There's an awful lot to like about Fate/Samurai Remnant — an action RPG set in 1600s Japan. With the country on the brink of unprecedented societal change, protagonist Miyamoto Iori finds himself at a loss. A diligent student of soon-to-be-outdated swordplay, Iori gets by on local busy work, but can't shake the feeling that his life is stuck in a rut.
However, just as he's contemplating what the future holds, he's torn from his everyday conundrums by the Waxing Moon Ritual — an otherworldly event in which a chosen few fight to the death over an all-powerful wish. It's a rather jarring escalation, but you do end up feeling for Iori in the sense that his life might finally mean something — and you really are rooting for the down-on-his-luck lead from that point on.
The game's character-driven storytelling is largely fantastic. Iori and his fellow 'Masters' are granted command of incredibly strong 'Servants' — warriors from throughout history, who have been reborn in order to compete in the aforementioned ritual. If you're completely new to Fate as a franchise, Samurai Remnant's often abstract concepts and lore may seem overbearing, but the game actually does an impressive job of keeping you up to speed. It's also a standalone tale, so you don't have to worry about any prior knowledge.
What makes the plot so compelling is the fact that Iori is such an underdog. He may bear the title of a Master, but it's his Servant, Saber, who has to hold his hand — initially with disdain — as he learns the ropes. The protagonist struggles to come to terms with his newfound responsibility, and it doesn't help that his opponents in the Ritual all seem to be so accomplished. He's up against famous samurai, foreign warlords, and influential politicians. Iori's journey isn't just about self discovery — it's about earning the respect of Saber and those around him.
Given the superhuman abilities that Servants possess, Iori's skills with a sword count for very little — and this is something that's cleverly mirrored during gameplay. In battle, Saber is essentially your special move machine; calling upon Saber to unleash magical attacks is how you'll deal noticeable damage to your enemies, while Iori's own strikes are used to build up to those explosive moments.
This balance does even out a bit later in the game when Iori has access to advanced techniques and abilities, but it's still an interesting and fairly unique dynamic for a combat system. Playing primarily as Iori, the game conveys your relative lack of strength to excellent effect — temporarily switching to your Servant and mowing down hordes of foes with minimal effort highlights just how huge the gap in power levels is. And while it could be argued that Iori's hit-and-run gameplay isn't a whole lot of fun at times, the struggles of the title's early hours makes your eventual victories all the sweeter.
Samurai Remnant's structure is quite interesting as well. Taking place in and around the capital city, you'll travel to different districts via a map, and each area has its own 3D space filled with landmarks, shops, and NPCs. These environments remind us of the Like a Dragon series, where narrow streets and secret alleyways form a tight-knit basis for exploration. Granted, 1600s Edo doesn't have the same level of detail or overall scope as Kamurocho, but journeying around town with Saber is surprisingly entertaining, especially as the curious Servant demands answers about the modern world.
When you're not exploring Edo, you'll be engaging in battle. Whether it's bandits in a secluded corner of the city, or a demonic invasion brought about by the ritual, fights plop you into moderately sized arenas. Sometimes, you'll be up against groups of foes, and other times, you'll be tasked with bringing down a monstrous boss. Again, Iori's more than capable of going toe-to-toe with regular humans, but Saber's strength will be needed to best anything more.
Mechanically, combat is somewhat simple. Musou fans will feel right at home with the hack-and-slash combo system, but welcome nuance is provided through Saber's special attacks, and Iori's own stance-specific abilities. That said, battles take a while to really click, and the mechanics only reach their true potential once you're about midway through the game, when you've unlocked a much wider range of techniques.
Thankfully, plenty of boss fights against varied opposition keep things interesting, and you've always got the twisting and turning narrative bubbling away in the background. Upgrading Iori's equipment and abilities is an addictive process as well, as loot and skill points are plentiful throughout.
There's only one part of the game that we're not quite sold on — and that's the strategic territory-capturing sections. In order to properly utilise the underlying magical energies of the ritual, Iori and Saber have to connect ley lines that run beneath the city, and this means having to navigate a tactical map, turn by turn. The title tries its best to explain how it all works, but the system still ends up feeling convoluted — especially when new, additional actions are frequently introduced. While these strategic segments do inject some variety, they're just a touch overwrought.
Fate/Samurai Remnant really leaves a mark with its character-driven story. The tale of Miyamoto Iori is consistently intriguing, and watching such a grounded protagonist navigate seemingly insurmountable situations is what makes this action RPG so compelling. The uniquely balanced combat system takes a while to get going, and the strategy stuff runs a bit hot and cold, but this is a surprisingly intricate package overall. A surefire win for Fate fans and newcomers alike.