Uguu Review! Fate/stay night (Visual Novel)

I ask of you, are you my Master?

問おう。貴方が私のマスターか?

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 Visu­al Nov­el Data­base

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)

―――やっと気づいた。シロウは、私の鞘だったのですね

Fate

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.

Coolest scene in the Fate route

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 Monty Python and the Holy Grail joke

*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.

Right in the chest!

Lässt!

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.

The dream continues...

;_;7

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-
体は剣で出来ている。
-Steel is my body and fire is my blood-
血潮は鉄で心は硝子。
‑I have cre­at­ed over a thou­sand blades-
幾たびの戦場を越えて不敗。
-Unknown to Death-
ただの一度も敗走はなく、
-Nor known to Life-
ただの一度も理解されない。
‑Have with­stood pain to cre­ate many weapons-
彼の者は常に独り 剣の丘で勝利に酔う。
‑Yet, these hands will nev­er hold any­thing-
故に、生涯に意味はな
-So as I pray, UNLIMITED BLADE WORKS-
その体は、きっと剣で出来ていた。

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.

Real smooth, Tohsaka

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

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.

Bull of Heaven aint got nothing on Heracles

ENKIDU

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.

Gilgamesh is a jackass

R.I.P.

I love Illya. Fuck Gil­gamesh for slash­ing her eyes out, stab­bing her throat, and rip­ping out her heart.

Giant Giant of Death

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.

Go Rin!

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.

Mental struggle to the most epic proportions

EMIYA

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:

Shir GARcher

いくぞ英雄王―――――武器の貯蔵は充分か

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.)

Looks like the fake CAN beat the real!

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:

Onslaught of feels

(Suwabe’s Archer voice)
答えは得た。

(Suwabe doing an Emiya Shi­rou voice)
大丈夫だよ遠坂。オレも、これから頑張っていくから

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. Con­sid­er­ing how much I like Saber, I liked the bit where Saber gets to stick around after decid­ing 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!

――――投影、開始(トレースオン)
―――――投影、装填(トリガー・オフ)
全工程投影完了――――是、射殺す百頭セット――――ナインライブスブレイドワークス)

Heaven’s Feel

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?

True Assassin

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.

Rejoice, for Shinji dies again

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.

True potential UNLEASHED

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.

RIP Arturia

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.

イリヤの手を取ったからには、最後まで守り通せ!

The way it should've been, the way it should be

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.)

tfw she will never sing again

Pre­pare your heart­strings

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.

Nine Lives Blade Works

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.

Not even a question, Archer!

ついて来れるか?

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.

HE NEEDS THE SUWABE VOICE, NOW

Shi­rou is garbage. Ter­ri­ble main char­ac­ter” — Any­one who has nev­er read the VN ever.

IS HE EVEN A PRIEST?!

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.

Rider... takes Saber's place as the moe Servant

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!

She HAS to steal the show

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.

I am the bone of my sword

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.

Surprisingly, it's a fantastic battle

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.

;_;7 illya

士郎イリヤ――イリヤ、イリヤ、イリヤ、イリヤ、イリヤ、イリヤ、イリヤ―――――!!

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 conclusion

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?

Welcome home!

はい―――――おかえりなさい、シロウ

Last Episode

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?

Feeling good is an understatement

DEAD END

Tiger Stamps

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.

Unfortunately Valentine's Day was a long time ago

Final Thoughts

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!

Takeuchi sure likes Saber, doesn't he?

FIN

(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…)

3 thoughts on “Uguu Review! Fate/stay night (Visual Novel)

  1. Last episode was writ­ten by Nasu as a final epi­logue once the game is fin­ished.

    Last episode” can hap­pen in dif­fer­ent timelines/routes but it is sure to hap­pen after Fate’s true end­ing. The rea­son is that it is done as an epi­logue for such end­ing (it actu­al­ly says epi­logue).

    Nasu has made epi­logues for all 3 true end­ings. In the orig­i­nal game he did Heav­en’s Feel true end­ing epi­logue. After some time he did Fate’s true end­ing epi­logue “last episode” and recent­ly he’s made UBW’s true end­ing epi­logue (an 11 page script that was hand­ed to Ufotable in order to make the epi­logue episode). All 3 epi­logues are sure to hap­pen after each true end­ing.
    “Last episode” can also hap­pen in oth­er time­lines though.

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