Fate/Extra is an interesting game. When you first start playing, the game feels like a complete rip-off of the Persona titles. From the visual styling and calendar-based daily cycle to the nighttime dungeon battles and social interaction, everything feels like an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of its Shin Megami Tensei rival. That being said, Persona 3 stands as my favorite game of all time, so there are definitely worse franchises to imitate. Like Persona, it takes about an hour to get through Fate's introductory material, but after that, the story really takes off. The scenarios were written by Nasu, of Fate/Stay Night PC fame, but since this story takes place in an alternate universe from the original, no prior knowledge of the Fate series is necessary. The writing is surprisingly solid and thought-provoking, although the "visual novel" -esque narration screens can feel a bit long-winded at first. You start by playing through a mostly linear prologue using a generic male character, after which you are able to select one of three companion types and a gender for your character. The gameflow is similar to Persona 3/4, where you spend your daytime hours attending high school and chatting to other students, often leading to clues that will aid in your nighttime confrontations. Combat occurs inside randomly generated wireframe dungeons, not unlike Tartarus or Mayonaka TV in Persona, and at the end of each calendar week, you'll face off against a rival and their servant, again not unlike the full-moon showdowns against Arcana demons in Persona 3. Even your servant, who does all of your fighting and leveling, is vaguely reminiscent of using a persona to deal damage in combat. Battle structure is a paper-rock-scissors affair, where memorizing your opponent's patterns is key to inflicting more damage than you sustain. I'm sure this was intended to mimic the push-turn system that garnered great praise in Persona, but in that department, Fate/Extra fails to execute the mechanic properly. Due to your enemies' unexpected changes in pattern, you could literally do everything right and still get beaten, but more often than not, a trial-and-error approach will eventually prevail. On that note, it is also very important to maintain multiple save files, as the branching story and choice-based plot progression can lead to dead ends and undesirable outcomes. This is actually Fate/Extra's greatest strength; while the game is not as long or immersive as Persona, it does offer a comparable amount of replay value, especially considering the number of possible player-servant combinations and a couple difficulty settings with New Game Plus. The social elements are fun and teasingly titilating, as well, though they ultimately feel more shallow than Persona's social links.
Many fans of Fate will be frustrated by the game's constant comparison to Persona and will claim that the game manages to forge an identity all its own, but I believe it falls short of that goal. In blatantly stealing so many elements from those games, this new entry seals its own Fate (pun intended), and it would be ridiculous to expect anything besides contant comparison by people who have played both franchises. However, that does not mean there is a complete lack of originality or fun to be discovered in Fate/Extra. Its graphic presentation is gorgeous, and with the PSP nearing the end of its lifespan, it's nice to see a good JRPG grace the UMD library. In all honesty, I would never have expected it to get a US release, but Aksys has done well to bring overlooked Japanese titles to America. Voiceovers are still in Japanese, which will please purists, and the game is very reasonably priced, with a standard version at $29.99 and a Limited Edition (box, artbook, and soundtrack included) at only $39.99. Many niche Japanese games see PSN release as a digital download only, but considering most fans of this subgenre appreciate the collectibility of a hard copy and bonus materials, the beautiful packaging and presentation are a definite plus. It's no secret that Aksys models its publishing efforts after Atlus of America (which publishes Persona, of course), so it's appropriate that Fate/Extra gains proper attention from their localization team. In the end, I would definitely recommend Fate/Extra to any fan of anime-styled JRPGs or of the Fate franchise, and while it doesn't reach the lofty position of the games that obviously inspired it, it can be a fun and compelling way to add some Extra life to your PSP (again, pun intended).