Fate/Samurai Remnant Review: Banger of a Game

I knew after my lengthy hands-on preview for Fate/Samurai Remnant that it was the Edo Japan-set Fate universe action RPG I needed. Still, I had some concerns regarding how predictable the storyline might be, the lack of play style differences, and the range of content available. Later, I worried that 50+ hours of content would eventually bore me, and that Fate/Samurai Remnant would fall into the problem that most Fate games had: overly complex storylines and cameos that made no sense within the game’s context. The Fate/Extra series and its sequels come to mind, and I feared that the Fate franchise would never break this cursed cycle.

However, after almost 40 hours of exploring Edo across two story routes, falling in love with a colorful cast of characters, and eventually confronting literal god-like entities, I found myself wanting to spend even more time within the world of Fate/Samurai Remnant. Every chapter of this game remained consistent in quality, pacing, and thrills, making it easy to dismiss some of its transgressions and let go of my jaded misgivings in favor of simply enjoying the historical fantasy journey.

Fate/Samurai Remnant unfolds with the backdrop of the Tsuchimikado family using the Waxing Moon Ritual — basically another Holy Grail War — for their own gains during the Edo period of Japan. You experience the Ritual mostly as Iori Miyamoto, a pacifistic young ronin once trained by the illusive Musashi Miyamoto, who is thrust into this war against his own volition when he accidentally summons the Saber servant. Despite his reluctance to enter the war, Iori braves the Waxing Moon Ritual with Saber to protect the lives of his younger sister and Edo’s citizens. 

 

Unlike many Fate protagonists who have flat personalities or serve as self-inserts who have no real impact in the story, Iori stands out as a distinct character — he’s a remarkably level-headed and disciplined individual who strives to make sense of his situation. 

He may not be the most ideal Master with his limited knowledge of magecraft, but he makes up for it with his raw physical skill, his ability to strategize and make tactical decisions, and is always open to new information and adjusts quickly to changes. Together with the eager Saber servant who prefers to talk with their swords, they form a sibling-like bond that allows audiences to connect with them and the overall story. I found myself chuckling whenever Iori sighed at Saber’s questionable motives to pig out at local food stalls or when Saber made jabs at Iori’s non-existent love life. 

Their dynamics aren’t the only ones that stand out though — other Masters and Servants are just as charming in their own unique ways and provide perspective to the game, such as Berserker Musashi. Although she is technically a Miyamoto Musashi from a separate timeline and not Iori’s real teacher who had passed away prior to the events of Fate/Samurai Remnant, Berserker Musashi is remarkably similar to her counterpart, and she immediately gels with Iori’s more serious demeanor. They engage in such an amusing teacher-student banter that catches many by surprise, including Saber and myself.

 

With such strong interactions featured in the early chapters, Fate/Samurai Remnant’s plot unfolds in parallel and the audience is swept away by the depth and complexity of it all. About halfway into the game, a certain event occurs and the game’s plot eventually branches off into two routes (there’s also delightful non-route-specific gag ending and a third proper ending, which I didn’t have the time to experience, that requires a New Game+ playthrough) with different cutscenes, interactions, and final bosses.

I originally started with the Snake Route, as I had an inkling that Saber’s identity would be revealed in this route and be thematically tied to the story. This turned out to be true, with bits and details of Saber’s tragic life naturally bleeding through the storyline and leading to an incredibly momentous and cathartic moment. 

Despite the importance of Saber’s story, I felt disconnected from the Snake Route because it focused too much on the classic restored-hero trope with the power of love and friendship. Saber’s past and motivations in the Snake Route overshadowed the plights of other Masters and Servants who all had stunning expositions and complex stories at the start of the game, but, to my disgruntlement, were ultimately never expanded upon or didn’t go beyond being boring stereotypes. 

On the other hand, the Rat Route gave me chills almost immediately after I started playing through it. It features a darker storyline that uses  different cutscenes, is tied to the remaining Master and Servants’ histories, and emphasizes the true horror of the Fate universe’s grail-summoning rituals that is seldom seen in other titles, save for Fate/Stay Night and Fate/Zero

At the end of the Rat Route, I felt satisfied knowing that all the plot holes were finally closed and greatly preferred the tone of its ending compared to the Snake Route’s. It’s possible to play only one route and finish the game, but I find it imperative to play at least the two main ones to understand the larger scope of Fate/Samurai Remnant and unlock the lore exclusive to each route. Think of it as how Fate/Stay Night’s Unlimited Blade Works and Heaven’s Feel routes expanded on the limited scope of the visual novel’s first route and provided new insights on certain characters.

 

While I enjoyed the branching main storylines, Fate/Samurai Remnant’s best quality is its Digressions, a series of side-quests that are conducted in tandem with the main story to unlock additional lore about the remaining servants. These Digressions are plot-timed, so if you are not careful, it’s very easy to miss opportunities while blazing through the main story. Save frequently and collect as much information as you can.

My original preview stated that Ruler Gilgamesh’s side quests were by far the most entertaining of the Digressions, as the rest of them were straightforward with requests to clear mobs or gather unusual items. Now that I’ve played the full game, I can say that Gilgamesh’s Digressions pale in comparison to those of Berserker Musashi and Rogue Berserker (Rogue Servants being Masterless Servants and an excuse to have allies that aren’t just Saber). These Digressions are not completely conducted through Iori and Saber’s POV and allow for a deeper connection to the side characters. 

 

Without spoiling too much, Berserker Musashi’s Digressions lets us see the Servant’s meeting with her eventual Master, the courtesan Takao Dayu, who dreams of freeing girls from the yoke of Yoshiwara’s prostitution laws, and her encounter with Rogue Berserker. The Musashi Digressions emphasize the restricted freedom these three individuals have, whether due to Takao’s heartbreaking courtesan background, the ages the Servants have lived through, or the current war. This side quest is so well-done that near the end of the game, I found myself wishing for the Berserker Musashi-Takao-Rogue Berserker trio’s happiness more than I did for Iori or Saber.

 

While a pacifist, Iori is no stranger to confrontation, and he comes equipped with sword stances inspired by Musashi’s The Book of Five Rings — Earth, Water, Wind, Fire, and Void. Fights in Fate/Samurai Remnant operate similarly to other Omega Force and Koei Tecmo games, in which the characters engage in a hack-and-slash gameplay against waves of enemies. 

In the early portions of the game, Iori has access to the Earth and Water stances. The Earth stance offers heavy strikes and defenses against single targets while the Water stance uses whirling slashes for mob clearing, making it the perfect combo for beginner players. You can supplement Iori’s melee with Katon, an optional and separate system where jewel fragments are farmed to unleash magical attacks as long-ranged offensive spells or self-heals depending on the preferred playstyle. It’s a rather intuitive process of routinely mowing down enemies with these three in place, especially because these enemies are mostly human and don’t require that much finesse. 

 

While you’ll spend most of the game controlling Iori while being aided by an AI-controlled Saber who deals minimal damage to opponents, players do have the ability to make use of the abilities of Saber or the Rogue Servants that Iori befriends throughout the course of the game. I found myself relying on the Servants more by Chapter 3, when the Earth and Water stances become somewhat obsolete as enemies start appearing with shield gauges that can’t be easily broken by either stance. 

At this point, you’d start relying on Saber or a Rogue Servant’s Affinity Techniques — which costs Affinity Orbs on the Affinity Gauge and is shared among all servants — or switch between Saber and a Rogue Servant with the Substitution gauge while working your way towards unlocking the additional stances (more on these later) that will help Iori to personally chip away at the shield gauges. 

While there are a plethora of Affinity Techniques to unlock across the Servants, my favorite will still be Saber’s Roiling Rapids with its steady burst stream of water. Roiling Rapids makes defeating enemies much easier and doesn’t cost much on the Affinity Gauge as long as you stockpile consumables to replenish Affinity Orbs, though it does have an aiming mechanic that can be hard to learn at first use. 

In the later half of the game, you’ll unlock the Wind, Fire, and Void stances. The Wind stance is a cross between the Earth stance and Katon, in which Iori uses single sword strikes and combines its magical energy to deal devastating damage across multiple enemies. Meanwhile, the Fire stance and the Void stance provide riskier approaches to Fate/Samurai Remnant’s gameplay. The Fire stance features dual-wield power strikes that increase in power as Iori’s health dwindles, while the Void stance empowers you with a flurry of iaido strikes that decimate opponents at the cost of time-lag and mid-charge interruptions.  

For me, the Void stance was the most difficult to master and not only because its flashy animations straining my subpar GPU. The stance provides no defenses or counters against enemy attacks, so half of the time, I was either scrambling out of Void into another stance because I got knocked out of my charge or chugging down a consumable to make up for lost time during the lag. I discovered late-game that the best way to use Void was to set up a cadence and quickly rotate it between Wind for mob clearing and Fire for breaking the shield gauges of bosses. It might not have been the most optimal gameplay, but it carried me through most of Fate/Samurai Remnant.

 

In addition to Iori’s five stances, Katon, and the Servants’ Affinity Gauge to rotate though, the Noble Phantasm gauge (or the Valor gauge for Iori) exists as a large AOE attack that can clear mobs and heavily deplete shield gauges. While it is a great boon that comes in clutch, it comes with many caveats such as the gauge’s slow buildup, the few and costly consumables that exist in the game to replenish the gauge, and the fact that each Noble Phantasm or Valor Strike are not mechanically different from each other. 

Typically in Fate lore, Noble Phantasms are the trump card and defining characteristic behind each Servant’s identity and have a range of functions. Some of these Noble Phantasms are good at KO’ing single targets or affecting enemies area-wide, while others act more passively, like buffing its user in a specific area or debuffing others. In Fate/Samurai Remnant, these powerful abilities are stripped down to simple area-wide attacks, which might annoy some Fate purists, especially if they are actively comparing the Rogue Servants’ Noble Phantasms in Fate/Samurai Remnant to other Fate titles like Fate/Grand Order

I was particularly disappointed that Iori’s Valor Strike has three alternative versions that, despite being based on the stance he triggers it in, mechanically remain the same. At least, all three Valor stances have different animation sequences and are quite flashy to watch. I am particularly keen on Iori’s final Valor Strike technique “Hidden Arts – Reverse Swallow,” which has cool lore that simultaneously honors the historical Musashi’s past and emphasizes Iori as the inheritor of both the Niten Ichiryu and Chujo-ryu styles. 

 

Of the Rogue Servants, I found myself having difficulty with Rogue Archer’s precise single-targeting for normal attacks — though it may be because I tend to struggle with long-ranged classes in games — and would often switch him out for Rogue Lancer’s Piercing Spear or Rogue Caster’s hilariously animated Pig Out ability. 

By the end of Fate/Samurai Remnant, I had unlocked and befriended most Rogue Servants, although I did not get a chance to experiment with all of them since I was busy clearing the remaining routes. One of these days, I’ll replay the game using Rogue Assassin, the most badass Chinese old man who uses martial arts and carries so much drip wherever he goes. 

 

This is all just within the standard melee fighting gameplay though. There is a secondary aspect of fighting in Fate/Samurai Remnant that comes in the form of a turn-based strategic tabletop called Spirit Fonts, which utilize core Fate concepts such as the Bounded Fields and Ley Lines. At some points in the plot, enemy Masters and Servants may establish Bounded Fields or tamper certain Ley Lines in order to prevent Iori and Saber from trespassing onto their territory or obstruct them from reaching certain destinations. 

This is by far the most elucidated aspect in the entire game, as Iori and his companions often spout lines on how to plan the strategic encounter. They guide you through every step of the way and often remind players to move to certain locations or use certain items. If you manage to befriend the Rogue Servants, they will come to your aid at certain Spirit Fonts, and it’ll make sense thematically with the story. Over time, you become more accustomed to these Spirit Font battles and naturally improve your strategic prowess at intercepting enemy points or disabling Bounded Fields so you can finish each encounter without wasting steps. 

However, Spirit Fonts can be the most frustrating part of the game, especially being unskippable encounters. After Chapter 3, the battlefield grows more complex, and any wrong move can force a complete restart.  It’s probably the few sections that I had the most difficulty with and found myself repeating them often just to get the timing right.

 

Thankfully, there is a payoff upon completing Spirit Font scenarios, namely unlocking regions of the map that are otherwise inaccessible. I stated in my preview that Fate/Samurai Remnant, while having explorable areas, doesn’t utilize an open-world format, which remains true throughout the entire game. It keeps the player on track to complete the main story while also offering enough side-material to peruse through when jumping between new towns and districts in Edo Japan. 

The Torikoe Shrine and the Yoshiwara districts from the early parts of the game are still my favorite areas to frequent, but later areas such as Akasaka and Yokosuka have refreshing architecture and environmental designs that reflect on which Master and Servants occupy that territory and indicate the wider scope of this war. It’s easy to assume that the Waxing Moon Ritual is uniquely an Edo Japan problem, but with it being such a well-known ceremony in the Fate universe, it is bound to attract outsiders and explain their entrance in the country on both a fictional and historical level. 

 

In terms of overall design, the most unique area is the Edo Castle location that is only unlocked upon starting the Rat Route. We typically think of Edo Castle as the sprawling domain of the local Shogun filled with towering staircases, multiple platforms and landings, and extravagant screen decorations — it must’ve been such a dream to fight in a place like this, right? 

Let’s just say Fate/Samurai Remnant’s rendition of Edo Castle is more than a simple corrupted horror show full of creepy and deranged creatures that are lurking on every floor. 

 

Upon completion of any of the initial two routes, Fate/Samurai Remnant unlocks a New Game+ mode that allows gamers to retain earned skills and consumables and restart the game from Chapter 2. It’s a great incentive to experience the remaining route and tackle missed Digressions.

I also found this aspect to be particularly welcoming for casual players like me, who get easily overwhelmed with lore, and for those who like their games to always be 100% completed. Other gamers might take joy in the fact they can experiment with new abilities that are otherwise locked behind main story completion, complete old commissions requests to earn zeni, explore the other regions that are locked by Digressions, or upgrade their workshops and Iori’s blades. For players who are planning to speedrun or fully complete Fate/Samurai Remnant, upgrading the workshops and Iori’s blades is essential to max out his stats, increase enemy material drops, or unlock the Wind stance. 

However, if all you want is to experience the route you missed out on, you will find yourself slogging through many familiar events again since New Game+ starts at Chapter 2, while the diverging events happen at the end of Chapter 3. It’s a bit too early for my tastes, and if I didn’t have the sense to save during my first playthrough, I would’ve had to go through another 30+ hours of gameplay to unlock the Rat Route.

 

I typically have a policy to never return to solo games once the ending credits start rolling, regardless of how many routes or endings it has. However, Fate/Samurai Remnant doesn’t fall in that category. With a clean narrative chock-full of character interactions and developments, the game is both so condensed and vague at the same time that it inspires me to play through the routes and unlock everything. 

The dynamic and flashy gameplay also elevates the experience, as it actively lets the Master participate in battle alongside their Servant instead of being a bystander who simply schemes on the side. All the Fate aspects are cleanly explained for even non-Fate fans to understand, and there’s that historical backdrop that really makes the game stand out from the numerous Fate entries that focus on a modern-day setting or a future apocalyptic era. 

There are definitely some learning curves and caveats to embracing a game such as Fate/Samurai Remnant, but it’s arguably one of the best fleshed-out Fate games in a long time. I highly recommend everyone to try out this game or at least laugh and cry along with the dialogue that really pulls the story together. Perhaps this game will encourage future Fate creatives to think outside the box, experiment with new possibilities, and ultimately bring the franchise to newer heights. 

Until then, I’ll be taking my time completing Fate/Samurai Remnant with all of its quirky endings and side stories.  

*There is a secret ending featuring Rogue Ruler Gilgamesh where Gilgamesh, Iori, and Saber decide to abandon the Waxing Moon Ritual to pursue Gilgamesh’s dreams of entrepreneurship across Japan. It isn’t tied to a specific route, so long as you complete Gilgamesh’s Digressions. This is a gag ending that caught me by surprise, but it is worth unlocking for the extra dialogue and artwork.

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