How to Get Into Fate/Grand Order

by Gabriella Ekens,

From a business perspective, cell phones are the future of gaming. Mobage (short for “mobile games”) is the Japanese term for this genre of video games that can fit in your pocket. While its usage there is pretty expansive, in the West it refers to a specific format exemplified by games like Rage of Bahamut, Love Live! School idol festival, and even Blizzard's own Hearthstone. While these games have been huge in Japan for years, this trend has only just started to take off in the English-speaking world. Pokémon Go dominated the headlines when it was released last summer, while Fire Emblem Heroes has already made a respectable chunk of money for Nintendo.

With these games finding an audience abroad, it looks like the genre's other monoliths have finally decided to dip their toes into the American market. One of those chart-toppers is Fate/Grand Order, an RPG based on Type-Moon's smash hit Fate franchise. Fate is a big deal for otaku, so it's no wonder that this mobile RPG became as successful as it did right away. It helps that the game also adds its own full story to the franchise canon. While licensed phone games have a reputation for being periphery (at best) or shovelware (at worst) in the U.S., Fate/Grand Order bucks the trend by delivering a full continuation of Type-Moon's mythos. If you're an English-language Fate fan, then this game's release is the otaku event of the summer. And if you're not, then the strong buzz surround it – including a launch party at Anime Expo – may have piqued your interest. So with all this in mind, what is Fate/Grand Order? Who is it for? And does it live up to the hype?

For those of you who are new to mobage games in general, Fate/Grand Order and its cousins inhabit a sweet spot between being free-to-play and still making tons of money. The secret lies in gambling, called “gatcha” in the language of mobage. This refers to “gashapon,” Japanese vending machines that dispense capsule toys – you put in your money and receive a random toy from the pictured selection. The rub is that you don't get to pick which toy you're gonna get, so if you're absolutely set on getting the pink bouncy ball rather than the red one, you'll have to keep popping in your coins until it comes out. Depending on your luck, you can end up dropping quite a chunk of change to get your prize. In gatcha games like Fate/Grand Order, you command a party of servants, who all come down to you from this celestial slot machine. Each pull costs in-game currency, and while you're given a certain amount just for playing, any more than that costs real money. And of course, the better servants are more rare. So while it's possible to pull a SSR 5-star EMIYA Thong Beach Party edition your first time around, you'll probably have to pony up some dough for any real chance of getting him.

Beyond the gatcha mechanic's centrality, a mobage's gameplay can go in many different directions. For what it's worth, Fate/Grand Order's style is pretty simple: you command a party of three servants to take down a number of enemies. Each servant comes with five cards that correspond to different types of attacks: Buster, Quick, or Arts. Every turn, you draw a hand of five cards from your party's supply and select three from that hand to be implemented. Different “chains” of three will have different effects depending on their type, order, and the servant they belong to. This system is easy to play (you can make it through most basic encounters just by spamming physical attacks) but open to some nuance later on - you can craft strategies around increasing your critical rate (quick cards), supercharging your noble phantasm (arts), raw damage output (buster), or even buffing.

If you're coming into this from Fire Emblem Heroes, this system may seem a bit shallow. There's no real customization options for your servants, so if your favorite happens to be a common 1-star, there's no way to baby them into becoming a late-game powerhouse. The best strategies depend on having top-tier servants, so prepare to suffer low summoning rates (1% for a 5-star) if you're bent on optimization. That's another thing to note – even by the standards of these games, Fate/Grand Order is pretty stingy. Rates are low for good ranks, and the in-game currency is scarce. If it weren't for the release-date bonus quartz, it'd take several hours of playing to make enough for your first real 10-roll. Most of the servants they'll release later are 4 and 5 stars, which leads to a lack of variety in the 1-to-3 star servants that you'll actually see on a regular basis. I wish that they'd fix this, but it seems like it would be hard to get players excited about 1-star servants two years and several new dozen 5-stars into the game, even if it's only just released for the English-speaking market

The good news is that you don't need these SSR servants to make it through the game. F/GO throws you some decent 3 and 4 stars along the way, and with some strategy, these alone will service you until the endgame. (You just won't be able to wow your friends with a fully maxed out Arturia.) That's all rare servants really do, in fact – there's no PVP system or even a leaderboard. The joy comes from collecting your anime husbands and/or wives, upgrading their outfits, and watching them carve through mounds of enemy HP.

Personally, I came to find Fire Emblem Heroes' complex mechanics overwhelming, so I enjoy this simpler and grindier style of mobile gaming. While there's certainly room for min-maxing, there aren't any in-game incentives for achieving that type of optimization. In other words, if you're looking for a mobage metagame that you can really dig your teeth into, this won't be it, unless you're talking about the best girl contests, which can get vicious.

Really, what Fate/Grand Order has most over its biggest competitor is a long and complex story. While Fire Emblem Heroes feels like it could have been scripted after all of the coding was done (“This lady from another dimension says that we need to fight you? Well, okay.”), Fate/Grand Order's gameplay is much more of a vehicle for conveying its story. Planned out by Kinoku Nasu, it counts as a major installment in Fate's sprawling mythos. If you're coming into all this from the recent Fate anime, the premise of a laboratory weaponizing the servant system to create a time-travelling task force for masters may seem kind of bonkers, but that's the direction Fate stuff has been heading in for a while, from works like Fate/Extra to Fate/Extella. (The former is getting an anime adaptation this winter, so be on the lookout for that.) You play as a newbie in this system, but when something goes wrong, you end up having to be the one to go back and win seven historical Grail Wars in order to fix time. Of course, this turns into a crazy conspiracy adventure involving wizards and supercomputers and monsters from the dawn of existence. Also, you get to hang out with all of your favorite Fate servants – occasionally in their bikinis. Collect them all!

I kid, but this story is going places. The first stage is some pretty basic “hey, you remember Fate/stay night” tutorial stuff, but it gets into more original material after that. The second stage concerns Jeanne D'Arc's (Fate/Apocrypha) backstory with Gilles De Rais (Fate/Zero), while the third concerns Nero Claudius (Fate/Extra) back when she was still causing the decline of Rome. Eventually, this journey across time and fanservice will take us to Camelot, the ocean's depths, and even the American Revolutionary War. Do you want to see what Thomas Edison looks like as a servant? You won't believe your eyes.

Eventually, the story comes to encompass some Deep Nasu Lore, such as Primate Murder and ORT. (If you recognize these names without resorting to the wiki, then congratulations, you are among the deepest Fate superfans.) It's neat to see these long-whispered names, the relics of old artbooks and fighting game manuals, finally come around to mean something.

Ultimately, one of my favorite things about Fate/Grand Order is getting to look at all the neat concepts for servant-ified historical and mythological figures. They pulled a great crew of artists, and it's neat to get stuff like the creator of Black★Rock Shooter's image of Attila the Hun as a teenage girl. Do you know how many famous dudes from history were actually teenage girls? Fate seems to think it was a lot of them.

That's about all you need to know to start playing Fate/Grand Order. However, I will add that it's best not to start here if you're new to the Fate franchise as a whole. While the story is technically standalone, it's chock-a-block with references to (and spoilers for) the rest of the Fate franchise. I'd recommend at least acquainting yourself with the “basic” Grail War stories (Fate/Zero and Fate/stay night) before jumping into this extremely weird one. They both got big deal anime adaptations a few years ago, so they shouldn't be hard to find.

With all that out of the way, here are some specific gameplay tips for people just starting out:

  • Your first pull is mandatory. You can't get a 5* from this one (that'd be too nice) but you're guaranteed one from a certain number of 4* servants.
  • Save your quartz for 10-rolls. You're guaranteed at least one 4* this way. However, this guaranteed card can be a Craft Essence (accessory) rather than an actual servant.
  • Also save your 10-rolls for events. Many of the most popular servants have limited availability. There's rumored to be a Gilgamesh event coming up soon, for example.
  • In a few days you'll be able to pick a free bonus 4* out of a limited pool. If you don't already have Herakles, pick him. He's one of the best raw power servants in the game.
  • Don't spend quartz to replenish your AP.
  • Once you run out of story, spend your AP on daily quests for ascension materials and EXP cards. Spend your ALL EXP cards on servants like Shielder or Ruler who don't have their own dedicated set. They're really hard to level up otherwise.
  • Keep duplicate servants of characters that you're using – they can be used to power up your originals.
  • Overall, I'd say that Fate/Grand Order is a rewarding experience for people already invested in the Fate franchise. Newcomers will face some barrier of entry, but Fate's basic material is both fairly accessible and well worth your time. Otherwise, happy pulling! And remember, an apple a day keeps fat Caesar away!

    Take it from me.

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