Doctorkev Does Fate/Stay Night: Part 1: Fate route

2 weeks ago 12

Illya and BAHSAHKAH are here to tell you the correct way to experience Fate. Deviate from Illya’s instructions and she’ll keep you as an eternally suffering but immobile living doll, unable to scream or beg for forgiveness. Or maybe she’ll just allow her meat-mountain servant to smush you into itty-bitty pieces.

Illya and BAHSAHKAH are here to tell you the correct way to experience Fate. Deviate from Illya’s instructions and she’ll keep you as an eternally suffering but immobile living doll, unable to scream or beg for forgiveness. Or maybe she’ll just allow her meat-mountain servant to smush you into itty-bitty pieces.Screenshot: TYPE-MOON

So for the past year or more, I’ve been gradually trudging my way through the entire Monogatari anime series - all 100 episodes and 3 movies, and writing my thoughts about them on AniTAY. Although I’ve recently finished watching the final season, I can’t quite bring myself to write about it. Yet. Don’t worry, I’ll get round to exorcising that aberration from my system eventually.

In the meantime, I thought it might be fun to start an in-depth look at another pillar of anime fandom, the world-conquering monolithic behemoth that is TYPE-MOON’s Fate franchise. Unlike with Monogatari, I am no Fate newbie. My first Fate exposure was to the fansubbed version of Studio DEEN’s oft-derided 2006 Fate/Stay Night anime. Although these days most fans look down on the series, back in the mid-to-late 2000s, it was how the majority of western Fate fans were introduced to the wild and complex world of the “Nasuverse” and TYPE-MOON’s properties as a whole.

Fate/Grand Order: That’s gacha hell you’re walking into

Fate/Grand Order: That’s gacha hell you’re walking intoIllustration: Aniplex/Delightworks

Despite the franchise’s wild international success, (no doubt latterly driven by the absurdly profitable spin-off Fate/Grand Order mobile game - among its millions of indentured slaves I am most certainly counted), at least as far as Fate’s anime adaptations are concerned, there really is no ideal place for new potential initiates to begin their indoctrination.

The whole thing started back in 2004 with the debut of Kinoko Nasu’s (writer) and Takashi Takeuchi’s (artist) Fate/Stay Night visual novel. Initially released on PC, it was eventually ported to PS2, PS Vita, iOS and Android. Nasu and Takeuchi were (and remain) central figures in TYPE-MOON (formerly a doujin circle, now an incorporated company) who produced the earlier visual novel Tsukihime and the novel series Kara no Kyoukai (The Garden of Sinners), all also written by Nasu. Their works loosely share the same universe underpinned by D&D-derived, RPG-like lore. Although Fate/Stay Night (henceforth referred to as F/SN) is set in this “Nasuverse”, knowledge of the earlier works is not required to enjoy it.

The three routes of Fate/Stay Night

The three routes of Fate/Stay NightIllustration: TYPE-MOON

Common to many visual novels, F/SN is structured like a “choose-your-own-adventure story”, with a common beginning section that branches off into different plots depending on the choices made by the reader. Interestingly, F/SN is structured in a way that demands each of the three main routes be read in a certain order, as although each storyline occurs contemporaneously, subsequent routes build upon essential plot information introduced in the previous story. Nasu uses this structure to examine, interrogate and subvert the ideals and even identity of protagonist Shirou Emiya. Despite incredible domestic success in Japan, the F/SN VN was never officially localised into English in any format.

Studio DEEN’s 24-episode 2006 anime TV series mainly adapted the first route “Fate”, but poisoned the well for future adaptations by poorly integrating critical plot points/spoilers for the subsequent two routes that muddied Fate’s focus and angered fans. In 2010, DEEN adapted the second route Unlimited Blade Works into a heavily condensed 2-hour film that was also poorly received by fans.

Fate/Zero is probably the best Fate anime, but if you want to avoid enormous spoilers for all three F/SN routes, it’s best to hold back and watch it later.

Fate/Zero is probably the best Fate anime, but if you want to avoid enormous spoilers for all three F/SN routes, it’s best to hold back and watch it later.Illustration: Aniplex

In 2012, highly regarded production studio Ufotable animated an adaptation of Gen Orubuchi’s F/SN prequel novels Fate/Zero. Fate/Zero was staggeringly successful and introduced a whole new generation of fans to the franchise. As high quality as it was, as an introduction to F/SN it was unsuitable because it spoiled so many of the carefully hidden character and plot reveals of the original three routes. Perhaps that didn’t matter to most English language viewers, as until recently there was no way for westerners to legitimately experience the entire story as originally intended anyway.

Ufotable continued their Fate adaptations with their own version of Unlimited Blade Works (2014). As a 26-episode (split) two-cour TV show, this allowed room for the story to breathe, and was a far more accurate rendition of the Visual Novel’s complex story, complete with incredible action sequences. Buoyed by their success, Ufotable progressed to the... um... “holy grail” (sorry...) of Fate adaptations - the ultra-grim, super-violent, thematically dark and harrowing third route: Heaven’s Feel. This time, in order to do the story justice, they released this as a trilogy of high-budget theatrical movies, the third and final of which was released only last month in Japan. Once this arrives in the west, finally we will be able to (more-or-less) see the entirety of the original VN’s story on screen.

Fate/Kaleid Liner Prisma Illya: What... even... is... this...? Not a good place to start. Magical girls and creepy fanservice aplenty.

Fate/Kaleid Liner Prisma Illya: What... even... is... this...? Not a good place to start. Magical girls and creepy fanservice aplenty.Screenshot: TYPE-MOON

Even with the completion of the Heaven’s Feel trilogy, it does still leave one question - where on earth should one start watching Fate? (And let’s not even get into the multitude of other anime spin-offs like Apocrypha, Extra, Kaleid Liner Prisma Illya, Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family or Lord El-Melloi’s Case Files. Uncontrolled exposure to the sheer volume of Fate anime in recent years would be aneurysm-inducing to a newbie.) Fan debates continue to rage, with one core group noisily advocating to READ THE ORIGINAL VISUAL NOVEL! That’s all well and good, but how in hell’s name, other than learning Japanese, importing a long-out-of-print PS2 or Vita game and jailbreaking your ancient console to play imports, would one do this?

Enter our magnificent saviours at Reddit and the fan translation community. The source files for the Japanese PC version are easily found using a simple google search, and there is a guide to installation of fan translation patches here, and some are available to download here. Be aware there are multiple versions of the game and patches, so make sure you install the correct iterations. I installed them onto my new(ish) windows 10 laptop and everything worked great. You can even copy the game across to an android tablet or phone using certain VN-reading apps. I did try this on my iPad but could not get it to work. All this technical jiggery-pokery is quite a big ask for the casual fan who may not be familiar with torrenting or applying weird patches and video codecs. If only it was available on one’s digital storefront of choice. So what stops this from appearing on Steam, or the Epic Games Store, or GOG?

Could it be the porn?

Uh-oh. She’s on a bed. She’s blushing. Creepy eroge scene alert!

Uh-oh. She’s on a bed. She’s blushing. Creepy eroge scene alert!Screenshot: TYPE-MOON

Yes, much as the wider franchise might try to sidestep this topic, F/SN began the entire franchise as a member of the “eroge” (erotic game) genre. Anyone who has read my recent articles knows of my suffering in regards to these. I swore I wouldn’t read another. Well... that promise didn’t last long. Each of the main F/SN routes follows the traditional VN dating sim convention of focusing on a specific “main girl” or heroine per route. Pick the right choices, and your self-insert featureless protagonist gets to bang your chosen girl, often with disturbingly explicit artwork. For its wider release onto consoles, F/SN was enhanced and cleaned up, with the substitution of explicit sex scenes by events of a less sexual nature. So far, the animated adaptations mostly went with these less explicit options. The most up-to-date PC files are based on the superior “clean” F/SN: Realta Nua version, but of course there is a patch to edit the raunchy scenes back in, so of course my curiosity being what it is I could not resist the urge to find out what the fuss was about. More about this later.

Anyway, so if there is a cleaned up version, what’s the problem? As far as I’m aware, TYPE-MOON has never directly addressed the question of a western release. Perhaps their licensing fee is too high for localisation companies to make a translated product profitable? Let’s face it - the Western VN industry is miniscule in comparison to its anime counterpart, which in itself is hardly mainstream. Perhaps TYPE-MOON don’t care enough to update a 16-year -old PC game for modern machines. There’s unlikely to be enough money in it for them. Certainly nothing close to FGO’s annual billions in profit.

I mean, I suppose you could try to track down this version...

I mean, I suppose you could try to track down this version...Image: TYPE-MOON

Fully patched, the fan-translated version works fine. It’s playable either windowed in an 800x600 box (presumably the original resolution) or slightly upscaled to fullscreen with pillarboxing. All the assets are drawn in 4:3, so this will never be playable in full widescreen HD. Even for an older game, the artwork is sharp and beautiful. Often during action scenes, the picture will (deliberately) judder from side-to-side, which left persistent artifacts at either side of the image that I found distracting, and only disappeared on switching briefly back to windowed mode. The few videos that play at the beginning or partway through the story can lead to a crashes or visual corruption, so I had to install a specific codec to fix that issue (detailed in the Reddit link above). Most scenes are fully voiced by the same Japanese voice actors as the 2006 anime. Obviously there is no English dub. Each of the three routes is confined to its own .exe, which means you should complete Fate before moving onto Unlimited Blade Works etc. In older versions, certain choices caused a switch from one route to another. This no longer happens in the Realta Nua version that you should be reading.

Such is the complexity of F/SN’s background, I have managed to write 1500 words without even touching on the basic premise of the story. Despite sharing DNA with many other dating/eroge-type games, F/SN at its heart is fantasy fanwank - “what if famous historical/mythological figure X beat the shit out of famous historical/mythological figure Y. Who would win?” Yes, this is the history otaku version of Superman vs. Captain America.

In the Japanese town of Fuyuki, every few decades, seven mages from established magical families/organisations secretly battle for possession of “The Holy Grail” (most pointedly NOT the original Holy Grail from Christian myth). In this world, the grail is an amorphous and supposedly omnipotent wish-granting magical device that can break the rules of physics and causality to fulfill the desires of whoever holds it. Each mage (or “master”) summons a “heroic spirit” or “servant” to conduct their battles by proxy, and in a very D&D-like fashion, each spirit (usually a well-known figure from ancient history or myth) conforms to one of seven classes: Saber, Lancer, Archer, Rider, Caster, Assassin or Berserker. Each class has its own strengths and weaknesses, and each servant’s past life and myth affects their manifested abilities. A mage can only summon a servant by using a “catalyst”, usually something associated with the servant while they were still alive, and the personality of the master affects which type of servant they can summon. A dribblingly evil, psychotic master would be unlikely to summon a heavenly paragon of virtue, for example.

Once each of the seven masters has summoned their servant, a battle royale begins in which there can be only one victorious master/servant pair, who then each gain the right to request a wish from the grail. If a servant is eliminated, their master generally loses their ability to fight. If a master is eliminated, then the servant can generally no longer manifest in the world. (I say “generally” because the plot hinges on increasingly complex exceptions to these rules.) Each master is granted three “command seals” that are extremely powerful spells that bind even disobedient servants to their master’s will for those specific commands issued using them. Each spell appears as a tattoo on the master’s right hand that disappears upon use. Use of a command spell is a master’s nuclear option, to be used only in the direst of circumstances.

F/SN follows the masters and servants of the 5th Holy Grail War in Fuyuki, mainly focusing on Shirou Emiya, a 17-year-old orphaned boy who lives in his deceased adoptive father’s house, watched over by his homeroom teacher/guardian/freeloader Taiga Fujimura. Shirou was one of the few survivors of the disastrous 4th Holy Grail 10 years previously, when his city was engulfed in flames. He was rescued from certain death by the late Kiritsugu Emiya, whose shadow is cast over the entire story by his choices in raising Shirou.

Saber’s first appearance

Saber’s first appearanceScreenshot: TYPE-MOON

Kiritsugu taught Shirou rudimentary magecraft that he uses to repair broken devices. To begin with, Shirou attends school like a normal boy and knows nothing of the grim, destructive grail wars that happen intermittently in his city, all traces of which are covered up by the Mage’s association or the Church. One night he is shocked to find a beautiful, young, armour-clad blonde woman standing in his home asking if he is her master... She introduces herself as “Saber” and Shirou is unwittingly dragged into the 5th Holy Grail War - inexperienced, unprepared and ignorant.

For a significant portion of the Fate route, F/SN reads very much like a typical high school fantasy story, with significant slice-of-life or even rom-com elements, with many scenes centred around domestic occurrences like mealtimes. Shirou is an accomplished cook, so his guardian Taiga mooches breakfast and dinner off him most days, along with school friend Sakura, a quiet girl who the plot sends AWOL halfway through the route. Shirou gradually adds female characters to his (mostly) chaste harem - first Saber, then classmate Rin and finally creepy noble girl Illya. Shirou’s only other male acquaintance of consequence (other than bit-part best friend Issei) is Sakura’s brother Shinji, probably the most hateful little shit in the history of anime. To explain why he is so hated would be to voyage deep into disturbing spoiler territory, but he is marked as a douchebag pretty much from his first appearance.

The noble Saber with Holy Sword and deeply impractical armour.

The noble Saber with Holy Sword and deeply impractical armour.Screenshot: TYPE-MOON

Saber keeps her true identity hidden to begin with, though it is clear to Shirou that she is British, straight-laced, business-like and incredibly repressed. She wants to get out there and do some smiting with her mighty invisible sword, though Shirou is horrified that a girl should be fighting on his behalf. Much of the conflict between master and servant is due to his insistence on putting himself in harm’s way, despite Saber being the battle-trained magical warrior. Only with many beatings and arguments does he eventually loosen up and let Saber do her damn job. I recall in the anime this aspect of his personality drove me crazy - he came across as a chauvinistic, condescending moron. At least in the VN, his misguided obsessions about becoming a hero of justice like his father are explored and explained in more depth. The reader may not agree with his decisions, but at least one can empathise with - and even pity him. Shirou has been deeply damaged by both his father’s ideology and his subsequent death.

Saber herself is a deeper character than she first appears. Duty-bound to a fault, she is (in the first of a long, storied tradition in the Fate franchise) a gender-bent version of an extremely famous mythical figure. To discuss her further we’ll need to enter BASIC SPOILER TERRITORY FOR A 16-YEAR-OLD GAME. In this world, King Arthur was a woman. (Artoria. Female version of the latin name“Artorius”. I don’t hold with this “Altria” bullshit that TYPE-MOON try to convince us to use in FGO.) Artoria was struck down at the battle of Camlann by the sword of her illegitimate son Mordred (hoo boy, is the story of his conception an article for another day) and died full of regrets about her self-perceived lack of success as king.

Shirou and Saber fighting together

Shirou and Saber fighting togetherScreenshot: TYPE-MOON

Artoria’s wish, should she win the grail, is to re-do the sword of selection trial (where she pulled the sword Caliburn out of the stone to be crowned King of England) so that someone else becomes King instead and does a better job. It transpires that Artoria is not the same as the other servants who have been summoned as spirits after death - they are basically ghosts who can punch real hard - she made a deal with “the world” on her deathbed that should she gain the holy grail and be successful in claiming her wish, she could be summoned for all eternity to fight as a servant, even if she made it so that she was never King. The girl Artoria would suffer endlessly for the sake of her country. Saber is still alive, and upon her success will return over a thousand years into the past to die and begin her eternal servitude. I do not recall this being explained in the anime (that’s not to say it wasn’t) and felt this added a particularly tragic, horrifying twist to Saber’s character.

Fate is full of fascinating lore, strange exceptions to arcane rules, and complex characters with believable motivations tied directly to their myths and legends. Perhaps this is why it resonates so strongly with so many people. As a child, I loved reading the stories of King Arthur and his knights, and reading about a female version bothers me a lot less than I thought it might. Saber isn’t just a woman because it adds extra waifu-appeal to a lurid sex game for weebs - no, it enriches and complicates her story in a compelling way. Saber’s character is explored and her motivations challenged just as much as Shirou’s, and together they complement each other extremely well - especially later, as Shirou learns to control his very basic magecraft to complement and enhance Saber’s fighting ability. Many choices in the game relate to how Shirou interacts with Saber - whether it be in battle, or in a more domestic environment - and it is always interesting to read all the possible outcomes to each branching choice. Suffice to say I thoroughly abused the save and reload system.

Rin in action - probably launching magic projectiles into someone’s face

Rin in action - probably launching magic projectiles into someone’s faceScreenshot: TYPE-MOON

The next most important character is Rin Tohsaka, who is for many Fate fans, unarguably Best Girl. Her chance to shine doesn’t come until the second route, however she does play an important part here as source of exposition, jokes and insults at Shirou’s expense, plus she even gets to moonlight as a... um... fluffer. (We’ll get to that... later.)

Rin is a fellow orphan - she seems to live alone in a large Western-style house. Unlike Shirou, Rin knows what’s up with the grail war deal as she has inherited her long established mage family’s magical crest. In Fate lore, individual mages develop their magecraft and pass it on to one single descendant who in turn develop and hone the power further, before eventually passing it on themselves. In this way, their magecraft’s power increases with each successive generation, encouraging the main ancient mage families to act like inhuman, elitist bastards. The whole mess that the grail wars eventually degenerate into can be traced back to the fact that in the Fate universe, mages are basically assholes.

Rin doing her best Edgy Rooftop DC Superhero impression. “Shirou Emiya. You have FAILED this city.”

Rin doing her best Edgy Rooftop DC Superhero impression. “Shirou Emiya. You have FAILED this city.”Screenshot: TYPE-MOON

Befitting the scion of the powerful Tohsaka family, Rin is imperious, standoffish and elitist - but she’s not all bad. She clearly develops a liking for Shirou, and despite their relationship as rival masters and natural enemies, she strikes up an alliance with him. That Shirou survives any of the insanity to come can be attributed to Rin’s interest in (and patience with) him. In fact she saves his life early in the story after he meets a grisly fate at the pointy end of the servant Lancer’s spear.

Rin sets out to summon a servant in preparation for the war - she knows exactly what’s coming. Although she admits to having no particular wish in mind, she just wants to win. She’s that kind of girl - spoiled and entitled. Although intending to summon a servant of the Saber (apparently the strongest) class, Rin screws up and summons a nameless Archer who immediately starts messing with her, causing her to “waste” a command seal to bind him to her will. Although Archer is most definitely a heroic spirit of some kind, Rin is at a loss as to who he truly is, and due to the botched nature of his summoning he claims to be unsure of who he originally was too.

Rin’s mysterious Archer servant. Could he really, possibly be Actually Satan?

Rin’s mysterious Archer servant. Could he really, possibly be Actually Satan?Screenshot: TYPE-MOON

In contrast to Shirou’s Saber, Archer is extremely cynical, rather than idealistic. He openly dislikes Shirou. He plays only a brief supporting role in this route. We never discover his identity and his fate is met off-screen partway through the story. During their alliance, Rin moves in with Shirou - platonically - though she insists that Sakura avoids the house as a non-grail-war participant.

The next major master character is Illyasviel Einzbern - a strange mixture of childlike innocence and cruelty, who - again - seems to be parentless. Of presumably Germanic descent, she resides in a remote castle, attended to by maids. She summons Berserker, a nigh-unkillable monstrosity - a incarnation of the Greek demigod Hercules whose summoning into the berserker class removes his sanity. Despite functioning more as a force of nature than a sentient being, Berserker follows Illya’s every command. It’s almost heartbreaking when she inevitably loses him.

“Big brother Shirou, you’re like a teddy bear. And once I’ve transferred your soul into one, your transformation will be complete. We’ll be together forever!” Run the fuck away, Emiya. Run.

“Big brother Shirou, you’re like a teddy bear. And once I’ve transferred your soul into one, your transformation will be complete. We’ll be together forever!” Run the fuck away, Emiya. Run.Screenshot: TYPE-MOON

Illya also becomes obsessed with “big brother Shirou” and many of the “bad ends” are choices that lead to her either horrifically murdering him with Berserker or somehow claiming his soul and doing disturbing things with it. In cliched shonen tradition, Illya eventually becomes another ally who also moves in with Shirou and the other girls. Her interactions with both Saber and Rin are pretty amusing as neither of them think Shirou sheltering this young sociopath is a good idea.

Many secrets about Illya’s origin and purpose are only barely hinted at here, the other routes will presumably contain more detail. Apparently, Nasu had originally planned for there to be an Illya-centric route to follow, but we can all thank God that never materialised. Well, it kind of did. You can go satisfy your creepy paedophilic desires with spinoff series Fate/Kaleid Liner Prisma Illya, you sick perv. What is clear is that in this world, Illya is not a normal girl and that this route’s ultimate bad guy has dastardly plans for her.

So far we’ve discussed three masters and three servants. This being a grail war, there are meant to be seven masters and seven servants, right? Yeah... uh, kind of... This is where things start to get a bit more complicated and confusing and I remember being lost when watching the anime. Lancer (pictured above) is introduced very early, but the identity of his master is kept secret until the very end... and even then, there are some ambiguities and missing details. He is a manifestation of Cu Chulainn, hero of Irish myth., wielder of Gae Bolg - the cursed spear.

The aforementioned douchebag Shinji Matou commands the servant Rider, a murderous purple-haired bombshell who rides a winged white horse straight out of Greek mythology, though in this route she is never named. Shinji also seems to command her using spells from a book, rather than command seals tattooed to his hands, so there are story details being kept hidden there.

So that leaves Caster - who barely appears, master unknown, plus Assassin, master also unknown. Caster is messily defeated by a wild card - a random extra servant who should not be there, while Assassin is somehow defeated by someone off-screen. If this route were one single story, these characters would feel grossly underdeveloped, their plots throwaway, pointless and full of holes. The benefit of F/SN’s structure is that you know they will be further explored later, in other routes. Only those masters and servants closely related to Shirou and Saber’s story get the lion’s share of screen-time and development.


Once all other servants bar one are defeated, the story moves into the endgame with the reveal of two new antagonists. Unsurprisingly, the very obviously evil priest Kirei Kotomine is one of them, and his backstory is particularly disturbing, especially when it is revealed what he did with the other child survivors of the past grail war, adopted by the church, using their decomposing (yet still living) bodies and souls as magical fuel. Shirou was so, so fortunate to be adopted instead by Kirei’s mortal enemy Kiritsugu Emiya. Kirei was a defeated master in the previous grail war, somehow survived along with his servant and together they plotted to twist the most recent war to their own ends. Including murdering the church’s allotted master and stealing their servant (Lancer).

Much like his modern political equivalent, he certainly has a certain way with women. At least he’s grabbing Saber by the foot rather than by the... you know what I’m getting at, right?

Much like his modern political equivalent, he certainly has a certain way with women. At least he’s grabbing Saber by the foot rather than by the... you know what I’m getting at, right?Screenshot: TYPE-MOON

Kirei’s original servant is a blond-haired psychopath with an insatiable desire for power and women, who looks down on everyone and everything. The prehistoric world’s Donald Trump archetype, as far as Gilgamesh is concerned, everything in the world already belongs to him, including the weapons and secret powers of every other servant. His main motivation is to break Saber and claim her as his wife, after he became besotted with her during the last war. Yes - this isn’t Saber’s first rodeo - she was Shirou’s father’s servant in the previous war, and remembers everything from it - including Kiritsugu’s horrendous apparent betrayal when he ordered Saber to destroy the grail, the very object of her suffering and desire. Normally each time a servant is summoned, they are like a new copy with no memories of their previous summonings. Saber, we know, is different, and Gilgamesh never died after the last war - he was granted a second life from the overspilling mana from the grail cup as it was destroyed.

The final battle between Saber and Gilgamesh and Shirou and Kotomine is tense and about as exciting and kinetic as the visual novel medium tends to get. When these guys get their comeuppance, it is very satisfying. Especially when Shirou quite literally sticks the knife into Kotomine, who had been getting a little too into the whole Cthultic Tentacle thing with poor Illya as a sacrifice, and Rin left for dead in a bloody puddle at home. A bittersweet ending follows, as no-one really gets what they want. The Grail itself is somehow corrupted, and although it can grant wishes, it will do so only at the cost of the world’s destruction. This time, armed with the information that Kiritsugu had denied her last time, Saber agrees to destroy the grail once and for all. Without its magical energy to sustain her presence, she leaves a bereft, lovelorn Shirou behind.

It’s a pretty ballsy ending that separates your main romantic couple for all eternity, via time and mortality. At least it hints that as her contract with the world is dissolved by the destruction of the grail at her own hand, by her own will, she will no longer have to fight eternally as a servant. (Unfortunately we know due to FGO that Saber will be repeatedly summoned, endlessly, and in many different versions including as a maid, a swimsuit model, an improbably boobtastic lancer, a space alien... Way to screw up your thematically complete ending in the pursuit of cold hard Gacha Cash, Nasu...)


Saber says goodbye. I’m not crying. I’m not crying. Those are just allergies. I’m allergic to goodbyes...

Saber says goodbye. I’m not crying. I’m not crying. Those are just allergies. I’m allergic to goodbyes...Screenshot: TYPE-MOON

F/SN has a reputation for being a very long read. So far I’ve only read the first route and it already took longer than I spent reading other entire visual novels. I reckon it took well over 20 hours to read through this, though that does include reading through every possible choice and obtaining almost every “Tiger Dojo” ending where you screw up. Taiga and Illya berate you to do better next time after returning to the previous save point. Thank God for the skip function (I think I say this every time I discuss VNs). The only sensible way to read through F/SN is with a guide. This is not one of your simple VNs with a few little cosmetic choices. No, decisions you make early on in the game determine what ending you’ll get and they’re not always obvious. So I used a flowchart. Take a look below at a small sample:

So this is just a tiny part of the choices flowchart for F/SN... WTF, TYPE-MOON? WTF?

So this is just a tiny part of the choices flowchart for F/SN... WTF, TYPE-MOON? WTF?Graphic: TYPE-MOON

This truly is next-level insanity. Mostly it was an enjoyable read, with a very clear translation, almost completely bereft of grammatical errors or typos. I can’t imagine a professional translation could be much better. Any criticisms likely stem from the original source material. Nasu never says something once when he can say it 53 different times instead. This can get a bit wearing, and I found myself irritably skipping through reams of repetitive ruminations only to realise I’d missed something then have to rewind back. Additionally, the text starts at the top of the screen and obscures the artwork beneath. Perhaps this is an oddity confined to older VNs, but I prefer the text to be in a window at the bottom of the screen where it doesn’t block my view of tEh PrEtTy AnImE wAiFuS.

I love this picture of a pensive Saber on the bus, her otherworldly beauty framed in ordinariness

I love this picture of a pensive Saber on the bus, her otherworldly beauty framed in ordinarinessScreenshot: TYPE-MOON

Takeuchi’s art always looks cool, with vivid use of colour and some striking character designs. Sometimes the facial anatomy looks a bit... off, but I’ll chalk that down to his style. Certainly his designs have become iconic, with Saber in particular as the most recognisable face in the franchise. Fate’s music has always been strong, and there are some fantastic and evocative themes that add to the atmosphere, from melancholy, contemplative tracks, to pumping techno/hard rock for the action sequences.

Emiya has some issues as a protagonist, but Saber is an engaging heroine. Strong but also vulnerable, she has a rigid moral code that is admirable, even if it is at times misguided. Her seemingly invincible warrior exterior hides the insecurities of a lonely teenage girl who was never able to make friends or grow emotionally in life. Her relationship with Shirou helps her to learn about true friendship and even love. In turn, she shows Shirou that he does not have to keep sacrificing himself for the sake of others - there is no point trying to love others if you cannot also love yourself.

This scene is far more heartfelt and meaningful than any of the more erotic scenes that seem like they belong in a different story altogether.

This scene is far more heartfelt and meaningful than any of the more erotic scenes that seem like they belong in a different story altogether.Screenshot: TYPE-MOON

On the subject of “love”, I guess I’d better discuss the long-promised patched-in “H” scenes, those edited out of the more-family-friendly console and mobile versions. Uh... yeah. In this route, there are two such scenes, I believe there may be more in the other routes I have yet to experience. First of all, I should explain that the sex scenes do serve a narrative purpose. Servants need mana to continue to be able to manifest and to use their powers (especially their nuclear option signature attacks called “noble phantasms” that are directly related to their identities as heroes. For example, Saber has three, the most famous being her holy sword Excalibur, which when unleashed can flatten an army.) Normally, servants are supplied with mana via the link with their masters. However in Shirou’s case, he’s not a true mage so is unable to supply Saber with the energy she needs. So in order to power her up, he either has to order her to kill and devour innocent humans, or, uh... exchange bodily fluids with her.

So that sounds like a great excuse for some hot naked master-on-servant action, right? Rin comments that it was a good job Saber was a girl, because then we’d be reading a very different genre of VN. There comes a point in the story where Saber is in danger of disappearing and a desperate Rin must convince Shirou to basically screw his servant’s brains out (and make sure they orgasm together, of course, or the magic doesn’t work...) She does this by seducing Saber in front of him (by kissing, licking, stroking... and more...) to make him horny, then invites Shirou to join them in a threesome. So I forget how many synonyms this section used for the word “wet”, but I lost count. I completely understand why this was cut out because it adds almost nothing to the story, Rin and Saber act very out of character, and it becomes more difficult to take them seriously after all the moaning, groaning, drooling and tongue-hanging-out ahegao faces. I mean if you’ve ever wanted to see Saber lick the fresh ejaculate from Shirou’s erect member, then knock yourself out, install the patch. However, the story would have been just as well served by fading to black without the unnecessarily graphic (and humiliating) sex scenes.

A shameless scene of Saber with her fully exposed She has an affinity to lions.

A shameless scene of Saber with her fully exposed She has an affinity to lions.Screenshot: TYPE-MOON

The second scene which is only between Shirou and Saber is not quite as creepy, but it does double down on Saber as an inexperienced, virginal girl who both does and doesn’t want Shirou to touch her. I felt this was unpleasantly voyeuristic and although it was relatively sweet, I don’t feel it added much to the story either. DEEN was correct to cut these scenes from the anime.

Overall, I do thoroughly recommend reading this route, if only as a decent introduction to F/SN. You could conceivably read only this, skip the DEEN anime and move onto Ufotable’s Unlimited Blade Works and then the Heaven’s Feel movies. That’s not what I’m going to do, though. I intend to plough through the second VN route next, and I’ll be back whenever I’m done to report on my progress. Thanks for reading to the end of my obscenely long ramblings, but when it comes to all things Fate, obnoxious verbosity is kind of on point.

“B-but Senpai, you barely mentioned me at all.” “Shush, Sakura. You’ll get your turn. Now go back to the basement to play. Your little friends are getting lonely in the dark.”

“B-but Senpai, you barely mentioned me at all.” “Shush, Sakura. You’ll get your turn. Now go back to the basement to play. Your little friends are getting lonely in the dark.”Screenshot: TYPE-MOON

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