten, ten to save a hundred, etc. And because he thought that selling his life to become one of Alaya’s Counter Guardians would give him the power to protect everyone after death, he instead ended up doing the same thing on a larger scale, for an eternity. He basically plays clean-up tool for the destruction that humanity brings upon itself, and since the Counter Guardians do not discriminate between good and evil when considering what is harmful to humanity, he ends up killing people who he, as Emiya Shirou, would have wanted to save as well.
This is why he wants to kill Emiya Shirou, he curses the boy who will eventually becomes a clown because of his own ideals. Apparently, Archer believes that a Heroic Spirit who kills his/her younger self that has yet to become a Heroic Spirit might create a paradox so large that it might erase his existence. In regards to that, some fans just think Archer was being a gigantic dick here because it would have made no difference whether or not he killed Shirou, since Heroic Spirits exist outside the time axis – which means that any alterations to the past won’t save him. But he acknowledges that his theory being right would only be a bonus, and literally admits in the VN that he’s just taking his anger out on his younger counterpart. Which is understandable to me – throw the spirit of a person with severe survivor’s guilt into an eternity of mass murder and then take him to any timeline where he could meet his younger self, and then see what happens – however, I can see how people could think Archer was just being a prick, especially without the context.
I’ve rambled about Archer for quite a bit because I just think he’s that compelling of a Servant. But let’s talk about other UBW humans and Servants for now. Unfortunately, Rider gets an even smaller role here compared to the Fate route – she gets killed really early on in the route, having her neck twisted by Kuzuki, one of Shirou’s teachers, who is also a former assassin and Caster’s second Master (she killed the first one, then Kuzuki met her, treated her like a gentleman when she was fading away, and promptly got his dick wet). Did I mention he had his fists strengthened by Caster’s magic, so he can take on Servants? SASUGA TADA NO NINGEN. Caster in general sort of switched roles with Berserker from the previous route as the Disc One Final Boss, and is more dangerous for the fact that she knows True Magic and has a stranglehold over the entire city and its supply of mana. Plus, as a magus, she’s a Servant that can break the rules by summoning her own Servant, which is the Assassin we met in the Fate route. She basically murdered the magus who was supposed to summon the proper Servant Assassin for this war (the general rule is that the Assassin Class will always be summoned as a Hassan-i-Sabbah, at least in this universe). Since Caster’s Assasin is an improper Servant, he’s basically stuck at the temple that binds him to the human world. He’s a pretty cool character though, and gets to have a pretty awesome duel with Saber towards the end of this route.
Berserker gets pulverized by Gilgamesh, but not before putting up a fight. In fact, Illya and Berserker’s death scene was one of the more powerful scenes to me. It might mostly be because they’re my favorite Master/Servant combo in the entire VN, but the combination of the interludes revealing their past with each other (months prior to the start of the grail war), blind Illya crawling around to find Berserker’s body, Berserker SCREWING PHYSICS BECAUSE HE’S FUCKING HERACLES and surviving long enough for Illya to die peacefully, Die Lorelei in the background, etc. etc. etc. was so well done. As a side note, I hope ufotable doesn’t fuck up this scene nor its soundtrack.
I love Illya. Fuck Gilgamesh for slashing her eyes out, stabbing her throat, and ripping out her heart.
Also, Berserker’s a bro. Pretty great guy for a wall of death.
Lancer gets to be pretty awesome in this route too. He already earned cool points for me in the Fate route for actually, well, acting like a hero like the term “Heroic Spirit” implies during his final moments. They pretty much took that and ran with it for it much longer here than in the Fate route. Crowning moments of Bro Lancer: Forming an alliance with Shirou and Rin and befriending them, teasing Rin and Saber, saving Rin from being raped by Shinji, taking Kotomine out with him when the phony priest used a Command Spell to order him to commit suicide, and using his Lancer skills to survive long enough to scare Shinji off and burn Kotomine’s body along with the entire Einzbern castle. Rank E Luck aside, you’re still cool in my book, Lancer.
Saber is cute, as usual. While she takes back seat role to Archer/Shirou and Rin in this route, she’s… well, Saber. She doesn’t get the shaft until Heaven’s Feel (in a sense). She gets put under Caster’s control because of Caster’s Rule Breaker, which destroys contracts, and spends the majority of the Caster/Kuzuki conflict fighting against the spell using her magic resistance, which is a shitty situation all around. But when Archer manages to murder Caster and set Saber free from Rule Breaker, in order to protect Shirou and replenish her mana, she makes a contract with Rin. With an experienced magus as a Master providing her with sufficient mana, we get to see Saber fight with her full potential.
Rin’s not clumsy all the time
Even with a different Master, Saber’s loyalty to Shirou is amazing. From her perspective, her contract with Shirou has not ended yet and he will continue being her Master. Saber makes it her duty to be an onlooker to Shirou duel with Archer. It’s also interesting how Saber appears to care about Archer as well. He’s a version of Shirou, after all. A person she got to know inside-and-out during her time as a Servant, who also became a Heroic Spirit and developed a nihilist outlook due to being forced to take similar actions she herself has done as a king. And knowing the type of person Shirou is in the present, she has an idea what kind of pain Archer has went through as a Counter Guardian. I like how, in the “good” path of this route, she’s essentially saved when she sees Archer’s figure one final time during the final battle.
The climax of this route is simply grand. A literal clash between the idealistic past and nihilistic future… Yeah, Shirou vs. Archer is definitely one of my favorite battles in Fate/stay night. Throughout the entire VN, the contradiction of Heroic Spirit EMIYA existing at the same time as Emiya Shirou slowly caused the latter to learn too much about his own future combat abilities at their optimal efficiency. Here, this phenomenon had an even greater effect, so every time Shirou and Archer’s swords clash, Archer’s painful memories and battle experiences flow into Shirou and almost break him every time they came into contact. But it only strengthened his resolve to keep living with his ideals without regret, and because of Archer’s own revelations during their duel (which I’ll get to later), he ends up beating his alternate Servant self. It’s the first really cool moment for Shirou in the VN, at least for me (if you do not count almost chopping Shinji’s arm off in the Fate). He’s just as much of an utter fool when it comes to his ideals as he was in the Fate route, but here he obtains the growth he needs to live more maturely about it so he won’t go down the path of self-destruction like EMIYA did.
After the reveal of Archer’s true name and the conclusion of that duel, Gilgamesh once again enters the scene as the final obstacle. The VN has a little fun now that we know that Shirou and Archer are the same person, or at least the same human being that end up going to two separate places in their life. Shirou owning Gilgamesh and his usage of Unlimited Blade Works was just a fuckton of cool:
It just sounds a really GARcher-ish thing to say, along with him mocking Gilgamesh and telling him that his fakes will destroy Gilgamesh and his originals.
(Also note that he takes Archer’s depressing incantation for Unlimited Blade Works and modifies a few lines to turn it into an affirmation of his determination – his Unlimited Blade Works.)
I repeat: Shirou looks Gilgamesh in the eye and mocks him.
Archer himself though. Just, damn, that Independent Action skill. Right after he loses his contract with Caster, he uses his Unlimited Blade Works, throws a tantrum with his past self, and then gets skewered by Gilgamesh’s Gate of Babylon… twice. And he still. Comes. Back. To save Rin and land the final blow on Gilgamesh. Holy crap. All to engrave his figure, Emiya Shirou’s ideal, into Shirou’s memory and to give Tohsaka Rin one final smile from… not Counter Guardian EMIYA, but his old self, Emiya Shirou:
(Suwabe’s Archer voice)
(Suwabe doing an Emiya Shirou voice)
Archer’s closure was really bittersweet and heartwarming, especially when he returned to his “old” look and personality. It’s strange hearing Suwabe Junichi talk like Shirou, especially after you get used to his cynical Archer voice, but that smile and farewell he gave to Rin was great. Makes you really feel like Archer’s been pulling a Batman voice the whole time. Speaking of voices though, if you were going for the “good” ending earlier in the VN, where Shirou makes a phone call to Rin to inform her that Issei isn’t Caster’s Master, she mistakes him for being Archer. It’s one of the neater hints to Archer’s true identity, but it’s kind of… weird because Shirou sounds nothing like the smooth and cool Suwabe. I guess he might sound like Archer over the phone. But it’s probably just leftovers from when the VN didn’t have voices, and Archer was definitely supposed to sound like Shirou, until the anime came along and gave them different voice actors to avoid spoilers. I definitely don’t think Sugiyama Noriaki would do a convenient enough voice to trick the viewer into thinking they’re two different people, and Shirou as he is would sound unfitting with the Mr. Smooth voice. I’m sure that there are other people in Japan’s pool of voice acting that could have pulled it off, but whatever.
Rin was a great character in this route, although as I said before, the focus on her isn’t as big as Saber and Sakura in their routes where their relationships with Shirou are a larger fixture within the plot. Rin definitely has her points of interest, like her fragile character underneath the calm and collected magus she wants people to think of her as. But what I liked about her was that she was an otherwise stable character, whose romance with Shirou never becomes anything larger than the Holy Grail War, which I think is a helluva lot more interesting than a girl’s feelings for Shirou. Romance isn’t a bad thing per se and bits of it are to be expected because it’s a bishoujo game, but I didn’t read Fate/stay night specifically for the love story, I came to read it for the shenanigans surrounding the Holy Grail War and the Masters/Heroic Spirits. But yeah, I like how Rin manages to support Shirou without their love being shoved down my throat. A stable girl like her can easily keep Shirou from going to path of Archer.
As for the alternate “good” ending… it’s, ehhhh. I liked the bit where Saber briefly saw Archer (Emiya Shirou-style) and decided not to voluntarily disappear after fulfilling her duty as a Servant, but the epilogue is… well, mostly fanservice for Saber fans. And it feels off because the route primarily focuses on Archer/Shirou and, to a lesser extent, Rin. It doesn’t feel right trading in the “Rin becoming Shirou’s mentor in magecraft” and “the Answer” portions of the epilogue, which provide a lot more closure, just to say “yay, Saber is alive, folks! THREESOME!” I like Saber not dying and all, but you lose a lot more than you gain in terms of plot closure.
After the credits roll, you get another epilogue called “The Answer” which shows Archer reflecting on his duel with Shirou. After all this time wishing for his own destruction,he remembers Kiritsugu’s death and his own promise to become an ally of justice from seeing his younger self continuously fighting for his life both metaphorically and literally, and accepts that no matter how much his ideal cursed him as Heroic Spirit EMIYA, he was not wrong for pursuing it. It’s a beautiful way to wrap up the route, but it’s also pretty sad too, because the Servants in the Holy Grail War (sans Saber) are only “copies” of real Heroic Spirits temporarily summoned by the grail and will lose their memories once dispersed. So the small answer that Archer was able to find during his summoning won’t be something EMIYA feels that he has experienced. But there will be records. I’d like to think EMIYA’s spirit was able to find some peace from his summoned body’s confrontation with Shirou.
Now that I’m done rambling about a story about two swords beating the shit out of each other, time for the final route!
Oh boy, oh boy. The route that takes everything from the previous two routes and flips the VN over its head. Holy shit. Remember Sakura, Shinji’s sister who seemed to have nothing to do with anything in the previous two routes? The one who you thought was just a minor character that obviously wanted Shirou’s sword dick? Nope. Not in Heaven’s Feel. In this route, you learn a lot about her background story – which, yes, is actually connected to the Holy Grail War.
(Well, nothing in this route will surprise you that much if you’ve watched/read Fate/Zero first. That spoils the living shit out of Heaven’s Feel. This is why you do things in the proper order…)
Remember the role that Berserker and Caster played in the Fate and UBW routes respectively? Well, to use the word “replaced” is to put it extremely, extremely lightly. The antagonist here is Matou Zouken, Shinji and Sakura’ grandfather who is alluded to a few times in the other routes (yet is never shown), and he’s not a foe to be taken lightly. He’s literally a parasitic vampire (well, not the actual vampire classification in Tsukihime) that has lived for 500 years by feeding off of humans with the Crest Worms that make up his body. While his body is able to reform by eating humans, he isn’t actually immortal since his body still continuously rots – but the old parasite is so scared of death that he doesn’t think of ending the pain of rotting by just… dying. Kill him all you want, he just comes back because he’s that persistent, like a roach. The Matou are actually the Makiri, and since Zouken has been living since the first attempt to summon the Holy Grail… you can put the pieces together from there. His desire for the Holy Grail is a 200 year old curse, and by now his wish has been twisted into a desire for eternal life.
One of the differences that causes the earlier bits of the Fate route to branch into the Heaven’s Feel route is paying more attention to Sakura, which leads to an early confrontation with Shinji and Rider. After Saber seemingly kills Rider and Shinji’s proceeding reaction to it, Zouken curses his successor’s incompetence and decides to participate in the Holy Grail War himself. So what does he decide to do?
Voiced by: Inada Tetsu
Well, first off, Zouken starts off by using Caster’s Assassin as a catalyst to summon the PROPER Assassin for the Fifth Holy Grail War, dubbed True Assassin in character materials, which CRAWLS out of poor Kojirou’s body Alien-style and then eats him up. At least Kojirou went out with a smile. I… still don’t know how Zouken managed to do that, but he did, and it was pretty frightening. But yeah, this Assassin, while not much of a close-combat player like the other Servants, proceeds to go on an elimination spree of Servant “heart-eating” using his Noble Phantasm to gain “experience”. He kills poor Lancer with his Zanbaniya: Dellusion Heartbeat before he could do Gae Bolg, and from then on he starts being less creepily-bug like and starts talking normally, while Lancer’s body then gets eaten by a mysterious shadow that was lurking in Ryuudou Temple’s lake. What’s with Servants and their broken-ass Noble Phantasms anyway? Lancer’s Gae Bolg is supposed to be a one-hit kill if you don’t have the Luck for it, Assassin’s Tsubame Gaeshi isn’t normally supposed to be avoided at all, and now True Assassin has the ability to crush a fake mirror-image of your heart and then kill you? What the fuck, man? But, anyway.
Shirou starts off the route a lot more competent than he was in Unlimited Blade Works, which is saying a lot when you compare Unlimited Blade Works Shirou to Fate Shirou. He also gets along better with Illya right off the bat, which of course means their connection is expanded upon in this route as well – which is a great thing because Illya is awesome. He goes out on daily hunts with Saber at night and completely forgoes Rin’s offer for an alliance on the very first days, etc. Shirou finds Kuzuki dead in Ryuudou Temple and assumes that Caster did it – naturally, as a loyal Servant, Saber kills her for her “treachery”. Because we’re supposed to view UBW first and learn of Caster’s relationship with Kuzuki, we already know something ominous is going on, especially since Shirou can feel the presence of something else at the temple before they left.
Then the route hits you hard when Saber/Shirou and Archer/Rin end up facing off against Zouken and… what appears to be a fake Caster. Saber quickly dispatches of her, of course, and Archer almost kills Zouken after cutting his body in half (the dude could still crawl), but the real shit begins when the 2spooky4me Shadow appears. The thing is so frightening and ominous that it’s mere presence makes you realize that it’s more than a match against the Servants. Even Archer – of whom we find out is Heroic Spirit EMIYA in Unlimited Blade Works – gives up his plan to murder the younger Shirou in favor of fulfilling his role as a Counter Guardian, only this time satisfied that he has a chance to stop the source of the problem before it gets out of hand.
Karma, Shinji. Karma.
The route is already pretty heavy from the start which I really enjoyed, but before getting into my thoughts about the rest of the route, I have to get something off my chest about the main heroine and also the “primary” antagonist of this route, Sakura. Yes, she is the Shadow, whether she was conscious of it or not. And I found it very hard to enjoy her. Don’t get me wrong, I felt sorry for her and it’s hard not to sympathize with all the shit she’s been through. Being taken from the Tohsaka family only to get “taught magic” (a.k.a. raped and tortured) by the Zouken’s “lawd penis worms”, being raised as another Lesser Grail, getting raped constantly by your vindictive douchebag foster brother, etc. All of that sucks. And mind you, all of that pent up anger and sadness just blowing up when she finally accepts her fate and becomes everyone’s worst nightmare is the best part of her character. But her romance arc with Shirou is something I find hard to stomach. The feelings themselves are fine, but what that relationship is based on is what I have a bit of a problem with.
She’s completely dependent on Shirou. See, after going through Fate and UBW, you witness Shirou experience two relationships where the girls supported him just as much as he did the same, so watching Sakura and Shirou’s relationship was really hard for me. Especially since the Heaven’s Feel loved to constantly remind you that Sakura is a tragic character that needs a shoulder to cry on, to the point where it sometimes felt that Sakura’s conflict overshadowed the Holy Grail War. It gets to the point where Shirou has to abandoned his ideal which he held onto with an iron fist in the previous two routes. Shirou does plenty of things in this route that makes me like his Heaven’s Feel counterpart the best in most regards, but seeing him abandon his ideal to protect Sakura is so hard to watch. Killing one to save hundreds is sad and should never be an option in a world we all strive for. But forgoing hundreds to save one is even worse. Although, to be fair, Sakura acknowledges that thst’s her fault as well… and we’re back to square one. Sakura needs a hug, guys! Give her one.
There’s also the problem I had with True Assassin. He wasn’t a bad villain by any means, but his departure was utterly pathetic. It was as if Nasu didn’t know what to do with Hassan-i-Sabbah anymore and wrote him out of the story when he was no longer needed for the end game, which isn’t bad per se, but his death is more unspectacular than Rider’s death in UBW. He doesn’t even get a CG for it.
“Rider is the most useless Servant” – Anyone who has never read Heaven’s Feel
Speaking of Rider, she gets a huge promotion in this route – she’s one of the good guys, at least if Shirou intends to save Sakura, her true Master. Apparently the reason why she’s so utterly weak in the previous two route is basically because Shinji, a non-magus with no magical capabilities whatsoever, isn’t her true Master. Sakura’s her true Master, but since did not want to take part in the killings, under the condition of not killing Shirou, she decided to use one of her Command Spells to give her older foster brother a Book of the False Attendant, a false Command Spell with the actual Command Spell written in it to give temporary ownership of her Servant. In fact, Rider actually really hates Shinji, and who could blame her? Eventually Rider returns to being the Servant of her real Master when Shinji broke the 100th straw. You get to interact with her as an ally in this route, not unlike Saber, so you end up learning a lot more about her as an individual. She really cares abut Sakura and has her own quirks, like her cute insecurity about her height.
It’s actually hinted that Sakura was Rider’s real Master quite early on in all three routes. Remember when Shirou noticed bruises on Sakura’s hand and (understandably) assumed it was Shinji beating on her? Well, those were actually her Command Spells! It’s more obvious in the Unlimited Blade Works anime, thanks to the visual medium.
You want to save Saber? Play the Fate route.
Saber, unfortunately… gets a demotion. Technically. Not far after Zouken reveals he’s the Master of Assassin, she gets sucked up by the Shadow. Because she’s a powerful Servant, which would prove useful, she’s blackened and corrupted into Saber Alter, an enemy. It’s the same Saber, with her ideals twisted by the essence of Angra Mainyu within the Holy Grail. She… doesn’t really get a happy ending at all in Heaven’s Feel, which really sucks because I happen to like Saber. But hey, Saber Alter makes a really good “Lawful Evil” (according to the status screen) opponent for the protagonists to face.
Archer has a large presence in this route. Because of Unlimited Blade Works, we already know he’s Emiya Shirou from a different future. So what Heaven’s Feel does with his character is expand on information that we already know. Archer Shirou drops warnings here and there for Heaven’s Feel Shirou about the possible consequences of betraying his ideal for the sake of one person. “The crime will judge you.” Midway through the route, some time after the loss of regular Saber, Illya and Berserker come under attack by Zouken, Assassin, and the Shadow + Saber Alter. Luckily, Rin/Archer were there, and Archer, with regret in his voice, holds off Assassin with the specific goal of Shirou keeping Illya safe in mind.
Quite a number of people think Archer came from an alternate Fate route, but I think he comes from the canned Illya route, which had its elements melded into Heaven’s Feel. Only difference is, from what we’ve learned from so far, is that he either never knew of improper Assassin’s true nature as a Servant or fought True Assassin and never learned of the Shadow’s true identity as Sakura (from what I saw, even he was surprised by the revelation – yeesh, his hands really do hold nothing but regrets). Either way, he manages to scare Assassin off, but because Rin let her guard down, he ends up fatally wounded by the Shadow while trying to protect her. And while Shirou was protecting Illya, the boy ended up losing his left arm.
Archer holds out long enough to convince Kotomine to graft his own left arm onto Shirou’s body to save his younger self. Apparently, transplanting a Servant’s arm onto a human’s body would normally kill them immediately, but Archer and Shirou are obviously exceptions. Archer ends up disappearing (and goes into Illya instead of the Shadow), but remember the vital plot point from Unlimited Blade Works? The more you come into contact with your future self, the more their knowledge and experience flow into you. That contradiction caused Shirou pain in UBW. But here, Archer’s arm literally becomes Shirou’s arm, so the life-threatening effects gnaw at him throughout the entire route. But it also saves his life many times. In a situation where he’s a dead man anyway without the arm, it’s not that bad of a deal. And Shirou risking his arm to save Illya might have convinced Archer to save his younger self as his last act before disappearing.
(By the way, somewhere along the road, the arm kinda informs Shirou of Archer’s identity, if the HF status screen is of any indication.)
I love how Illya herself plays a much bigger route here compared to the other two routes. You learn a lot more about her background and why she was intent on going after Shirou in the first place. In a way, she’s the second heroine in Heaven’s Feel. Her affection and flags matter as just as much as Sakura’s, after all. Seeing her bond with Shirou and seeing Shirou resolve to protect her in order for them to live as normal siblings just adds to the emotional charge Heaven’s Feel was going for. And it’s even sadder when you find out that Illya doesn’t have much time to live. In my opinion, I would have preferred it if this sibling bond were the main driving points of the arc rather than Sakura’s romance. But alas, the Illya Route was too good for us all.
Cue obligatory EMIYA theme
In fact, all of this leads into my favorite moment of Heaven’s Feel: the defeat of Berserker Alter. Poor Berserker gives it his all to protect Illya every time, but the plot always has to drop a bridge on him. Anyway. Shirou’s own desire to protect Illya is what causes Shirou to unleash Archer’s arm for the first time.
While trying to get past the arm’s mental torrents of NOPE, he sees a vision of Archer asking if Shirou can keep up with him. Shirou’s answer to this? Archer should keep up with him. And then he projects Heracles’s NINE LIVES as a Blade Works weapon and. Holy shit. I can’t even describe how awesome this scene was. Granted, Berserker hesitating because he momentarily realizes Illya was there helped Shirou defeat him, but it’s just a really cool moment in the VN that I’m looking forward to seeing animated by ufotable.
“Shirou is garbage. Terrible main character” – Anyone who has never read the VN ever.
Kotomine Kirei gets his time to shine in Heaven’s Feel too – we get a deeper look into the way his character works, the origin of which is further explained in the Fate/Zero prequel. While he takes pleasure in things we deem “evil”, the VN successfully portrays this in a grey area to varying degrees. Despite the atrocities we’ve seen him commit, like what he did to the orphans in the Fate route, Heaven’s Feel also shows us a complex side to him that makes it hard to classify him as “good” or “evil”. He used to be a man that wanted to be what others considered “normal”; good and upright. But, somewhere along the line, he realized that the things that brought him happiness were what people considered wrong. For a sociopath, he does have his values: such as his belief that someone cannot be judged as evil before he/she is even born.
Because of this, he ends up being an interesting character rather than just a Saturday morning cartoon villain. He even comes off as more of an ally than an antagonist for most of the route – even though it’s for his own benefit, he helps Shirou fight against Zouken and Assassin. By the way, he gets a few kickass scenes in the VN, like deflecting Assassin’s throwing knifes with one hand while holding Illya and running at full speed, and then defeating him later on. He also almost exorcised the crap out of Zouken, but that old rasin pretty much can only die when he accepts his own death, so meh.
After going through the finale of Unlimited Blade Works, you’ll be surprised at how much the finale of Heaven’s Feel tops it. Sure, Assassin gets the bridge dropped on him by Sakura, but other than that, it’s just pure awesome and, well, sad at the same time. Shirou helped Rider’s Noble Phantasm by projecting Rho Aias, and then managed to killed Saber Alter with Kanshou and Bakuya.
It was really, really hard (understatement) for Shirou to do, because Saber was a dear friend that had protected him up until she was defeated by the Shadow. But he’d made a firm resolve to save Sakura, and he had to see it through until the very end. Did I mention that bringing the blade down on a Saber is a choice? Stop playing with our emotions, VN!
With scenes like this, it’s hard to argue Rin’s status as best heroine
At the same time, Rin was fighting the pretty much unstoppable Sakura and her Shadow giants… while using a Shirou-projected Jeweled Sword of Zelretch (the original belonging to Kischur Zelretch Schweinorg, who you may or may not know from Tsukihime), which is capable of breaking through parallel dimensions. Rin’s basically using it to draw out mana from the infinite parallel universes within the Nasuverse to even-out the playing field against Sakura. This was, by far, the best Rin-related scene in the entire VN, and it isn’t even her route. She could have killed Sakura, but Rin dropped her pragmatic mindset in favor of her love for her sister instead, and allows herself to take an almost-fatal blow from Sakura, which makes Sakura realize how much of a fucking idiot she’s been acting the entire time. It was an excellent turning point for both of their characters, really.
“My body is made of swords.”
The climax of the finale is the point where Shirou’s use of Archer’s projection really starts to destroy him. His body literally breaks apart piece by piece, and Archer’s arm tries to sustain it with their Reality Marble by replacing the pieces with BLADES. I am the bone of my sword, indeed.
More-than-half-dead sword man vs. More-than half-dead priest with no heart
It gets to the point where, during his duel with Kotomine (who is also dying, but fighting for his ideal until the very end by protecting Angra Mainyu, who has yet to be born), the only way for Kotomine to actually land a feasible blow is to strike for Shirou’s head. Shirou’s body creaks every time he walks, and his brain is being destroyed. He doesn’t even remember Sakura’s name, but his soul remembers its resolve to save her, and he keeps going on pure determination alone.
Whether or not you’re going for the “Normal” or “True” ending, there’s going to be some sort of impact. If you were paying less attention to Illya than you were supposed to, you’ll most likely get the “Normal” ending where Shirou dies at the same time he commands his machine-like body to destroy the Holy Grail. Sakura vows to wait for Shirou’s return, even though he clearly never will, and continues to faithfully wait for him until old age. It’s really depressing as hell. I don’t even like Sakura that much, and it still depresses me.
The True Ending is, of course, the better one. Right before Shirou attempts to destroy the Holy Grail as he did in the Normal ending, Illya appears to sacrifice herself in order to close the gate and save Shirou. Earlier in the VN, Shirou told her that it’s natural for an older sibling to want to protect the younger sibling. But as a matter of fact… Illya is the older sibling. Shirou, whose mind and body is breaking down to the point of death, manages to recall the name of Kiritsugu’s daughter and cry out for his big sister in anguish. Now that I think about it, Heaven’s Feel was really big on family and the older/young sibling dynamic. If you’re able to relate to this, this storyline will be all the more powerful to you.
The epilogue reveals that Rider is now living hapily with Sakura and Shirou at their house, most likely through the same method that Rin and Shirou used to keep Saber around in the good ending of Unlimited Blade Works. Shirou was luckily able to survive by having his soul preserved by Illya’s final sacrifice, and eventually had it linked to an artificial version of his body made by Aozaki Touko from Kara no Kyoukai. Since the new body has a weak Magic Circuit, he needs to train from the ground-up in order to utilize his Reality Marble again. Meanwhile, Rin got a ton of bullshit in London for opening the gate and then closing it during the Holy Grail War, but Kischur Zelretch Schweinorg vouched for her and cleared her of any charges, so she was able to come back to Fuyuki and reunite with Sakura and her practical brother-in-law (who, uh, she apparently still has some unresolved sexual tension with).
It’s amazing how HF even reaches this type of conclusion
Overall, the true ending of the route is pretty happy in comparison to the route’s mostly depressing and rather dark nature. Although it does have its sacrifices to make it happen, such as Saber never returning to normal/having to be killed by Shirou and Illya’s final saving throw… so, in a way, it sports a bittersweet taste. If you were to consider Fate the beginning, Unlimited Blade Works the middle, and Heaven’s Feel the end, then I’m happy to say I’m satisfied, because Heaven’s Feel definitely ended the entire thing off with a bang.
So what comes next about finishing all three Fate/stay night routes?
It’s time to go back to the Fate route. In the Réalta Nua version of the visual novel, completing all three routes unlocks this little bonus epilogue that reveals the true ending of the Fate route. The first half of it is kind of like one of those recap episodes they do for anime, as in it basically summarizes the events in the Fate route; CGs and battle music included.
There’s nothing much to say about the entire thing. It basically just exists to give Saber a happier ending. As I said in the Fate portion of this post, I was actually okay with how the Fate route ended as it did – I thought it was a beautiful, yet bittersweet, conclusion to King Arthur, or rather, the girl we know as Arturia. But at the same time, I like Saber, so I have no problems with giving her a happier ending all the same.
Here, Saber reunites with Shirou in Avalon. Judging from the narration, Fate Shirou went on to live a life similar to Archer’s, but without all the seclusion and regret that leads him to become a Counter Guardian. It’s kind of weird that Shirou’s one line here is voiced by Sugiyama Noriaki and not Suwabe Junichi considering how old he’s supposed to be here. I heard that they actually removed it in later versions of Réalta Nua because it makes no sense, but whatever. They probably wanted to make it ambiguous or something, because they don’t show his body either. Maybe he looks like Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya‘s alternate!alternate Emiya Shirou?
It’s really, really easy to pick a choice that leads you to a dead end in Fate/stay night. And every time you do, you get an amusing little omake corner called Tiger Doujou where Fujimura Taiga and Student No. 1 (Illya) give you “advice” on how to make the right choices. If you’re one of those fans that got into this series by watching the Fate/Zero anime, you’ll instantly recognize that the Einzbern Consultation Room is a prequel to this.
While it proves helpful sometimes (one literally tells you how to get the Unlimited Blade Works Good Ending because it’s just that convoluted), it’s mostly just a parody (note: one segment vaguely foreshadows Prisma Illya; I don’t know if that was intentional or not). Every time you reach a Tiger Doujou segment, you’ll get a Tiger Stamp. Get all 40 Tiger Stamps, and you’ll unlock a hot springs scene with Taiga and Illya.
Man, where do I even begin? Fate/stay night is just one roller coaster of a ride. I certainly enjoyed it, but it might differ from person-to-person. It’s definitely a huge time investment, and one might be annoyed so much by how Shirou acts in the Fate route that they get turned off before even getting into the meat of it all. Whether or not this is your first exposure to the Fate/ series might affect your enjoyment of Fate/stay night as well. If you’ve seen Fate/Zero or DEEN’s lobotomized Fate route adaptation with little bits of UBW and HF thrown into the mix, a bunch of twists will be ruined for you. But I think the way the twists are played out is executed well enough that one would still able to enjoy it despite that, although the experience will undoubtedly be watered down in comparison.
In terms of routes, I did enjoy the VN more when I got to the Unlimited Blade Works and Heaven’s Feel sections. But I’m iffy in talking down on the Fate route like everyone else, as I feel it’s a necessary foundation for the rest of the VN. Not only that, but all three routes have individual aspects that I enjoy. For example, Fate has… better results, especially if you take Réalta Nua’s true ending into account. Unlimited Blade Works and Heaven’s Feel both have better action and plots, but we have douchebag Shinji surviving in UBW while Illya gets killed by Gilgamesh, and Illya and Saber dying in Heaven’s Feel. Let’s not get started on the varying amount of focus individual characters have in each route; a character could be import in one route, while having the bridge dropped on them in another. That’s why I don’t get the route/waifu wars – I, for one, treated the entire VN as one unified product. The world and setting its built upon is interesting, and each route explores that same setting in a different way. Same goes for Shirou’s role as a hero and the overall theme of Fate/stay night – the VN handles his character arc in three different ways.
Not every character in Fate/stay night is likable. You might get annoyed at a character having random moments of stupidity (see: Shirou, especially in the Fate route, even though at the end of the day he’s pretty badass), and then there’s Shinji, who gets more and more despicable every route (though I chalk that up to him being a good character that’s supposed to be hated). But there are plenty of characters that really save it from one or two bad eggs, and the mystery behind the Holy Grail War and all the corruption going on is really, really interesting. As a general thing for the Fate/ series, finding out about the Servant identities as the VN goes along is pretty neat, especially if you happen to really like literature and mythology. While not entirely faithful, which is sort of the point, if you ever read stuff such as the Epic of Gilgamesh, it’s hard not to smile at how big of an ego Zero Archer has in the Fate series.
It’s really hard to explain, but Fate/stay night just grips you. The severity of the conflicts in each route just gets progressively larger as you go through each of the three routes, and it becomes very hard to stop reading once you’ve gotten into it. As I’ve said before, it’s a unified experience; experiencing Fate/stay night in any order other than “Fate → Unlimited Blade Works → Heaven’s Feel” just doesn’t have the same effect. There are plenty of moments where Fate/stay night gets into a shitton of infodumps and slice-of-life padding that take a dump on the pacing – COOKING SCENES, I’M LOOKING AT YOU – but otherwise, it’s hard to put off.
Are there aspects where it could have been better? Of course. For instance, Unlimited Blade Works could have deepened Shirou’s conflict more if Nasu added a bit more to it, like tackling Shirou’s reaction to the people he will potentially save according to Archer’s future experiences, including those that were saved by Shirou making a contract with the World. The scrapped Illya route that’s constantly joked about in the Tiger Doujou segments would have spiced up the VN as well. It’s clear that some elements were assimilated into Heaven’s Feel, which made the route even better, but it would have been cool if Heaven’s Feel actually branched out into a path where Shirou decides to be Illya‘s ally of justice. Of course, since it was originally an 18+ VN… not having it there from the start might have been for the best. Look, I’m not a prude, I’m okay with the small incestual undertones in Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya. I’m okay with it in moege. But for the main Fate/stay night storyline, I prefer the Shirou/Illya dynamic to remain strictly a sibling one.
Once I’m confident enough in my Japanese to comfortably read huge fantasy juggernauts like… well, any of Type-Moon’s works, I’ll look into reading it again in full Japanese. The English fan-patch is still… well, good enough for people who don’t know Japanese, and also for those jackasses that are forever allergic to moonrunes either way (I question why you watch anime and read porn novels to begin with). It’s not terrible, and it’s in fact very much appreciated. But it’s a better experience reading it in Japanese. For instance, Nasu (and many other Japanese writers) has this quirk where he likes to play around with pronunciation and meaning, like using kanji for meaning and using furigana for a different pronunciation. To name some examples, there’s a difference between Lancer’s Gae Bolg (刺し穿つ死棘の槍) and his other Gae Bolg (突き穿つ死翔の槍). Likewise, Shirou/Archer’s Unlimited Blade Works (無限の剣製) and its chant have meanings that differ between the kanji shown and the English shown. The meanings are meant to overlap… And it’s lost in the English translation, because they only use the English parts.
Anyways, that’s it for now. Next post will be about ufotable’s adaptation of Fate/stay night Unlimited Blade Works. Stick around until then!
(P.S. If Shirou is the bone of his sword, why doesn’t he project himself? There has to be a doujin like that somewhere…)