Who Writes Fate/Grand Order?by Kim Morrissy,
It's mind-boggling to think that Type-Moon and Delight Works' Fate/Grand Order role-playing game is among the top-grossing mobile apps worldwide. Even though I don't play the game myself, I can't help but feel a bit of pride as a fan of Japanese media to see this niche otaku game rise to the top of the world stage.
What's more, Fate/Grand Order made it to the top while featuring an ongoing story that breaks all the common sense "rules" of mobile games angling for mass appeal. The cutscenes feature mounds of text and demand active concentration from the player, especially in the later parts. And the opening act is dense with obscure lore and exposition dumps, making it hard to simply get into casually. Yet among all the elements that make FGO a successful game, it's certainly the "writing" and "characters" that the fans speak of most highly.
First off, for those uninitiated, what exactly is FGO's story? Simply put, it's the grand culmination of everything within the "Fate" universe, a franchise which first began with the Fate/stay night visual novel in 2004 and has inspired dozens of spinoffs since. Although FGO is chock-a-block with Easter eggs and references to previous "Fate" titles, the actual core of the plot is original: the world will end unless the "Singularities" distorting space and time are resolved, so the player character is charged with restoring humanity's future. Throughout the course of their adventure, the player will encounter dozens of Servants, the majority of whom are historical and/or mythological figures with beefed up powers. Some will be your friends, while others will be your enemies. The fun of the story is that you'll never quite know what role a familiar-looking character will end up playing. In fact, seasoned Type-Moon fans will often have their expectations turned against them.
If there's one man to credit for the success of Fate/Grand Order's narrative, it's Type-Moon co-founder Kinoko Nasu, who also wrote the story of Fate/stay night all those years ago. Although he didn't write absolutely everything in FGO, he did come up with the concept and the broad plot outline, and he supervises every bit of story text and tweaks it in his writing style. He also takes it on himself to write some of the most plot-important chapters and scenes, such as the "Camelot" and "Babylonia" chapters. Those chapters, both of which are being adapted into anime, have gotten some of the best reception from players.
But FGO isn't just Nasu's story. To begin with, the world of "Fate" isn't Nasu's alone. The series has inspired over a dozen spinoffs, the majority of which are handled by other writers. FGO incorporates almost all the spinoffs into its narrative, or at least gives a nod to them in limited-time events, which means that the game requires an extraordinary level of teamwork and coordination for it to work. Not only do the other writers supervise the parts written with the characters they've created, some of them write story segments for the game itself. Here's a rundown of the other writers involved in FGO:
The Main Writing Team
Before FGO's official launch, Nasu called upon the help of two writers he knew: Yuichiro Higashide and Hikaru Sakurai, the authors of Fate/Apocrypha and Fate/Prototype: Sōgin no Fragments (Fate/Prototype: Fragments of Blue and Silver) respectively. He needed people to flesh out the grand adventure he'd planned, and both of them were accomplished visual novel writers before they ever became involved in Type-Moon.
Before Fate/Apocrypha, Higashide's representative works were Ayakashibito (2005), a visual novel that mixes traditional Japanese folklore with urban fantasy, and the novel series Kemonogari (2009), which is about a high school boy who gets caught up in a death game. For her part, Hikaru Sakurai is best known for the Steampunk series of visual novels developed at Liar Soft. One of its entries, Gahkthun of the Golden Lightning (2012), has been released in English to positive reviews.
According to interviews, Part 1 of FGO was a tag team effort between Nasu, Higashide, and Sakurai. Nasu wrote the prologue, and then Higashide and Sakurai took turns writing the subsequent chapters until Nasu took the helm back for "Camelot" onward.
As a result of this narrative structure, players looking back on Part 1 will remember Nasu's contributions most fondly, because this was around the time when both the story and gameplay noticeably improved. The staff freely admits that the game was a mess post-launch, and it wasn't helped by the fact that the writers were unsure of how to write for mobile games. On one hand, Type-Moon works are known for being dense, while mobile game stories are usually told in bite-sized chunks. Eventually, the team settled on writing loads and loads of text because they realized that the fans prefer it that way, but the early chapters are certainly less confident in their artistic vision compared to later.
There were occasional golden moments like this, though.
After the success of Part 1, some more people were added to the main writing team: Hazuki Minase and Meteo Hoshizora. Minase is best known for writing the C³ (2007) light novels, but he also had heavy involvement with Type-Moon because of his work adapting the script of the Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya manga to anime. Meteo Hoshizora first found fame as a visual novel writer tackling incest and other taboo topics in works like Kusari Hime ~euthanasia~ (2002) and Forest (2004), but after becoming a Type-Moon employee in 2005, he has assisted with a variety of different Type-Moon projects, including books and games.
FGO's Part 1.5 represents a departure from what came previously. Nasu took a step back from writing and supervision duties, describing it as an "anthology" work where the other writers could have more of a free rein. Even if he wasn't changing the plots developed by the other authors much, Nasu was always rewriting large chunks of the dialogue to make the whole game feel like something written in his style, but he left the Part 1.5 chapters relatively untouched. Although the writers of the 1.5 chapters are officially uncredited, fans have made educated guesses on who the writers were based on writing styles. From Part 1.5 onward, you can start to see FGO evolve beyond a "Kinoko Nasu work."
A number of other writers have popped up to help out with limited-time events and some other things here and there. Gen Urobuchi, the writer of Fate/Zero, wrote the "Fate/Zero: Accel Zero Order" event. He's also credited for the third chapter of Part 2, and is the only writer to be credited for work on Part 2 so far. This is somewhat understandable, because after Nasu, Urobuchi is easily the biggest name writer on the project, and thus his name can be used as a selling point.
Collaborations with other spinoff writers are to be expected: Hiroshi Hiroyama (Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya), Keikenchi (Fate/GUDAGUDA Order), Makoto Sanda (Lord El-Melloi II's Case Files), and Riyo (Manga de Wakaru! Fate/Grand Order) have all written scripts and assisted with the limited-time events involving their particular spinoff work.
Other guest writers include Ukyō Kodachi, a tabletop RPG writer best known nowadays for the plot of Boruto; Koushi Tachibana, the author of Date A Live, and the murder mystery writer Ban Madoi. (FGO fans can probably guess which event Madoi was in charge of.) Ryohgo Narita, the author of Fate/Strange Fake (although he's better known for writing Baccano! and Durarara!!), has also mentioned writing Enkidu's interlude and supervising the scenes depicting characters from Fate/Strange Fake.
Tone-wise, the different events in FGO are all over the map. Some events allow the series to indulge in its silly side, like the yearly Halloween and Christmas events. Others have quite deep and serious stories, like "The Garden of Sinners Collaboration Event" or the "Fate/Extra CCC Collaboration Event." These events add quite a lot of flavor and variety to the overall story of FGO, and because there's a feeling of "anything goes" when it comes to the individual stories, the quirks of each writer can come through quite strongly.
Why Do the Writers Matter?
Nasu has said in interviews that he wants the players to understand that the Fate series can't just be reduced to his own contributions. In his words, "the other writers are amazing too.”
The contributions of the other writers are not just limited to the story segments they penned themselves. Nasu would probably not have been able to devise a narrative on FGO's scale if it had not been for all those spinoff writers expanding the scope of the Fate universe beyond the limits of a single person's imagination. Nasu acknowledges this, as well as the fact that teamwork is essential when writing for such a huge audience. "I have 15 staff members working on my script along with me," he said in his interview with the literary magazine Eureka. "And if we fail, I'm not the only one taking the fall."
Although the staff don't speak openly of it, I'm sure they must be aware of the rather lopsided reactions from fans. Nasu gets the lion's share of the praise, while the other writers get bashed online for their contributions. The most reviled story chapter is "Septem" from Part 1, and its writer Hikaru Sakurai has gotten flack from the fans ever since. It's my opinion that the reason why the writing staff are generally uncredited for Parts 1.5 and onward is partly to protect them from online backlash, and also because the quality of their writing speaks for itself. Instead of being biased against a story because of names on a list of credits, the fans who pay attention to and appreciate the individual writers' styles will be able to work out who wrote what. And that's why Japanese fans have guessed that, based on her unique and lyrical writing style, Sakurai wrote the "Shimousa" chapter in Part 1.5, which is widely regarded as one of the best chapters in the game so far, period.
But FGO's writers shouldn't just matter to the game's fans. You see, FGO proved that story-rich RPGs can succeed in the mobile game market. Not only that, it proved that the script writers are perfectly capable of standing at the very top of the game developers' hierarchy and shaping the gameplay to the needs of the storytelling. With a few exceptions, the specs and abilities of the characters are accurate reflections of their capabilities within the story. But the writers' involvement goes deeper than even that. It was Nasu's decision to end Part 1 with a limited-time event, where players work together and compete against each other to take down the Demon God Pillars. He also made sure that it all happened within the year of 2016, because that was the year the world was projected to end according to the story. The result: FGO's biggest event until that point, and the moment that pushed the game into the mainstream.
Looking back on that crazy year, Nasu reflects that he was only able to get away with not compromising on his vision because of his standing as a writer. In other words, because this was a Type-Moon game first and foremost, and because he'd spent so many years writing visual novels where the entire game is the story. Without that background and reputation, a game like FGO could never have been made. In fact, Nasu notes that when it comes to writing in the world of Japanese video games, writers tend to have a low standing because they're shut out of decisions regarding the technical development of the game. In that same interview, he expresses relief that things appear to be changing for video game writers now... because of FGO's success and influence.
FGO's writers matter because their story affects everyone in this industry. When game writers talk about how their voices are so easily dismissed by the development teams, I can't help but think of their kindred spirits on anime screenwriting teams. In these industries, writers are pushed to compromise on their vision all the time. The director is said to know best because they're more familiar with the visuals and the nitty gritty aspects of production, and that's why script writing often feels like scribe work for the director. On one hand, I can totally understand why the director is usually above the writers in the hierarchy, but I can't help but respect a game where the writers can stubbornly stick to their guns, and as a result craft a story that captivates the world.
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