So, anyone here ever guessed I’m something of a fan of the Fate/Stay Night franchise?
I’m still not sure how it happened honestly. And yes the storyline is a bit ridiculous, but the characters all found a way to grow on me. So I kept an eye on its prequel Fate/Zero and I’m anxiously awaiting the day I get the nerve to play the original visual novel…yeah I gotta work my way up to it.
In between all of this, I recently found out that a Chinese group of artists and writers are working on a series of visual novels inspired by Fate/Stay night. Or, to be specific, inspired by one of the major characters of Fate/Stay Night: Saber. In the franchise, Saber was the legendary King Arthur who passed herself off as a man to rule Britain. For those who know the legend, you know this ends rather tragically. This visual novel series hopes to explore Saber’s past and add another element to the experience that isn’t completely foreign to the Fate franchise: romance.
Does it work? Well let’s take a deeper look at Fate/Knight Rhapsodyand find out.
Fate/Knight Rhapsody opens with Altria Pendragon AKA Saber in her final moments. After being betrayed and left for dead while her kingdom burns, she does what any fallen tyrant wishes they could do and wishes for an opportunity to relive her life sans mistakes. And so her wish is granted…yup. She is taken back to the moment where she drew the sword Caliburn that would make her the King of Britain. And, to be fair, while I enjoy the setup, this is where the biggest problem lies.
This game is pretty clear that it will closely follow the Arthurian legend and I have no problem with that. But the game doesn’t make any effort to explain to the audience why Saber’s wish is so important or even why had to be an otome game. In fact, it’s almost happy keeping the players who are ignorant of the original franchise in the dark, especially when right off the bat you get the only alternate ending by refusing to pull the sword from the stone. So if she wants to live a different life, yet we HAVE to continue down the path she originally took that ended up with her dead, did they just write themselves into a plothole?
I don’t think so, but like I said you’d have to understand the Fate twist on Arthur’s legend to understand why. Since she is obviously not a man, Saber took steps to appear as male throughout her reign. Hell, she even banged Morgan Le Fey after using magic to give herself male genitalia and the ability to produce sperm…do you see why I have to build up to actually playing the games? Although I think that was in a spin-off light novel…okay moving on. This…er…’bonding’ creates a homunculus named Mordred that, along with one of her knights falling for her wife, brings about the destruction of the kingdom and her death.
So her living ‘a different life’ doesn’t mean she can choose not to be king: that’s her destiny. Her living a different life is to live as a woman instead of a man, hence this game being an otome visual novel.
See that highly important plot point I laid out? NEVER BROUGHT UP IN THE GAME PROPER. Yes that makes it more theory than anything, but in the next few chapters I believe it will be spelled out. And what we get isn’t all that interesting to be fair. Some stories are more interesting than others, but they fall into the tropes familiar with the otome genre. One knight Saber’s known since childhood and the two have a mutual attraction to each other, so of course he’s going to be at the Round Table. Another is a loudmouth cousin hoping to prove himself, do you think he’s just going to be a side character? And of course the eventual Judas of the group: Lancelot. The two clearly share some history that is kept even from the reader, so there is a possibility there of a fun story and if those two hooked up it would be the most obvious way of avoiding her future demise. But again, fan theory.
Then there’s Merlin who’s relationship with Saber is the best established. A lot of it is in their banter with one another which carries the bulk of the narrative. I got a few laughs as they traveled together and it is made clear that whatever’s going on, Merlin knows…if not directly responsible. But I don’t see how a romantic option will spring from here…although expecting him to be an old guy was just silly on my part.
Outside of putting together the main cast, we also have Morgan Le Fay lurking around and she will obviously serve as the main antagonist. No news yet on if there are plans for Saber to screw her again with magic, but we’ll find out? Her motives aren’t very well defined outside of just not liking Saber and a bit more time will help flesh things out as I’m sure they’ll clash at some point.
I wish I had more to add her but the game really just wanted to get your eventually male targets to fall into place as quickly as possible. The Merlin/Saber relationship manages to hold everything together but what could have been an excellent scene of Saber at war or taking the time to better flesh out le Fay, the story outside of the boys was clearly the last thing on the developers minds. This is only Act One, so there is still plenty of time to put together a better narrative that isn’t just a set up to, ‘Hey I’m a knight and I’m hot!’ but it does need to be given better consideration in the future.
PRESENTATION AND GAMEPLAY
The best thing Fate/Knight Rhapsody has going for it is its presentation. The fact that this is free is damn near criminal. Not only do all of the character sprites look like the Type-Moon art, but the backgrounds and handful of CGs we get echo the fantasy storybook feel you’d think of with King Arthur. On top of that is the animation that add small but significant touches like beams of afternoon sunlight breaking in on a scene between Merlin and Saber or the fire underneath Morgan’s cauldron. With the exception of one background that was used in the war part, the entire thing is a feast for the eyes and ears. (Can’t forget that soundtrack!)
The game’s artwork is done by several artists and they nailed their respective roles. This is one of a handful of visual novels I hope to get a digital art book of (HINT HINT), but it is a shame that we didn’t get many CGs with the current count being two. If the CG slots are a sign of things to come, that won’t always be the case. So it’ll be interesting to see how slick everything will look when the series wraps.
The gameplay is…a bit less inspired. This title was translated to English from Chinese so there are going to be some inherent issues. However, while the main UI is easy to navigate, the translation itself does feel stilted and disjointed in a few scenes. It’s something that can only be made better with time so I’m willing to look the other way for now.
Also, as I mentioned earlier, the choices really don’t amount to much: at least for right now. The first choice you get will branch into the Bad and True Endings. Everything else adding a little extra information to Saber and Merlin’s history or just being there to give you a choice option. As it would’ve been fun to interject Saber into conversation with her knights or actually dictate an entire battle with an actual threat of a loss or bad end. It is an unfortunate stone tied to its ankles and I’m not sure how choices will be handled once we get into the ‘otome’ part of this series. For now, its one of the only real let downs of the game.
Fate/Knight Rhapsody takes about an hour and a half to complete: maybe two hours if you really take your time. Because of the issues I talked about earlier, with one play through you’re going to get pretty much everything you need. Fate fans would enjoy seeing Saber in her prime, but I would caution those not familiar with the Fate franchise to at least look through the Saber wiki and read up on the Arthurian legend before downloading this title because you may get lost very easily. It is free which is a big plus and I didn’t walk away thinking I wasted my time, but again, I can wait until December.
Fate/Knight Rhapsody is an interesting undertaking. I can see the potential it has as both an otome game and as a fan game of Fate/Stay Night. There is a lot of room to work and no one has said how many entries we’ll get into this series, so we could be right back here next year talking about Act 9. Unfortunately it does fall into some problems many series have when starting just out and most of them can be summed up by them not taking their time. Most of the story is designed just to establish Saber’s pasts with the boys with a little actual substance sprinkled on to keep interest. If any of my readers speak Mandarin, please translate this to the team behind it: ‘TAKE YOUR TIME’. We’re not going anywhere and any romantic plot is going to need space to breathe anyway. So just take your time!
Other than that, what saves this is its presentation. It looks amazing and has potential to be a standard in the flood of visual novels coming from East to West. According to the group, Act 2 will drop sometime in December so we’ll be back on this subject then. Until then, if you’re a Fate fan or just looking for a little something to pass the time, you might enjoy this.