I Played Fate/Grand Order (for free) for Half a Year. Is it Worth It?
Short answer: Yes, but…
With a new TV anime entitled “Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front Babylonia” adapting the “seventh singularity” story chapter airing in the fall 2019 season with two movies adapting the “sixth singularity” chapter along with a TV special adapting the “singularity F” chapter, and a massive 7 million downloads of the North American version alone, no one can deny the record breaking success of the mobile game “Fate/Grand Order.”
And yet this franchise is just a piece of the larger Fate/stay night universe crafted by writer Kinoko Nasu, who wrote the original 2004 visual novel and who also writes the story for the mobile game. On the whole, the franchise contains a visual novel, light novels, manga, and various other anime series and films. The mobile game launched in Japan in 2015 and in English in North America in 2017.
After two years being released in English, I decided it was finally time to get an account of my own. The Fate/ anime are some of my favorites (and despite the negative sounding review I made earlier, I do love Fate/Apocrypha!). Some of my friends had been talking about it so after putting it off I downloaded the game one day on a whim half a year ago. There are still plenty of people like me who haven’t downloaded the game and may be on the fence.
So I decided to write this to let anyone who still isn’t sure about the game or doesn’t know much about it, about the positives and negatives. Essentially a game review! So let’s get to it!
What is Fate/Grand Order?
Before I get into how the game works and how it doesn’t, it might help undecideds to give some context and explain what the game is and how it runs.
Fate/Grand Order is a gacha game (if you’re unfamiliar with gacha games, here’s the wikipedia article) which features a mix between a visual novel story and turn based combat where players build teams of heroic spirits (or “servants”) of different classes to take down mob enemies and bosses. Servants are ranked 1 star to 5 star and can be equipped with craft essences also ranked 1–5 stars to increase the servant’s attack, defense, or some other ability.
The plot follows the player, the last human “master” of an organization called “Chaldea,” which is tasked with preserving the existence of humanity. King Solomon, the antagonist, has used holy grails to disrupt history by creating “singularities.” The player travels back in time to these singularities and fights enemies in order to resolve them, forming relationships along the way in order to save humanity. The player must clear all seven singularities to fight Solomon and complete the first story arc. The choices the player makes are almost never consequential to the story, with characters often giving the same response whatever the player chooses. It does affect the difficulty of battle slightly in the seventh singularity occasionally.
Each battle features a turn based system where up to three servants are on the field on the right side of the screen and enemies on the left. The player is given a hand of five command cards and must select three in a sequence and servants will attack based on the command. Buster cards offer increased attack while arts cards increase that servant’s noble phantasm gauge and quick cards generate critical stars. When a servant’s NP gauge is full, the player is given the option of selecting a noble phantasm card for the sequence. Some noble phantasms are offensive attacks that target one or multiple enemies while some buff your party or debuff enemies. With enough critical stars, a servant can unleash critical damage with a normal attack. A sequence of three cards of the same type will increase the effect of the cards as buster, arts, or quick chains and three cards of the same servant will create a “brave chain” and allow the servant to attack a 4th time. The player can also use skills to heal or buff your team or debuff enemies. The player wins the battle when all enemies’ HP is reduced to zero (there are some exceptions in story quests when enemies may end the battle automatically after the player reduces their HP by a given amount).
There’s a bit more to combat than that but those are the basics and I don’t want to spend too much time explaining the mechanics. Now, with the story and gameplay out of the way, let’s quickly go over the last major component of the game, the gachas.
I’ll assume you read at least some of that wiki article above so you know what a gacha is but if you didn’t you should get the basic idea. There are multiple gachas in the game’s summoning room at a time that the player can “roll” on by spending the game’s currency Saint Quartz, or Friend Points. Rolling the friend point gacha will cost 2,000 Friend Points for 10 rolls (10x summon) or 200 points for just one summon, and each player is allowed one free 10x summon from this gacha a day. Items received from this gacha include 1–3 star servants and 1–3 star craft essences.
The story gacha is the main gacha and features servants the player encounters in the story. After completing a certain singularity, those servants are “unlocked” for summoning in this gacha. It costs 3 Saint Quartz for a single summon or 30 quartz for a 10x summon. Each 10x summon guarantees at least one 4 star card or better. The card can be a 4 star CE or a 4 star servant.
Aside from these two gachas which are always available, there are many limited gachas that feature limited time servants that cannot be summoned in either of the permanent gachas or other non limited servants with an increased drop rate, meaning the chances a summon that will yield a 4 or 5 star are increased.
There are also event reward servants the player is freely given upon clearing certain event quests. These servants vary by class and are almost always 4 star in rarity but not always.
That about covers all the basics about the game. Summon servants and craft essences in the gachas, then go through the story and events and daily quests and battle enemies.
Now, what’s good about this game?
It’s fun to play
This may seem oversimplified and maybe it is, but what’s most important for a game is how fun it is to play. Story, art, and music aside, what keeps me coming back to a game is how much I enjoy it and I enjoy Fate/Grand Order quite a bit. There’s never a shortage of things to do in the game.
There’s the main (story) quest, interlude and rank up quests for every servant that upgrade that servant’s skills or noble phantasm, free quests to farm materials used to power up your servants (including many daily quests), and of course, event quests. During events, players progress through a specialized side story that is often filled with raid battles where every master must work together to bring down raid bosses’ HP. In some cases, players are rewarded with limited event servants upon completion of the event’s main quest.
Obviously this will differ depending on individual tastes, but I personally love turn-based combat. They involve a lot of thinking and strategy to get the brain jogging. Button mashing games are fun too, but who doesn’t like to prove how smart they are by taking down a high level AI in a strategy turn based challenge?
Speaking of challenges, there’s the challenge quests during events. These are highly difficult quests where the enemies are loaded up with cheats and multiple HP bars in the hundreds of thousands each. These are only for the most advanced players but the rewards and accomplishment are worth the multiple tries they take.
Fate/Grand Order is a gacha game. The inherent appeal to the game is collecting your favorite characters from the gacha to use in battle. And Fate/Grand Order doesn’t disappoint there.
Whether it’s your favorite Saber, waifu or husbando, there are literally over 100 different servants in the game for masters to summon and use in battle. While luck in the gacha can vary and be poor at times, when you do summon the characters you want, it’s a real treat.
The Fate/ universe is huge, and there are not only the servants from Fate/stay night, Zero, Extra, and Apocrypha et al, there are a plethora of new servants introduced for the game.
It’s also quite interesting to see how the writers and artists interpret historical and mythical figures for the game. I get how “anime” it feels, but I don’t care. Seeing a figure like Elizabeth Bathory re-imagined as an idol for the lancer class with horns and a tail is fun. If you don’t like that version, there’s still the mature assassin version using the alias Carmilla.
Investing in those characters brings you a lot of fulfillment. It feels like an achievement when you reach the maximum level for one of your most used servants or seeing that bond level finally reach 10 so you can get a special CE, or finally getting their NP level up to 5 after summoning multiple copies of them. The servants make Fate/Grand Order what it is, and the developers don’t slouch on that front.
Ample opportunity for free players
I mentioned this in the headline, but over the last half a year, I’ve played this game for free. True to my personal pledge I have yet to spend even a cent on this game. However, I’ve reached some pretty amazing goals, if I do say so myself. I’ve reached level 119 as of this writing and have cleared the first story arc (all singularities + Solomon). I have two 5 star servants and a few 4 stars, and plenty of three stars who I have leveled up, and I hardly ever need the game’s “emergency handicap” when fighting battles, command spells. Command spells allow you to revive your entire party with full HP and NP after defeated or charge one servants HP or NP up to full.
The shop in the game hasn’t helped with many of those achievements. Indeed, the only item you can buy from the shop (“The Da Vinci shop”) is Saint Quartz, which only helps you in performing more summons. Yet players are freely awarded Quartz after completing quests or reaching a certain number of logins, making summons easier.
Players receive a total of 4 Quartz for free per week if they log in every day. Players receive 1 Quartz on the second consecutive day they long in, another on the fourth day, and 2 on the sixth day, and a summon ticket on the seventh day. A summon ticket will allow the player to perform one summon worth 3 Quartz. Summon tickets are also available for exchange in the shop for mana prisms, and are awarded upon completing high difficulty challenge quests.
Not only that, but even if the Quartz doesn’t yield you 5 star servants and CEs, the game helps you out there too. If you complete certain events, you’re rewarded 4 star servants, many of which are very powerful, and you can easily obtain more copies of them within the event to get their NP up to max level.
And if you can’t complete any events, you still have the option of using the holy grails you acquire for completing the story to increase your servants’ max level caps. The max level for 1 stars is 60, for 2 stars it’s 65, it’s 70 for 3 stars, 80 for 4 stars and 90 for 5 stars. But by using holy grails, you can increase the max level cap of any servant up to level 100.
You can also use “Fou” cards you get from the shop and events (by exchanging mana prisims or event currency and not real currency) to increase their attack and HP even further. When you use grails on your lower tier servants, the border changes to blue and gold, the same for 4 and 5 stars and a grail appears by the stars.
You don’t have to be dismayed if you’re stuck getting 3 star servants or lower. Aside from that, many 3 star and even 2 star servants are very valuable in many teams with some outputting damage that rivals their 4 and 5 star counterparts in some cases, if not more.
So while it can be hard, if you’re willing to invest, you can enjoy the game as much as any seasoned player no matter the rarity of your servants.
It’s convenient, and a good time killer
Fate/Grand Order is a mobile game. That means you can play it anywhere. No lugging around consoles or expensive equipment or purchase necessary. As I just mentioned, everything in the game can be obtained for free. You just download the game and start playing, and the developers give you some Quartz to get you started with some good servants.
When I downloaded the game several months ago, I was at the tail end of college and took the bus home. I wish I downloaded it much earlier because it was a great way to pass the time riding on the bus. Beyond that, though, it’s still great when you’re riding in a car or if you can’t fall asleep in bed, or if you’re simply bored.
Whether you’re just looking to pass the time on a lunch break or a ride somewhere or have a little time before bed or you really want to invest in the game and become a serious player, Fate/Grand Order is made for all of that.
I don’t want to spoil the game’s story so I will be brief here. The premise is interesting but the story’s logic can feel wobbly at times and can be a smidge disappointing, so I wasn’t quite sure what to do with this section.
I don’t want to include it in the positives because while it is cool, cutscenes can drag on, to the point where I sometimes skipped them entirely to get to the game. Luckily you can view all cutscenes in the “my room” section. And also, the ending of the story is admittedly pretty epic because of how it culminates (still no spoilers, but just know it’s worth it).
I debated not saying anything about the story for the reasons listed above but because this is such a story-oriented game, being half visual novel, I can’t not talk about it. So I’m sandwiching it here between the positive and negative section.
While the personality you take on as a master is fun, unfortunately it seems the characters all have universal responses that apply to whatever dialogue option you choose, making the visual novel aspect less appealing. It also hardly affects the difficulty of the battles. Choices do determine what kind of battles you fight for a few chapters in the seventh singularity later on, but that’s it. They are totally inconsequential outside of that.
Speaking of negatives, while this game does have plenty going for it, it isn’t without its faults, unfortunately. So let’s go over them.
I need to clarify what I said above. Remember how I just said that all the game’s features can be accessed for free? Well, that’s technically true, but to be more accurate, it gets you 99.99% of the game. There is one feature that is only available to people who pay, and it’s part of the larger elephant in the room with this game…
To explain Gacha Hell, let me tell you what that feature is. It’s a guaranteed 5 star summoning banner. Performing a 10x summon on such a banner (these banners are rare and in NA have only occurred once in 2018 and twice in 2019), as it sounds, guarantees you’ll summon a 5 star servant. It sounds nice as a free player as a chance to actually get a 5 star, until you realize that it’s a paid summon only…Yes, you can only use paid Saint Quartz for the summon. Not Quartz you’ve accumulated as rewards or from farming via free quests or interludes/rank-ups. You can’t even use the bonus free Quartz you get when buying it from the shop. It costs $1 per Quartz but the shop throws in bonus Quartz to sweeten the deal. But since the summon is paid only, you have to spend a minimum of $30 to participate, and not being able to do so really stings as a free player.
This is the most explicit example of the game favoring those who pay money over those who don’t. Tapping the “summon info” button on a banner will tell you the chances of summoning a particular servant on a given banner, and as you can see, a servant on *rate-up* (in this example, Merlin, a 5 star caster) has a whopping drop rate of…0.7%, bringing the total chance to summon a 5 star overall to…1%.
Your chances of summoning even a 4 star aren’t much better at 3%.
You can see where I’m going with this now. If you want a 5 star, you need to perform an excessive amount of rolls if you aren’t lucky, and that requires a lot of Quartz. So much so you are better off buying it from the shop instead of trying to save the free Quartz the game gives you as log in bonuses or for completing quests. As a free player, you are forced to pick roughly one banner a season if you want to roll with a reasonable amount of Quartz required to summon a 5 star, and that’s if you log in every day to receive the daily login bonuses. And you’ll find yourself spending all that Quartz from months of saving only for maybe one or two 4 stars. You will rarely end up with the servant you want.
Hence the term “Gacha Hell.” It means you’ll roll, and roll, and roll for minimal gains. I’ve spent a lot of Quartz on banners only to come away with nothing. It really hit me when I tried rolling in the story gacha more than 20 times as two 10x summons and then another bunch of summons on a different banner to get Francis Drake and I didn’t get any 5 stars. I did get three copies of 4 stars, though. My second copy of Heracles and two copies of Chavalier d’Eon. During the summer, I rolled again and again hoping to get a gold archer or caster since as of this writing, I still lack either. I did get a 5 star, but it was a lancer, and my only other 5 star at the time was also a lancer, so it wasn’t what I needed.
The point here is to not get too excited over the prospect of summoning a 5 star. Don’t get sucked in thinking that 100 Quartz will ensure a 5 star or two, or that 100 summons will do so. It’s all luck based, and you’ll be really unlucky a lot of the time.
You can try to see how much Quartz you may need with the Fate/Grand Order summon simulator.
FGO Tips made great videos on this breaking down all the math behind the summons and examining the drop rates to conclude how often users can/will summon good cards. The final video on that series is very interesting and if you want to know more, I suggest watching it.
Don’t get sucked into Gacha Hell. Plan your rolls carefully and save up as much Quartz as you can to give yourself the best chance at summoning the servant you want. It sucks but that’s how it is for free players, and you’ll be seeing tons of people get three copies of Merlin with 90 Quartz and that will tempt you to spend everything and get nothing. Don’t fall for that trap, lower your expectations, and you won’t be disappointed.
Lots and lots…and lots of grinding
I need also to clarify what I said above about leveling up servants. It’s not easy after a while. This affects both free players and “whales,” those who spend a lot of time and money on a game.
The drop rates for ascension materials and skill up materials can be quite low the higher in rarity the item is, and it can be rough even for items of bronze and silver rarity.
As you can see, for example in the 2016 Halloween event, you’ll have to farm several times to get even one copy of one item and you need multiple copies to perform one ascension of a servant or level up one skill, and that costs a lot of AP, which is expended when you complete a quest. But even at a higher level when you have a large amount of AP, the quests with the best drop rates can cost up to 40 AP in one go, meaning you’ll spend all your AP to get one copy of one item sometimes.
On top of that, ascensions cost increasing amounts of Quest Points the higher you go, meaning you’ll need to farm that as well. Accumulate it through going through the story or farm it in the daily vault quests (which also cost AP…). At first you won’t worry about it since you’ll have a few million QP saved up naturally, but it will eventually catch up to you. Using myself as an example, I had 63 million QP just a few weeks ago but now I’m down to about 20 million and am looking at ascensions that cost 11 million QP to perform.
All of this can make the game feel like a chore at times and overwhelming with the story to progress, items and QP to farm, events to complete during the duration of them, servants and skills to ascend, etc.
Related to grinding but not items specifically is all the grunt battles. The story often throws you fights with enemies just for the sake of fighting. That sounds like a bad critique given that the game is about fighting with your servants, but it prolongs the story progression and makes you sit through cutscenes just to face a few minions. Cutting some of that content would lighten the farming load and make the story more streamlined. What I’m asking for is, a little less grinding…
Little annoyances and bugs
There isn’t too much to say here so this will be short, but I can’t overlook some of the bugs, glitches, or little things that make the game a bit more annoying. As an example, when setting up your party you choose one servant from a friend. Each player has a support set up for other masters to use. However, when it comes to selecting those servants before a battle, not all your friends’ servants will appear, and if you’re hoping to use a particular servant your friend has available, you may need to refresh the page multiple times before the servant you want pops up to use.
There are also bugs. Like in the 2016 Halloween event, there was a limit to what servants you could put in your party, but even those who met the requirement set by the game got an error message and the developers had to fix it, which shortened the time players had to complete the event. Also, there are times I try to open the game and I get a message telling me I failed to connect to the server or that the game did not launch properly.
The bonuses they give to players can also be rather pitiful. In NA, you get 20 Quartz every 50 logins (cumulative, not consecutive) which is nice but it’s not even enough for a single 10x summon (it was later increased to 30 Quartz in JP)
And other such little things you may run across. They are little things, really, but they are worth mentioning.
So, to answer the question I posited above of “is it worth it?” Absolutely. While the game does have its issues, mainly caring more about those who pay money and all the unnecessary grinding, there’s still plenty of enjoyment to be had playing the game even for free. I spent a lot of time talking about those negative things but I also spent quite a bit of time talking about how fun the game is. Don’t let that deter you from getting into the game if you’re thinking about it.
The anime adaptations adapting the sixth and seventh singularities are here and they’ll be more enjoyable if you if you played the game first, just like how enjoying an anime is cool after reading the manga or light novel. Or maybe you’re from the near future and are here to see if the game is worth playing after you’ve seen the Babylonia anime and/or the Camelot movies. Either way I still recommend it. You’ll be going on quite the journey, and like any journey you’ll be happy, satisfied, frustrated, and annoyed all at the same time, but you’ll feel accomplished by the end.
So go ahead and give it a try. You can always delete the game after a while if you don’t like it, but you don’t lose anything by trying. After all, 99.99% of the game can be accessed for free!
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