If you haven't noticed, I'm a big fan of Type Moon, and their most prominent series, the Fate Series. That being said, if you asked me what my favorite Type-Moon game was, you wouldn't get the typical F/SN or Tsukihime; Instead, my response to you would be what we have for review today, Fate/hollow ataraxia.
DISCLAIMER - This review was written using an unfinished fan translation from Beast's Lair with 83.3% done. In the 83.3% patch, there are parts that are not verified, have typos, or are still in Japanese, so if you are interested, be aware of these issues, and depending on the version you play, my experience might be slightly different than yours.
Fate/hollow ataraxia is a sequel set a half of year later, after all endings in Fate/stay night. How does that work, you may ask? A magical accident goes horribly wrong, messing with time and space, causing everybody who died in the 5th holy grail war to come back to life, with the 5th holy grail war starting up again. To me, that sounded like a huge excuse to continue the plot, and if there is an excuse to continue a story that's more BS than that, I'd like to hear it. Just to prove how absurd it is, in an interview with the writer, Nasu said
"It's best if you don't think too much about it (laugh)."
Because I'm too lazy to write up my own plot summary, and Wikipedia does a good job in summarizing it, I'm just going to use theirs.
Bazett Fraga McRemitz, a member of the Mages' Association and a master in the 5th Holy Grail War, wakes on the fourth day of the 5th Holy Grail war with a new servant, Avenger, and no memory of what happened to her beforehand. She and Avenger set off to fight and win the Holy Grail War.
Meanwhile, Shirou Emiya lives a peaceful life with all his friends from the 5th Holy Grail War. The Servants sense a new danger while dark creatures appear soon afterward. Shirou sets off to ensure nobody is in danger and finds himself frequently meeting a mysterious girl, Caren Ortensia.
Both Bazett and Shirou find themselves in time loop that lasts four days, beginning of the fourth day of the 5th Holy Grail War. Each time they die or survive four days, they always awake on the first day of the loop aware of what has happened to them since the first time loop began. Determined to end the loop, Bazett, Avenger, and Shirou fight to discover the truth behind what's causing the endless four days.
It might not have the large scope of the other Fate stories, it's not a bad thing, and it leads to a focused narrative. While the premise of this plot might seem quite generic given the whole groundhog day plot, and the fact that it's eerily similar to Kagetsu Tohya (another Type-Moon game), what makes this game special is not the premise, but the execution: almost everything about this game, story-wise is executed very well, with all the Type-Moon quirks you should expect (you know, trying to be extremely deep as all hell).
The serious bits of the story are amazing. Seeing Bazett and Avenger trying to figure out what's up while fighting the 5th holy grail war is very interesting and lead to some absolutely fantastic and well written fight scenes. Seeing shirou going through the town was like seeing the best parts of F/SN again, which was great. The game's atmosphere it makes with this story, is just outstanding as well, with a as a great sense of mystery. This sense of mystery is done very well, and turns an average action story into something better; something with substance.
However, Fate/hollow atraraxia is a much more light hearted story than any of Type-Moon's games. The tone is like a mixture between Fate/stay night and Carnival Phantasm; It has the seriousness of Fate/stay night at times, with the exaggerated silliness of Carnival Phantasm, yet it excels at both. If you are coming from Fate/Zero's cold seriousness, this might be a turn off, but if your like me and enjoyed the humor of Carnival Phantasm, you will love this, just like I did. The best part is how it balances the two; It doesn't just shaft either tone.... instead it prioritizes them as equally as they possibly can, and seeing this balance is something I love.
No matter what tone of writing was in place at the time, Fate/hollow ataraxia excels in creating excellent scenes, which leads to some amazing character development and an enjoyable story. The scenes, which range from a simple things like eating food, to epic fights, is something that really make the story great and help the enjoyment of the game. Even though a good majority of characters already have a great deal of development due to Fate/stay night being way longer than it needed, the extra development is appreciate and the development with the new characters like Caren and Avenger was absolutely great.
While pretty much everything about the story is fantastic, and it even has a neat message that I particularly enjoyed but won't spoil (hint: It's called Fate/hollow ataraxia for a reason), it has a meh ending. While enjoyable, it's kinda cliche, anti-climatic and uses a Deus Ex Machina to wrap it up. Any other complaints other than that would be massive nitpicking however
Writing - 9.5/10
Due to Fate/hollow ataraxia's interesting way of plot progression, this creates an interesting means of gameplay . It creates a semi-linear plot, with the main plot being broke into chapters and told in a straight line, but for anything else, you can do it in any order and each time loop is separate to everybody but Bazett, Emiya and Avenger. You switch between the perspectives of Bazett and Shirou; at the beginning of each chapter you have the kinetic novel-like Bazett segments, then you play with Shirou for the rest of it. When you are playing Shirou, it's 4 days, each day broken up into 4 segments (morning, noon, afternoon, night) in which you see one event. Each character represents an event and when there's an event you haven't seen, there's either a NEW or ! that pops up. All ! events are for the story, while the NEW ones are just things on the side. The big kicker to the gameplay? Saves act as quick-saves and you can't make a ton of them. Also, on the side, FHA has a few mini games. They control OK, and are quite fun.
This system of gameplay gives you a lot of control on the pace you want to go at: you can fool around with all the Slice of Life side scenes, and have slower SoL pacing, or you can go straight to the important stuff and have a very tight, almost thriller-esque story. I did a mix of the two depending on my mood, and I absolutely loved the amount of control they give you when it comes to pace; it's like a book in that aspect. You feel more like you are actually progressing through the plot with Shirou, and accompanied by the ability to change the pace make a game that is a change of pace for visual novels (pun intended). I loved this aspect of it, and it made for an engaging experience that you typically don't see in a visual novel.
Gameplay - 9/10
If you haven't noticed, this game is pretty. While a good majority of art is just carryovers from Fate/stay night, but all the new stuff is amazing and there's quite a bit. This is like the first truly modern Type-Moon work in my eyes, with some absolutely beautiful CG. Even though it's only a year newer than F/SN, it's aged so much better. It's so polished, beautiful and detailed; It's a game with style, one that uses style to get over technological feats. I also really appreciate all the visual effects this game has, like the simple omake-esque art, to more advanced things like bokeh, and it really spices it up makes the visuals into something special. Even b etter than that though... is those amazing fight scenes. While being a Visual Novel, they have so much art, and the motion is so fluid that it's like watching an anime. It's fantastic and I love it.
Also, just like its predecessor, This is an eroge... soo.. QUE THE OBLIGATORY EROGE WARNING HERE. That being said,most of the H scenes are completely optional, which is nice but there's one at the end of the game that you'll have to get through to finish the story, so be aware of that.
Visuals - 9/10
Icing on the cake. That's what this soundtrack is. Wonderful. Personally, I wasn't a big fan of F/SN's soundtrack, so stepping into F/HA's was something that blew my mind. Fate/hollow ataraxia has variety, extremely memorable tracks, and is just composed well. There's some really stellar stuff in here, and almost always you'll be listening to something that's pleasing to your ear. This soundtrack does it all: great usage, sets up an atmosphere that works extremely well, is great to listen to outside of the game, and manages to blow your mind. One thing to note though is that there's no Voiceover like in Fate/stay night, which sucks, but considering how great the soundtrack is, it's not a really big deal.
Sound - 9/10
My issue with so much of Type-Moon stuff is that a good majority have a huge flaw. Tsukihime has it's low production values, Kara no Kyoukai has an insanely high barrier of entry, Fate/stay night is way too long for it's own good, and Fate/Zero was really boring due to the charecters. Fate/hollow ataraxia has none of this. Unlike the others, this game is constantly trying to entertain you, and I've been entertained. Fate/hollow ataraxia is probably the most fun I've ever had playing a VN.... totally serious here.
I first played this on the 3.1 official translation, and only got about 40 percent through the game because the translation wasn't anywhere close to done. Even though I never even got close to finishing it, I loved the hell out of it, and I called it my favorite type moon work.... with 40% DONE! When I went to play through it this time... I loved it just as much! Replaying it didn't hinder my experience at all; that's how enjoyable this game is.
The list of great things about Fate/hollow ataraxia can go on and on... The references from Fate/Zero and Fate/Stay Night were entertaining, the world building was outstanding, the balance of slice of life and plot was great, the game has a great sense of humor, and overall... I love Fate/hollow ataraxia.
Enjoyment - 10/10
If you haven't gotten the message yet, I love Fate/hollow ataraxia. How can a small fan disk sequel be better than the original game that spawned a mecha series that's adored by tons of fans? Simple. By being much more entertaining, improving apon it's predecessor every way, and having a charm that few games can match. It's a great game, and hope you'll love it just as much as I did.
OVERALL - 9.5/10, Polarization -2
Copyright Disclaimer: Under Title 17, Section 107 of United States Copyright law, reviews are protected under fair use. This is a review, and as such, all media used in this review is used for the sole purpose of review and commentary under the terms of fair use. All footage, music and images belong to the respective companies.
This game is available on Fuwanovel for download.