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Sony's Fate/Grand Order is a brilliant fusion of JRPG and visual novel

The fact that Sony's smartphone game Fate/Grand Order (abbreviated as FGO) surpassed Nintendo's Pokémon Go must have surprised people in the game industry outside of Japan. Let me explain the secret of FGO's popularity and the analysis of game design.

Motoi Okamoto, Blogger

January 27, 2017

14 Min Read

(I initially posted this article in my blog LEAP TO THE FUTURE. )

The fact that Sony's smartphone game Fate/Grand Order (abbreviated as FGO) surpassed Nintendo's Pokémon Go must have surprised people in the game industry outside of Japan. According to the AppAnnie's monthly ranking in December (sum of grossing in iOS and android), FGO outperformed the sales of Pokémon Go and was ranked 4th.

FGO has been keeping high rank in the grossing ranking of both AppStore and Google Play since release released in Japan in the summer of 2015. Also, it was released in China by bilibili in the fall of 2016 and soon FGO got large popularity. That was because "Fate" had been recognized widely among China's anime fans through the animation produced by Aniplex (Sony's anime production).

China version of FGO was released in fall 2016

FGO has achieved a great success in both Japan and China, and might have a success even in English-speaking countries, because "Fate" is recognized by anime fans in those countries through Crunchyroll, the American online community which distributes Asian contents including anime, comic, drama and so on.

There are two articles reporting the success of FGO here.

As those articles show, the attention of Western people to FGO has been increasing little by little. Now, everyone knows "Pokémon" or "Mario", but most Western people except anime-fans don't know "Fate" yet. It is the most famous and tremendous popular series among Japan's Otaku-users.

Okay. Let me explain the secret of FGO's popularity and the analysis of game design. By the way, I spent more than 15 thousand dollars on this game! I confess that I'm a OVER-PAYING user.


What is Fate/Grand Order?

FGO is a brilliant fusion of two genres, JRPG and visual novel, which are the representative of Japan's story-driven game, and it is one extreme in the history of Japanese story-driven games. Recalling now, the year 2016 was an incredibly fruitful year for JRPG where FGO accomplished the finale of episode1 and both of Persona 5 and Final Fantasy 15 were released.

Legendary scenario writer Kinoko Nasu and two writers wrote all stories, attracting attention from many Otaku-users before the release. It is no doubt that he is the most popular and GREAT scenario writer in visual novel industry. He had written a few indie-novel and then developed a few legendary indie visual novels like Tsukihime (it means Moon Princess), Fate and others.

Legendary doujin-indie visual novel ”Tsukihime"

His indie brand, TYPE-MOON was in charge of scenario writing and character design, and DELiGHTWORKS developed client application and server program.

To put it simply, the story is that you should restore the erroneous history, summoning the ancient and east-west heroes in human history such as King Arthur, Girgamesh, Jeanne d'Arc, Alexander the Great, Siegfried. You visit the seven past eras from ancient to modern, and solve the calamity that seems to be the cause of the destruction of history of humanity, summoning "Servants", the personification of a renowned figure in history.

There are many renowned figures in human history.
(King Arthur, Girgamesh, Jeanne d'Arc, Alexander the Great)

For instance, the seven eras in which player adventure are as follows: In one era, the executed Jeanne d'Arc got resurrected and occupied France, using the wicked dragons. In another era, the Roman successive emperors got resurrected and invaded the Roman dominated by Emperor Nero.

You can summon more than 100 "Servants" with their narrative background and distinctive features in the battle system. How do you make them companions? Of course, rolling a Gacha.

You can usually get servants by rolling a Gacha.
Left: Gacha,  Right: List of Servants

Each servant has four stages of illustration, voice, battle graphics, background setting text, episode demo. There are five levels of Servant's rarity, and as rarity rises, a Servant has strong status parameters like HP and the power of attack.


Game design of FGO

FGO is heavily influenced by the game design of Sega's Chain Chronicle, which is a story-driven smartphone RPG that has a huge deep scenario and a tower-defense type of battle system. Instead of tower-defense, FGO adopted a side-view battle system combined of turn based traditional JRPG battle and TCG-like battle.

Sega's smartphone RPG "Chain Chronicles" has a visual-novel-like demo 
and tower-diffence battle system.

For each era, the stage of adventure is represented by one map. Initially, only one site is open. You complete the main story quest on the site, and so the next quest will be opened ( or the next site will be opened).

For each era, the stage of adventure is represented by one map
(Left: France in 1431,  Right: Rome in 0060

You execute the quest consuming the AP, and see the visual-novel-like demo. Options are sometimes displayed, but regardless of which choice you select, the main story will not change significantly. You can skip or check the log freely.

Left: various characters talking in the visual-novel-like demo
Right Up: selecting the choices    Right Down: checking the log

After the visual novel demo, you enter into battle. It is the complex battle combined both of traditional JRPG command battle and strategy like TCG. You beat all enemies to acquire Master's experience, affinity with your Servants, QP (in-game money) , materials. Dropped material and QP are necessary to strengthen Servants.

Battle combined turn based JRPG and strategy like TCG

The battle system is complexed and deep, but I would like to describe them later.


View from aspect of visual novel

FGO is the latest franchise titles based on Nasuverse, and has attractive points both aspect of visual novel and JRPG. By the way, What is Fate series? First, I will explain it in detail.

The Beginning

TYPE-MOON's "Fate" started from the visual novel Fate / stay night (for PC) in 2004. The visual novel has a huge story that spans over 50 hours of play time. It set a sales record of over 0.2 million in Japanese visual novel.

Fate/stay night (iOS ver image from official website

The plot is a battle royal in the Japanese local city "Fuyuki". To have the Holy Grail that fulfills the wishes of those who got it, seven sorcerers contract as "Master" with the "Servant" and continue the life-or-death battle called "the Holy Grail War" until only the last pair remains.

This visual novel has three main storylines. Each storyline has a different theme and focuses on the different heroine. The first one describes the way of living to consistently keep pursuing an ideal. The second one depicts the fighting against an ideal oneself as future's possibility. The third one renders the conflict between ideal oneself and real oneself.

The Franchises

The "Fate" series has many game franchises like the sequel Fate/hollow atraxia, the 3D fighting game Fate/tiger colosseum, the fighting game Fate/unlimited codes, and the Sci-Fi RPG Fate/EXTRA series.

Also, there are some light-novel franchise like the prequel Fate/Zero (written by Gen Urobuchi), the parallel universe Fate/Apocrypha (written by Yuichiro Higashide) and the side story of the original text Fate/Prototype silver blue fragments (written by Hikaru Sakurai ).

Those writers are all famous among visual novel gamers and have a large popularity in the visual novel. Higashide wrote chapter 1&3 of main story. Sakurai was in charge of chapter 2&4 of main story. Urobuchi wrote story of the event "Fate/Accel Zero Order".

Those franchise titles have expanded the Nasuverse for many years. They have introduced new "Masters" and new "Servants" including Alexander the Great, Mordred, Siegfried the Dragon Slayer, Jeanne d'Arc and so on.

Light-novel franchises expanding Nasuverse

SME's subsidiary, Aniplex produced some animations including Fate/Zero and Unlimited Blade Works since 2011. The prologue of FGO was made into animation and aired at the end of last year. Also, a new anime PV was aired every time a new chapter was delivered because of Aniplex's involvement.

The theme of FGO's main story

FGO is positioned as the ultimate crossover of various "Fate" related works mentioned above, including dozens of Servants appearing in the past works. It is "The Avengers" in Nasuverse. It is no doubt that FGO excites many fans of the series.

The latest franchise has  a theme which is consistently common to "Fate" series. It is how life of a person is worth. People are sure to die, but not worthless, not meaningless. Life is a "leap", and people always fall and land. But its value is the highest reaching point of leap.

You will adventure into different eras and witness historical renowned figures seriously fight for their thoughts and wills. One more, you witness how your partner, one girl named "Mash Kyrielight" is living. You see what she hopes as a result of her life. 

Your partner, Mash Kyrielight


View from aspect of JRPG

Let's see another aspect of FGO, the attractive points as JRPG.

The homage and nostalgia to the classical JRPG

FGO has many traditional featured elements of the JRPG genre, like turn-based tactical command battle, BGM made for each boss, a battle that must be defeated, impressive visual effects covering the entire screen and the spirit of the classic JRPG that directs a story by battle. Of course, we must not also forget the final-phase's game balance, it forces standard players to carefully consider the order of commands and what skill to choose in each turn.

Although the game is the latest smartphone RPG, you will feel a nostalgia to the tradition of JRPG. Especially a sequence of Noble Phantasm is the most exquisite presentation in the game visual, as same as Final Fantasy 's Summoning magic.

Impressive visual effects covering the entire screen
(Noble Phantasm)

Fgo also provided many players with experience sharing unique to online games. In last December, the final battle with the last boss, the special event, only for players who completed all the stories was held (so-called world raid boss event). Hundreds of thousands of players beat millions of bosses defending the throne of the last boss in a few days.

Such experiences reminiscent of the classic JRPG seem to affect the play style of some players. As same as some players tried the fastest completion of the Final Fantasy in the old days, some players in FGO also try to complete using a group of the-lowest-rank Servants.

The complexed and deep battle system

The latest JRPG has more complex and deeper battle system than the usual classic JRPG.

1. Organizing battle group

You organize a group of up to six of the five Servants you own and a Servant borrowed from the other players. You can equip each Servant with a "gainen reisou"(phantasmal arms) that raises the status-parameter and give passive skill effects. High rarity Servants and arms cost high. You have to consider to organize your group within the upper limit of cost.

Organizing a group of Servants equipped with phantasmal arms

2. Picking up command cards

In battle, you decide the action of three Servants every turn. After you click "Attack" button, five cards depicting Servant's portfolio and Buster / Arts / Quick are arranged, and you choose three pieces of cards as action in the turn. First, your Servants attack the enemies in the order of the cards you decided. Second, the enemies attack your Servants.

Deciding the action of 3 Servants every turn
Click "Attack" button ...

5 cards depicting Servant's portfolio and type of card like B/A/Q

In addition, you can execute master's skills and Servant's skills before "Attack". The skill brings various effects, including buff and debuff.

Master skills and Servant skills have various effect like buff and debuff

3. Type of command cards and combo of cards

There are three types of cards: Buster, Arts, and Quick.

Buster:     a strong attack
Arts:         an attack increasing NP
Quick:      an attack generating many critical-stars and a little NP

If Servant's NP is accumulated to 100%, you can execute the Servant's noble phantasm. Basically, the noble phantasm is a special attack to all enemies or one enemy. It also brings various effects, including buffs, debuffs, stuns and so on.

The more Servant's critical-stars increase, the more the probability of critical attack increases.

If you pick up three cards of the same type, combo effect will be activated.

BBB combo:  increase damage of all attack in the turn.
AAA combo: Servants you pick up will accumulate 20% NP.
QQQ combo: generate more critical-stars

Pick up 3 cards of same type, and combo effect will be activated

If you arrange three cards of the same Servant, an additional attack will be done.

Each Servant has five cards, total from three Servants are fifteen cards. All cards are shuffled, and five cards are arranged every turn. After three turns, all cards are shuffled again. In other words, you can predict to a certain extent which card will come next turn.

Which kind of cards the Servant has is due to each Servant

4. Relationships between Servant classes

There are strength- and-weakness relationships between different Servant classes.
For example, Saber is strong against Lancer, Lancer is strong against Archer, Archer is strong against Saber. Berserker's attack is strong against other classes, but Berserker is vulnerable to attacks by other classes.

strength-and weakness relationships between Servant classes.

5. The strategy to accumulate NP

If NP is accumulated up to 100%, you can use treasure. The strategy to accumulate efficiently NP is a very important to beat strong enemies or boss.

  • Pick up command cards to arrange the Arts combo.

  • Organize a Servant having more Arts into your group.

  • Equip a arms that make a Servant be charging tens% NP in the initial state.

  • Use Servant skills to accumulate NP.

6. The strategy to manage critical-stars

Critical attack is so strong that managing critical stars is the good way to beat. A servant may generate critical stars every attack. The generated star is distributed to three Servants.

The number of stars generated by the attack depends on the number of attack hits, the type of card (Buster/Arts/Quick) and the class of the Servant. Assassin generates many stars, Berserker rarely.

The critical stars distribution depends on the Servant's class. Rider and Archer gather many stars, but Berserker gathers little.

7. The Command Spells

As mentioned above, FGO has many elements related to the player's strategy to beat in battle. Although even if you don't understand most of those elements, you have a way of using the Command Spells (Reiju).

The Command Spells

In most Japanese smartphone RPG, you can continue the battle by payment. In FGO, you can continue the battle consuming the Command Spells without payment. Every time you use the Command Spells, you will lose one or all of them. A command spell recovers per one day, and it accumulates up to three.

The Command Spells play an important role of alleviating the battle difficulty in the game. The developer tunes difficulty of enemies or boss for advanced players, but beginners never give up because of the Command Spells.

Conclusion and secrets of the popularity

Thank you for reading so far. Finally, let's check the attractive points in FGO.

View from aspect of visual novel:

  • Attractive stories by the legendary writer, Kinoko Nasu

  • Crossover where many Servants in Fate related contents appear

View from aspect of JRPG:

  • Battle's presentation, including homage to classic JRPG

  • Strategic and deep battle system

  • The Command Spells, Relaxation of the battle difficulty

  • Satisfaction and feeling of achievement in raising your favorite Servants

I hope this article gives you valuable insights. Ask me in the comments If you have questions about this article.



All the screenshots were taken while I'm playing Fate/Grand Order. All package images of the books were cited from the official website. The pictures are taken of items purchased properly.

(C) Aniplex


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