Mobile games are fickle beasts, amongst the sea of scary money grubbers there are a lot, of really, really good titles. However, a large majority of the time, a more normal person will see a free game with “contains in-app purchases” and steer far clear. So I’m going to go through some of these titles so we can analyze what makes and breaks them and potentially help decide which ones you should pick up if you so desire.
For beginners, the majority of these big free games that have “in-app purchases” use Gachapon systems, which leads to them often called “gacha games” for short. These Gachapon systems are similar to loot boxes, except the games run entirely on them. You spend in-game currency to acquire characters, loot or other items but it’s all randomized. Generally, more powerful and unique things have lower drop rates and sometimes what you’re able to obtain in the gacha is only available for a limited time. So, if you want your precious waifus, you may have to spin the wheel of fate a lot more than your daily free summon. To further incentivize you, the in-game currency is usually also scarce, unless of course, you pay some of that sweet hard earned cash (on your…card?) for more, and spin the wheel again, and again, however much money it takes to get what you want. That’s why these games are free, they generate their revenue off the people willing to spend money to get what they want.
Today in this series, we’re going to be looking at a game notoriously known for its horrible draw rates, where rate up is almost always a lie, and your waifus and husbandos may never come home. It’s also the one where a bunch of historical figures ends up as cute anime girls, but that doesn’t quite fit the “scary” theme I was going with does it? I mean, unless that is to you. I’m talking about Fate Grand/Order, but you probably already knew that though, since you read the title.
Here’s the elevator pitch: Fate Grand/Order is a turn-based RPG based on the Fate series that functions as a good entry point into the overall franchise (The franchise is great on its own, but that’s a topic for another day). You play as a novice master, a mage who is sent to Singularities, irregularities that are loosely akin to unstable points in time, that will often lead to the world’s end. After partnering with servants, mystical beings or heroic spirits, loosely based on historical people or fictional characters, players will stabilize the time period and save the world.
These Heroic Spirits are all filtered into different classes, which have positive and negative matchups with different classes to properly give it that extra RPG strategy flair. Stabilizing these singularities involves fighting hordes of enemies and other Heroic Spirits with your own team. For each set of battles, you can bring in up to five servants of your own, along with one support servant, which will either a preset one or one of your friend’s servants.
So what goes into a battle? Well, each servant has a five-card deck made up of attacks from three categories; Buster, Quick, and Arts. Buster cards deal the most damage, Arts cards generate NP gauge (the games’ special meter) and Quick cards generate “critical stars”. Your servant will always have at least one card of each type in their deck. When your party enters battle, the three servants’ decks are combined, shuffled, and then five cards are dealt each turn. Each turn you will be able to use three of these cards in a chain that will have a variety of effects and animations depending on the servants and card types involved. Then five more cards are dealt until all of those fifteen are spent. The process then repeats itself until the battle is over.
This is the fun part of the game but has little to do with the system that makes people steer clear. The gacha. So let’s get into Fate Grand/Order’s gacha system. There are two things you can obtain from the gacha; Servants, the characters you train and level to clear content, and Craft Essences, equipable items you give to servants with a variety of effects. The rates are as follows.
In-game probability list:
[table id=1 /]
To break it down, one summon costs 3 saint quartz, but you can use 30 saint quartz to roll the dice 10 times. For rolling 10 times, you are guaranteed at least one servant (from 3~5 stars) and one craft essence (from 4~5 stars). This will not change the rates of obtaining a 4* or higher servant, or a 5* craft essence.
One look at those rates is bound to scare anyone but it’s actually pretty standard for any game of this type, good examples of similar gacha include Final Fantasy Brave Exvius, Fire Emblem Heroes and Star Ocean Anamnesis. The games are free, so they have to generate their revenue off the people who are willing to spend lots and lots of money to get what they want.
Though in the case of Fate Grand/Order, hidden behind the war stories of those who couldn’t pull their edgy tsundere Joan of arc or one of the 50 million variants of the same popular character design, is actually, one of the fairest games of this type.
“How the hell does that work?” you might ask. Let’s start by bringing up an extremely important thing that mobile games do.
Imagine this; you load up your fancy mobile tie-in title and after months of saving up materials you pull your favorite character. You feel amazing for a while, you can take out any challenge that gets thrown your way. However, more characters come out with higher stats, better art, stronger skills. Your favorite isn’t quite as powerful anymore… and then, a new version comes out. They have a different costume, but they have higher stats, better skills, in fact… everything your fave can do, the new version can do better.
This phenomenon is called power creep, and it is an extremely common practice in mobile games. Why do they do this? The short answer is money. The longer answer is, it keeps people invested in pulling for new characters because players will need them to clear new content or keep a consistent ‘ranking’ in events. Many games make new units more powerful to encourage you to acquire them and make added content more difficult to justify it.
A large majority of mobile games, such as Final Fantasy Brave Exvius, Love Live School Idol Festival or Fire Emblem Heroes have ‘ranking rewards’. During events, the scores you attain are compared to other players, and you are given rewards depending on how you score stacks up. In the large majority of these cases, these rewards are incredibly valuable and you’ll be up against whales, people who spend countless dollars on the games, for the top spots and best rewards. These events further incentivize pulling so you can keep up with the top.
So what does Fate Grand/Order do differently? Aside from avoiding multiplayer ranking events entirely, Fate GO takes a very different approach to add in units. Let’s quickly compare some numbers
- Fire Emblem Heroes: after 1 year and 9 months, 312 playable units.
- Final Fantasy Brave Exvius: after 2 years and 5 months, 378 playable units.
- Fate Grand/Order: after 3 years and 5 months after launch, has 220 playable units.
There’s a huge difference here. Fate GO adds units in very slowly, intentionally slowing the rate of power creep and allowing the developers to put higher production values into the new characters. You don’t pull for characters just because they’re going to be powerful. You pull for them because of who the character is. Their role in the story, how they fight, how cool they seem to be, essentially what they mean to you. Welfare units, free units given out during events directly play into this. They’re often variants of popular and rare servants, such as Scathatch, Jeanne Alter or ludicrously powerful like Henshin Rider Kintoki. If you missed out on being able to pull Ishtar when she was available during the 2018 Christmas event, you may be pleasantly surprised to find out that she’s the welfare servant for 2019’s Summer event.
This is a mobile game. So you’d likely expect this to be undercut by the game needing you to use the rare servants to win. Which is actually totally false. The game may be easier with higher star servants but there’s nothing stopping you from pulling out your favorite servants like a legendary 1-star Sasaki Kojiro or a 3-star Robin Hood and going to utter town on everything in the game. Judging a servant based on their star level is a one-way ticket to missing out on what they can do.
2-star caster, Hans Christian Anderson is often touted as one of the best support characters in the game. The game routinely gives weaker or lacking servants buffs to stay relevant, and it’s quite feasible to use your favorites to kill even the toughest of enemies. Even the final boss of Grand Order can be defeated with a team of 1 to 3-star servants, all accessible from the friend point gacha.
If you need a helping hand clearing a level still, the support option there is open for you to bring in anyone else’s servant. Anything from someone’s Geogias or Mash because you need a little extra tanking, Merlin, Waver or Hans because you want to support your faves or someone else’s favorite servants because you want to see how they perform. The world is your oyster, even if the gacha is being mean to you.
This is a huge crossover game that adds in characters from across the fate franchise, but it’s not going to leave you out of the loop just because this is your first time with the franchise. The story within Grand Order isn’t just some silly tie-in, or loosely there to justify a big crossover. It’s there as its own entry and allows the writers to work with new concepts, scenarios, and explore parts of characters that weren’t touched on in other mediums. The initial story of Grand Order, that concludes with the final singularity, ‘The Grand Temple of Time’ completes a full story. There’s no sequel bait, no cliffhangers, no unexplained plot threads. That’s it. Everything else added from now is its own thing.
All these points are what make Fate/Grand Order easily one of the best free-to-play mobile games on the market and one I would absolutely recommend putting your time into.
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