Fate/Stay Night: Route By Route Ramble

UBW Season 2

First of all, I’m sorry for the delay; there was a mini-crisis in my life that ended up throwing me for a loop and as a result I haven’t had the chance to post anything here for the last two weeks. This particular post will be diving into the Fate/Stay Night visual novel, with FULL SPOILERS. That’s a warning to anyone not knowing what kind of scope I’ll be looking at, best also an invitation to everyone who’s been holding back in previous posts to let loose with the spoilers and information. I should also apologize for the length of this post; at first, I wanted to take a very quick, cursory look at the visual novel but then the more I got into it, the more I felt like I wanted to write about everything about it; the characters, the story, the themes, the world-building and so on. After a brief debate with myself about whether I could overcome my inherent laziness and write that long a piece without it spiraling hopelessly out of control, I decided to give it a shot. All the thoughts and opinions presented below are just that – thoughts and opinions, and not factual statements. I have read the VN front to back (so to speak) all of once (though I did revisit certain scenes) and I will not be trying to claim that I’m some expert on the subject or that my interpretations of certain characters are backed by some kind of authority. To keep this from turning into a massive wall of text, I will be interspersing it with pictures; specifically, Fate-related pictures from all over the place (I figured VN screenshots weren’t going to cut it).  Lastly, I also want to thank anyone who has been waiting for this for their patience and apologize again for the delay.


Looking back, one of the biggest challenges I faced in reading the Fate/Stay Night visual novel (VN) was coming to terms with the concept of ‘routes’, especially within the context of the story. Each of the VN’s three routes (‘Fate’, ‘Unlimited Blade Works’ (UBW) & ‘Heaven’s Feel’ (HF)) are centred on and feature the same set of characters but just when you leave one route thinking you’ve got a solid grasp on the story and the characters, the next route comes along to make you question it all. You might leave ‘Fate’ thinking you know all there is to know about Shirou and the Fate/Stay Night world but by mid-way through UBW, it’s clear that you knew nothing at all – delve on it enough and it’ll make you wonder if you ever really understood the characters in the first place. As such, I feel the VN is better understood instead in terms of divergence points and possibilities; after all, different circumstances do bring out different aspects of us and it’s only natural that the characters behave differently as well. On the simplest level, each of the three stories in the VN follow the same overarching narrative structure – Shirou gets tangled up in the Fifth Holy Grail War, suffers to varying degrees before overcoming increasingly insurmountable odds to emerge triumphant at the end. The natures of those triumphs vary, as do the odds he has to overcome, but in the broadest sense, that is the essence of the story. What elevates the story of Fate/Stay Night from good to great is the way the author uses the different routes, and different characters, to examine different aspects of a central theme: ideals and aspirations. Understanding each route’s relationship with those concepts is absolutely crucial in appreciating what Kinoko Nasu has pulled off in Fate/Stay Night but ideas explored in the VN are too complex to properly explore in a single paragraph so instead, we’ll trace their development, route-by-route, taking some time to stop and think about the various strengths and weakness of the routes along the way.


I discussed the ‘Fate’ route at some length here, and some of what I say here will overlap with what I’ve said there, but I do feel that the completing all three routes gave me a better understanding of just what it was that ‘Fate’ was trying to accomplish. Each of the three routes has a character that Shirou must confront, whether in a literal sense or in the sense that he must address the differences between him and the character in question. By route, those characters are Saber, Archer and Kiritsugu. This might seem strange since Saber is very much in Shirou’s side, while Archer is largely antagonistic and Kiritsugu is entirely absent, but bear with me for now. In ‘Fate’ Shirou has to confront Saber, not because he has something to prove or an ideal to uphold, but because he sees her attitude and outlook on life as dangerous and self-destructive and because he cares about her enough to want her to be happy. We will talk in greater detail about their relationship and how it develops as well as what purpose it served in the greater scheme of things but first, let’s talk about ‘Fate’ as a story.

At first, it seems obvious that what holds ‘Fate’ back as a route is its pacing. After all, the excruciatingly slow start makes the first half of the route a chore to work through and even if the payoff is great, it isn’t enough to totally erase the stain left by the slow start. Yet, the more I think about it, the less I feel that this infamous slow start is what keeps ‘Fate’ from being compared to UBW and HF, though I certainly agree that it doesn’t help matters. What really holds ‘Fate’ back is that it is just too bland a route; compared to HF, ‘Fate’ reads like a fairy-tale. ‘Fate’ is essentially a narrative straight line – Shirou has an ideal in mind, strives towards it, achieves it and is rewarded for it. In story-telling, regardless of medium or genre, the impact of a story’s happy ending depends on how hard the characters had to fight to reach it. In both UBW and HF, the characters are dealt harsh, crippling blows and must overcome numerous seemingly insurmountable setbacks before reaching that elusive light at the end of the tunnel. It doesn’t feel that way in ‘Fate’ – sure, there are some difficulties here and there but they never feel so absolutely overwhelming that a positive outcome is out of the question. Yet, while Shirou’s relatively easy path through ‘Fate’ is a cause of ‘Fate’ coming across as a simple and straightforward route, it is also the effect of several other narrative choices that Nasu made. The choice of Kirei and Gilgamesh as final antagonists is fine at first, but in UBW and HF, you realize that both characters had so much more to offer than ‘Fate’ revealed and so sort of wish that, if ‘Fate’ was to be their only time to be the primary antagonists, they would have gotten a chance to do more within the story. Still, both Gilgamesh and Kirei are sufficiently tough opponents that Shirou and Saber’s victory over them did feel like incredibly satisfying, even if the ending was bittersweet (though Last Episode fixes that).

All of this might sound overly critical of ‘Fate’ but I don’t mean it like that. ‘Fate’ serves a different purpose from the other two routes – it is meant to introduce us to this universe, a guide us through the basics of how things work in it. Perhaps there was a little much exposition at certain parts of ‘Fate’ and certainly, that slow start that people keep referring is an issue but I don’t think it is fair to expect the first route to provide as complex and emotionally compelling a story as UBW and HF. In fact, the main reason that both those routes are as successful as they are is because they are able to take advantage of the legwork that ‘Fate’ put in, from setting up the character’s core personalities (though we learn much more about certain characters later) to establishing the basic rules of magic in the world (which mean nothing since every character is apparently capable of defying some rule or the other). In the process of doing all this, ‘Fate’ is able to tell a good story – not a great, mind-blowingly awesome story – but a solid, thoroughly enjoyable one. This solid, thoroughly enjoyable story centres not on Shirou, as the other routes’ stories tend to, but on Saber. The many psychological issues that make Shirou who he is are not really introduced to us in ‘Fate’ and as a result, Shirou too comes across as a little bland; naïve, ignorant of the Holy Grail War but almost aggressively idealistic, his character in ‘Fate’ is far too weak to really carry the story. Yet, at first, it seems that Saber is the same – she is passive for a large portion of the route and it is only when we spend some time on her backstory and her motivations that things really start getting interesting. The relationship between Shirou and Saber starts off as a little strange and more than a little awkward but it is only towards the middle/end of the route (or arguably, all the way in UBW) that we realize just how compatible and alike the Master and Servant are. After all, on the surface of things, the clueless amateur magus seems to have very little in common with the majestic, legendary King Artoria. ‘Fate’ deals with the struggle to reach an ideal or to be ideal. At the beginning of the route, Saber doesn’t really see herself as a person nor does she see herself as important or her life as precious. Instead, she is the very embodiment of her ideals; the chivalrous knight, the dutiful king, the loyal Servant. In that sense, she is ideal but despite her adherence to that code, she could neither save her country nor truly understand her people. It’s hard to call her an ideal king based on that, isn’t it? Yet, she did everything right which means that if there is a problem, it lies with her ideals themselves.

That, to me at least, captures Saber’s struggle – she has suppressed her own humanity to become this ideal version of herself but it didn’t lead her to that perfect happy ending and now, the humanity she suppressed wishes to take back her actions and return to a point where she never chose those ideals in the first place (which in this specific case, means leave a certain sword stuck in a certain stone). It is the same humanity that develops feelings for Shirou that she tries and fails to ruthlessly supress. In essence, that’s what ‘Fate’ was all about to me; it’s about accepting your failings along with your strengths. Shirou tries to convince her that even if the result wasn’t what she wanted, that doesn’t mean that she should regret and resent everything prior to the result itself. Saber has all these emotions, like her feelings for Shirou, that would steer her away from that perfect path; after all, she can’t be falling in love or going on fun dates as a Servant in a Holy Grail War. Her ultimate choice comes down to choosing between the past and the present, but also between choosing to continue to abide by the ideals that betrayed her or choosing her own humanity – if she chose the first option to either question, then she would have taken the Grail but the story ends with her choosing to let go of the past and embrace her feelings and given the happy (if bittersweet) ending to ‘Fate’, it seems like the VN is telling us she made the right choice. The relationship between Saber and Shirou was a good way to show the conflict between her ‘perfect’ self and her inner emotions but the relationship itself felt a little rushed – somehow Shirou falls head over heels in Saber (so much as that he waits an eternity to be reunited with her) in just under two weeks? All in all, ‘Fate’ introduces us to all the key building blocks of the VN. Most of essential reveals happen here; the types of Servants, some of their abilities and how the Grail and the Grail War work.

Unlimited Blade Works

Even though I know it’s an exercise in futility to compare ‘Fate’ to UBW, it is hard not to. UBW comes right after ‘Fate’ and for a large part of UBW’s early story, the conclusions from ‘Fate’ are still in our heads. We still remember the Saber we came to know and love from ‘Fate’ and so it seems strange to see her take such a passive role to see Rin move to forefront. Likewise, UBW quickly begins injecting more and more of Shirou’s emptiness into the story – it starts off with things we already know, like Shirou’s dreams of becoming a superhero and saving everyone but more and more, it begins drifting into a more negative area with Shirou questioning whether his ideals can even be achieved. The catalyst for that change is Archer who, as a result of getting significantly more face-time in UBW, emerges as one of the most interesting characters not just of UBW but of the VN as a whole. In ‘Fate’, Shirou had to confront Saber’s unhealthy relationship with her ideals and actions in order to come to terms with his own relationship with them but in UBW, it is Archer who Shirou has to face down, both in a literal, physical sense and in a narrative one. I have written at considerable length about the dynamics between Archer and Shirou and each character’s respective relationships with their dreams, so I will try to avoid rehashing as much of it as I can.

Where ‘Fate’ kept the characters from experiencing either the highest of highs or the lowest of lows, UBW plunges them a fair bit deeper. There are shifts in power; for a while, Berserker seemed unstoppable, then Caster took that position and Gilgamesh after her, but all three Servants fell eventually. One of the things that makes UBW such an amazing piece of character development is Nasu’s willingness to drag Shirou through the dirt – compared to ‘Fate’, Shirou has a really rough time here. He loses Saber and soon after, Rin loses Archer; he is rendered useless and helpless but somehow he overcomes all of that to challenge the King of Heroes himself. Yet, his fight with Gilgamesh is only the icing on the cake; the actual cake itself is his confrontation with Archer. If the theme of ‘Fate’ is centred on the struggle to be an ideal, then UBW questions the ideal itself. Archer, in a perverse sense, is Shirou’s ideal – he is logical conclusion of Shirou’s mindset at the beginning of the route and he represents a very possible, likely corruption of Shirou’s dream; Shirou’s unquestioning adherence to his idealism resulted in Archer being betrayed by them. UBW complicates matters in a way that ‘Fate’ never did – ‘Fate’ basically said that if Shirou could struggle hard enough to reach his ideal, he would be rewarded by becoming that ideal but UBW says that even if he achieves that end goal, there is no happy ending waiting for him. Archer is sad and cynical and not exactly the kind of person anyone wants to grow up to be and the message is clear; knowing that this is the outcome, are you still willing to cling to your ideal? Do you really even understand what your ideal means? Shirou’s reply to these probing questions doesn’t come easily but when he is finally able to piece his reply together, what results is easily the VN’s most emotionally satisfying moment. Shirou is able to carry the momentum of his triumph over Archer over into his fight with Gilgamesh, making the final stretch of UBW absolutely riveting.

More than any other route, UBW conveys that idea that there is something noble about overcoming yourself. Shirou becomes truly powerful the moment he sheds his self-doubt and completes his self-realization. There are parallels between Archer and Saber as well as between Archer and Emiya Kiritsugu who isn’t properly introduced until UBW.  Archer has much of his father’s pragmatism and like him, was forced to sacrifice the few to save the many – in direct conflict with Shirou’s original dream of saving everyone. There are a bunch of parallels and connections between these four characters – Shirou, Saber, Archer and Kiritsugu – though these connections are not fully exposed until we reach ‘Heaven’s Feel’. In essence, they each have high ideals but find that the real world isn’t quite as forgiving as they believed. Yet, all of this is apparent only by the time HF rolls around. UBW itself does not bring the real world into the equation yet but questions the intrinsic value of ideals and aspirations. It is easily the most entertaining of the three routes, with frequent battles, including some of the best in the VN like the aforementioned Gilgamesh vs Shirou and the less physical but no less compelling, Archer vs Shirou. The more even distribution of action ensures that the pacing is fairly good throughout though the real high point of the route is the way Rin and Shirou’s relationship develops. To a fairly large degree, Rin is the anchor that is going to keep Shirou’s ideals rooted firmly in reality but at the same time, she doesn’t offer quite the same depth as a character as Saber does, though she is a compelling and capable enough character in her own right. The other blessing UBW received was a series of highly competent antagonists; Caster, Archer and Gilgamesh all presented a definite, serious threat to our heroes at various points and in the story and each of their defeats was a highpoint of UBW. More than anything, UBW owes its success to ‘Fate’ – we are more emotionally invested in the characters by the end of the UBW and that emotional investment is absolutely crucial to UBW’s payoff as a story. Indeed, the action in story feeds off of the characters’ mental states which makes UBW as much a character piece as an action packed fantasy-adventure story, if not more so.

Heaven’s Feel

And then there is ‘Heaven’s Feel’. HF is the real game-changer, in every sense of the word. ‘Fate’ represented pretty much the best case scenario for the character, especially Shirou; casualties were minimized, and everything went off a lot more smoothly and less painfully than it should have, given the circumstances. UBW rocks that boat a fair bit, but HF truly capsizes it. Heaven’s Feel is an absolutely brutal story not just for the events that take place in the story but also because of the way these events happen to (and because of) character we have come to care deeply about. It feels to me that ‘Heaven’s Feel’ exposes the dark underbellies of all these characters and we finally see them for what they truly are. More than either of the previous routes, it feels like HF is the story that Nasu really had in mind when he conceived of Fate/Stay Night. It forces the player to experience a wider range of emotions than they might know they had; from heart-warming happiness, to disgust and horror, to soul-crushing sadness, to moments of crazy hype and heroism. More than anything, it brings the most grim aspect of all to the story – reality. Reality is something that ‘Fate’, and to a lesser extent, UBW, ignored but HF forces the characters, and by extension, us, to confront. Can Shirou’s ideals hold up in the face of having real, pressing choices to make? It’s all well and good to talk a big game when there’s nothing at stake, but will Shirou really deliver when it comes down to it? As it turns out, no, he will not but that’s actually perfectly fine as we will see shortly.

Before we talk about how HF ties all three routes and the VN together, let’s talk a little about how thoroughly my impressions of the characters changed as a result of the events of this route. This section will be fairly long since this is the first time I’ve ever spoke about ‘Heaven’s Feel’ and so much happens in the route that there is an actual fuckton of things to talk about. Let’s start with Rin, shall we? One choice in UBW has Rin quite mercilessly take Shirou down and out very early on in the route but prior to ‘Heaven’s Feel’ that is the closest the story comes to acknowledge the cold pragmatism of Rin’s character. HF reveals that she is ruthless – if we chose to let Sakura die midway through the route, Rin shows shockingly little mercy and throughout the route, we see her quite willing to kill Sakura if that’s what it takes. What makes her actions and attitude particularly upsetting is that we find out at the end of the route that she does care deeply for Sakura and in its own way, her taking her sister’s life was her own way of showing her cares for Sakura. Yet, coming off of the heels of UBW, that kind of cold-hearted demonstration of affection is quite shocking even if it is well substantiated within the story.

Then there is Kirei, who we finally get to really meet and understand after two full routes of just thinking of him as a corrupt priest with skin-deep motivations. His character is particularly easy to understand – he seems to thrive off of other’s misery but there isn’t any real, deep psychological motivation for it. It is his personality, and that’s all there is to it – it makes him a refreshingly honest villain and explains why a lot of the time, in prior routes, he seems to enjoy making the characters suffer over actually taking steps to ensure his absolute victory. There is something quite appealing about an antagonist whose motivations are so, for the lack of a better word, pure – he wants his opponents to suffer, simple as that. One of the reasons that ‘Heaven’s Feel’ is such a great story is because Kirei makes surprisingly frequent appearances and keeps it all very real. It is especially hilarious (in a somewhat black humour way) to see Shirou in a state of absolute distress, freaking out and panicking while Kirei calmly eats some spiced tofu and tells him he should be scared, very scared. That Kirei goes to rather extreme lengths to prolong the series of catastrophes in HF as long as he can is nothing short of amazing and his contributions to the cause of drama, not to mention how incredibly badass he is (Kirei vs True Assassin anyone?), in HF elevate him to one of the best characters in HF, possibly in Fate/Stay Night.

The last character who’s really different is Ilya. In ‘Fate’, she was mostly used for comedic effect, a sudden, jarring introduction to Shirou’s household harem while in UBW she is used to bully us into emotionally investing into Berserker’s defeat. In HF though, it feels like we see her real character, beyond just the comedy and light-heartedness. It was incredibly touching to see her care so deeply for Shirou and heart-rending to realize that the siblings (which is what they are, technically) will never get the happy ending that they deserve. It makes her sacrifice for Shirou all the more tragic – she moves past Kiritsugu abandoning her in the past and moves past her desire for revenge and comes to care enough for her younger brother to sacrifice herself for it. She comes across as mature and wise, a far cry from the Ilya of ‘Fate’, but not so much so that she is a total party-pooper. This is one of the places where the whole notion of the routes begins to bother me; a series of wrong choices can lead to Ilya killing Shirou (however reluctantly, or regretfully) in Heaven’s Feel but prior to that both characters seemed to get along well enough – so what exactly is the real interpretation of Ilya’s character? I’m making my peace with this by thinking that this is her character – that the conflict about whether to kill Shirou for revenge on Kiritsugu or to save him is a key component of her character and the choices in the game allow us to explore the consequences of either side of that decision

At this point, you’re probably thinking, ‘Huh, Ilya’s the last character that’s different? Aren’t forgetting, um, some major character changes in say, Sakura?’ Why yes, I haven’t ignored her though Nasu certainly did for two-thirds of this story. Of course, Sakura’s true character comes as something as a surprise as well – the soft spoken, if occasionally stubborn shrinking violet has quite the horrifying past and more than a touch of anger, resentment and darkness within her. There’s a problem though – when we are told Sakura’s past is deeply troubling and thoroughly messed up but as it gets worse and worse, it also gets more and more distant from something we can empathize with. That she went through that degree of physical, mental and sexual abuse is absolutely disgusting, not doubt at it, but you reach a point where it becomes so much that it is difficult to really connect with it on an emotional level – almost we get numb to it. Nasu could have stopped well before that point and left Sakura just as sympathetic as she was before and saved us some mild trauma but having said that, I do recognize that there is a high level of plot significance to a lot of her abuse. What fascinates me about Sakura as the female lead of HF is that she is not inherently a ‘nice’ person like Saber or even Rin (who is less ‘nice’ than Saber, actually). Sakura is a victim – especially compared to Saber and Rin – but at the same time also an antagonist. Even before she totally breaks down, she is broken enough to think that he is helping Shirou by ripping an arm off him to keep him from fighting – that’s not just strange, that’s downright disturbed. The end result is that despite being a lot more sympathetic and pitiful than Rin or Saber, we do not end up rooting for her nearly as much as we do those prior heroines. A large part of that might be because Sakura’s salvation comes at a cost – Shirou has had to sacrifice his ideals and dreams as well as his body in order to save her and even though we know that Sakura is a product of her fucked up environment, we can’t help but ask if she is really worth it at the end of the day. Still, the decision to save one at the cost of the many is the cornerstone of what HF is all about and it centres on the ticking time-bomb that is Matou Sakura.

That actually brings us to the character of Emiya Kiritsugu, who we learn isn’t really anything like the person Shirou thought him to be before the Holy Grail War. In a sense, the true Kiritsugu is revealed to us in HF to exactly the same degree that the other characters are unveiled. Understanding Kiritsugu and his own path towards his ideals is crucial not just because he is the character that Shirou must confront in this route but also because it will help us understand what makes HF such a powerful story. Kiritsugu, if Kirei is to be believed (and HF shows us that Kiritsugu is nothing if not brutally honest in such situations), was not a good man, at least not in the conventional sense of the word. He fought to make the world a better place, yes, but he did it in exactly the opposite way that Shirou would prefer to – he had no compunctions about making necessary sacrifices, much like Archer. Kiritsugu looked to the Grail as his salvation, as the vindication of all those he was forced to sacrifice for the greater good but was betrayed when the Grail turned out to be corrupt and incapable of granting him his impossible wish (which I feel parallels Archer too, in some ways). Suddenly, we see the reasons why Kiritsugu always said that a hero cannot save everyone and why his philosophy of sacrificing one to save the many was reversed. Remember how happy he was to find Shirou alive after the fire – the fire showed him that he could not keep sacrificing the few and it seems he thus decided that he would focus on saving those he could.

This brings us to Shirou in HF. The Shirou we see in ‘Fate’ is almost comically heroic compared to the Shirou in HF – in ‘Fate’ he fights Angra Mainyu by himself and emerges triumphant and unscarred. That Shirou became his ideal, he was the superhero that saved everyone but in HF, he goes the exact opposite route – he chooses his own happiness (represented by his love for Sakura) above the happiness of the world in general. Sakura’s nightly rampages would consume increasing numbers of innocents and Shirou knew it but still chose the person he cared about above that. Yet, we cannot bring ourselves to really condemn him for it – after all, in his place, would any of us really sacrifice our loved ones for the unknown, unseen faceless masses? Shirou’s choice quite clearly mirrors his father’s, as Kirei points out, but where Kiritsugu always chose the many over the few, Shirou chooses exactly the opposite. It is interesting that despite choosing the allegedly selfless choice, Kiritsugu was a cold and calculating man but Shirou who chooses to be selfish is more human and empathetic. This brings us full circle to ‘Fate’ – Saber’s choice to embrace her own humanity is technically selfish since it indirectly results in her forsaking her country to its fate but it is also seen as the correct decision in the context of the VN.

I’ll end this ultra-long post (seriously, 5300 words and counting) by talking about some questions HF left me with and my opinion on the final route as a whole. Zouken is a great antagonist – I don’t like him as much as Kirei, but as far as pure villainy goes, I think Zouken has it covered. He is creepy, utterly unsympathetic but is powerful enough to command some respect from us and the protagonists. True Assassin was something of a disappointment though his dismissal at Kirei’s hands was still rather satisfying to see. My gripe here is that all these elements feel so isolated – where was Zouken during ‘Fate’ and UBW? Clearly Sakura knew what Saber was the second she saw her in both those routes but we never do find out what happened to her in those routes. Between the Shadow, True Assassin and Zouken, HF felt like an alternate universe version of Fate/Stay Night – I keep imagining this version where all the various protagonists and antagonists are active at the same time. For example, the Sakura/Black Grail subplot is active at the same that Gilgamesh is deployed and active while Kirei too is doing his own thing. Saber was absent for all of HF but how much more awesome would this combined route be if all three heroines were playing active roles in it? It’s an idle wish, nothing more, but fun to think about. In any case, this has been an extremely long post but I’m looking forward to any comments of stuff I missed out or misinterpreted (there has been a lot to take in) and I hope you enjoyed this post as much as I enjoyed playing through the VN!

Final note: to anyone wondering, Kara No Kyoukai 5 will be out on Wednesday, that movie is long (and very confusing).



35 thoughts on “Fate/Stay Night: Route By Route Ramble

  1. In first two routes Zouken wasn’t sure on his hold over Sakura so he decided to sit it out, after all, there was no way to know this war would be the last one.
    As for combined routes, HF route is just too different to mesh with other two – Saber wouldn’t have stayed passive while Black Sakura was killing innocents, Archer, too, would have put his grudge on hold and we saw what Rin would do. As to Shirou, ‘Fate’ would have tryed to balance saving Sakura with saving everyone else and died, ‘UBW’ would have tried his best the killed her wictims started piling up, ‘HF’ Shirou’s choice would have brought him in conflict with Saber, since Archer is alive Rin wouldn’t team up with him.
    Add to that Gilgamesh still being alive and Sakura’s survival rate drops to zero.


    • Yeah I can see how much of a mess it would have been. It was just speculation on my part, really. I still think if written right, a ‘combined’ route could be awesome, but as things stand I can’t see how it would work.


      • With f/sn, routes can be made into individual stories, true, some characters will get minimum screentime, but there will be almost no unanswered questions or dangling plotthreads.
        Combined route approach will work best with Tsukihime, unlike Shirou, the protagonist doesn’t change drastically from route to route and taken individually, the routes themselves don’t have enough ‘meat’ to them for a standalone story.


  2. If I remember correctly, the Fate visual novel was initially supposed to be 2 different games with 4 routes. Fate and Unlimited Blade Works were going to be the first game, while Heaven’s Feel and an unnamed Ilya route were going to be in the second game. In the end due to time issue’s and wanting to release the game on time, Nasu decided to merge the Ilya and Sakura route and make it just one game. Which is probably why Heaven’s Feel, feels completely different from the first 2 routes.


    • That would also explain why Ilya got so much more screen time in HF. I guess they nixed the Ilya route because a hentai scene with her would probably cause issues? Because I can definitely see her as a protagonist in her own route, actually.


      • In Japan a ero scene with a loli looking characer isn’t that frowned up on. There are a lot of eroge (visual novels with porn) focused on this fetish. I don’t think that is the reason.

        I think it is more likely that the two Fate/Stay Night visual novels where combined into one is because of a lack of time. I’m completely speculating at this point. Maybe someone with more knowledge can clarify this issue.


        • Type-Moon’s latest release right before Fate (a fandisc for Tsukhime called Kagestu Tohya) in fact had such a scene with a loli character. It could be speculated they wanted to move away from that in Fate and in fact they continue to produce work that don’t have full on H-scenes at all currently. It seems more likely that the real reason the Ilya route was scrapped at the time of production though was lack of time.


  3. HF highly relies on getting the reader to care for Sakura at not just at the beginning of the route, but also during the other routes where she shows up. She is the girl who can’t get her lover to notice her, despite every mild attempt to do so. You also see she has developed a personal connection with not just Shirou, but the Emiya house as it represents a haven from the darkness of her life. Her she can for a brief time become the girl not stained, clean and beautiful. Even if Shirou won’t notice her, she stills wishes to be with him as long as she can, clinging to a dream. So when HF roles around and you decide to move towards Sakura as a love interest, you’ve seen the good in her but now you must accept the blackness of her heart. What HF does well is showing the loving someone requires you to accept all aspects of them, and since we know of the good in Sakura we know that we must fight to save her from herself. In the end, the girl that ran away from her darkness was now able to accept that part because she had someone at her side, and that is why I love Sakura in F/SN.

    Do you think you will do Fate/ Hollow Ataraxia, the fan-service sequel to F/SN? Also have you thought of doing the Tsukihime VN as well? A lot of the mechanics and lore in KnK are explored more deeply in Tsukihime, along with Vampires and Demons.


    • Demons aren’t too deeply explored in Tsukihime, actually, but regardless of that, if there’s reason to read Tsukihime it’s less for the lore and more because the Far Side routes are probably the best Nasu work to date.


    • I’m thinking of doing Fate/Zero after I finish Kara No Kyoukai. I was warned to stay away from Tsukihime, apparently the anime is awful? Not sure who it was, but that was the impression I had for some reason.


      • The Tsukihime anime is awful. When people recommend you experiencing Tsukihime they mean the visual novel which the anime is a bad adaption of.


      • The Tsukihime VN is great. It’s the first visual novel by Nasu though, and that kind of shows. There are also a lot less battles than in F/SN. The anime was kind of a garbage adaptation, but the manga was pretty good, albeit focusing mainly on one route out of five.


      • Fate/Zero is excellent to show all the backstory that is only hinted at.

        As for Tsukihime, the anime simply does not do the VN justice. I’d recommend reading the VN first before the anime.

        But if you enjoy long psychological dramas, you may enjoy a change of pace with “Monster” (for a more real world / slice of life aspect) or “Neon Genesis Evangelion” for a mecha aspect. Mind you, “Monster” is long – a 72 episode marathon.


  4. Basically, Zouken never really planned for Sakura to be involved in the Grail War-he only saw an opportunity form when he realized that her spying mission on Shirou had evolved into a closer relationship than he’d expected, and that he could use that. In Fate and UBW, Shirou doesn’t take Sakura to the Matou household himself, and doesn’t check in there later, so Zouken never meets him, and chooses to sit out this Grail War and plan for the next one instead.

    As you say, most of Illyas character conflict is coming to terms with accepting what Kiritsugu did and forgiving and accepting Shirou or choosing to exact her (very deliberately misguided by the Einzbern head) notion of revenge on him in their fathers place. You could say in Fate that she comes to the former conclusion and they do get a sort of happy ending, excepting the fact that she will die in a couple of years at most. That said, in HF when she kills him this is actually different from that issue-she does not hate him to the extent she did before she came to Fuyuki, but neither has she come to care for him to the extent she does at the end of Heavens Feel, so she does so out of necessity-to stop Zouken/the shadow from gaining more servants under their control, and to gain some advantage via his projection magic.

    In Sakuras case her poor mental state is escalated further by Angra Mainyuus influence via the grail pieces Zouken put in her-her negative thoughts give it more power, which it uses to strengthen those negative thoughts, which strengthen it again in turn, and driving Sakura more and more insane herself, though it becomes a little hard to discern what is her alone and what is his influence, besides Kirei stating that the desire to punish others for her suffering has to come from herself.

    You did mention that Archer and Kiritsugu had no compunctions about making the necessary sacrifices, which while definitely true for Kiritsugu I would say is less so for Archer; while he did make sacrifices, he would’ve done so reluctantly, since, as you yourself aptly mentioned some time back, his ideal revolves around wanting to save both victim and criminal-though of course it was only when he realized the scope of the sacrifice he had to make that he lost hope in his ideal and all.

    I would say Saber is pretty present in HF, actually, it provides her a fair bit of character from a different angle despite the corruption-she’s not as lucid as Heracles against it (well, maybe lucid is the wrong word to use for berserker), who is described as, despite the corruption, still fighting for no one else but Illya, only he’s maddened even further and almost completely blinded so he can’t really tell what he’s doing, besides to fight whats in front of him, but she does retain a fair bit of her mind, mostly seen though, in the bad ends, sparks liner high, compassion and femme fatale, where it becomes more apparent that she wants shirou to win their fight, despite Sakuras control compelling her to kill him and Rider-for instance, when it’s Shirou alone she chooses not to use Excalibur and still retains a darkened sense of herself from before.

    Anyway, it was a great read, and I enjoyed it, will look forward to seeing KNK 5 on wednesday too.


    • I guess it’s fair to say that Saber isn’t totally absent but it felt like she got taken out of the equation fairly early on in HF. Her ‘death’ in HF was quite a moving scene though and now that you mention it, her scenes early on were fairly interesting too. I enjoyed the HF bad ends a LOT more than those in Fate and UBW. The Fate and UBW ones felt like they were just there to make you reload but they didn’t really stand out (with some exceptions, of course). The HF ones were important since they showed us different sides of the characters and slightly different plot points too.


  5. Thanks for writing the post, it was indeed enjoyable to read. Out of curiosity which would you say is the better ending for HF, its something of a controversial issue among fans apparently. Putting aside the conclusion to kirei and illyas character arcs before the true end i mean , and just the end itself.


    • To be perfectly honest, I prefer the Normal ending. The True ending is a little too ‘happy ever after’ which to me, clashes with the tone of HF. HF was about making a difficult choice where Shirou was caught between a rock and a hard place. The True Ending lets him off the hook but I don’t hate it or anything.


  6. What did you think of Saber Alter? I thought that she was very underutilized, but her character was interesting in some of the bad ends. Hopefully they’ll do something a bit more interesting with her in the movie!

    Do you have any plans of doing Hollow Atraxia, the “sequel” to F/SN? I know it is 50% silly comedy, but it does have some moments of interesting back story for some of the characters that we didn’t learn much about in F/SN. And the main plot is quite good, albeit confusing.


  7. Fascinating post, and much of your opinions mirror my own.

    One thing though is that it’s a pretty common opinion that Shirou doesn’t particularly face reality in UBW, which is not something I’ve ever fully agreed with. Maybe he doesn’t face it as much as in HF, but there’s the whole segment after the Archer fight that I feel gives a truncated answer to how this version of Shirou would handle the realities of his ideal. If it had just ended with Archer, the route as a whole would essentially amount to just Shirou fighting for the worth of his dream, which is the core theme of UBW, but the events with Gilgamesh show he has follow through as well.

    There’s this really nice quote during the Gil fight that sums it up (the anime also handled it really well as a scene at the beginning of episode 24). He knows that he can’t save everyone, but he will do his best, because it’s an ideal: the peak of something worth obtaining. He may stumble, he fail here and there, but he will always try and reach for that pinnacle.

    What’s interesting though is that, even though this version of Shirou technically doesn’t at any point, he’s still willing to kill if he has to. He directly threatens to kill Archer when he kidnaps Rin after the battle at the church, and of course the whole fight with Gilgamesh shows he’s willing to go all out when the situations needs it, though circumstances kept his hands from getting the kill there. What this shows though is that while he may strive his best to save everyone, he’s not so naive or rigid that he’ll let his ideal get in the way of the situation at hand.

    I’ve actually talked to other people about this, and how a Shirou who’s gone through the trials of UBW would react to a situation like HF, which has led to some interesting, if divisive conversations.

    Anyway, great post!


  8. I always found it hilarious that Ilya had the highest kill count on Shirou when you look at the bad ends.

    Ditto on how Shirou gets to do magic in Heavens Feel. The fake out with the same thing from Rin during Fate and then BAM arm surgery.

    I do think the visual novel missed a few opportunities though. A distinct lack of servant fights that are more than 1 on 1. I mean really its a free for all death match come on.

    Saber had that skill in riding but she didn’t ride at all. A knight without a mount. She fought Rider several times and not one had them jousting though running and fighting up on the outside of the skyscraper was pretty cool.

    More of Archer’s thoughts on Sakura during Heavens Feel. We did get some but it felt too few the visual novel implied that he didn’t know what was happening to Sakura before he became a Heroic Spirit and he had no clue what to do with this new revelation. All this time and only when Archer is going through his version of a mid-life crisis does he find out about this. Even just a short conversation between Archer and Sakura would have been enough.

    I prefered the True End in Heavens Feel myself. Ilya managed to complete her character arc and we got to see two dead men engaging in useless folly. After all the heroes and magic, the final fight was two humans punching each other. Getting to see someone actually getting their wish granted by the wishing machine for once was a plus. I liked the final shot of the four of them watching the cherry blossoms. While happy It reminded me that a lot of people didn’t make it and these four are the ones that survived.

    I also liked the general tone throughout the visual novel of the story being one of many stories set in this world. It gives us snippets of the larger world but stops there. A peek here and there but no more. This is the story of the 5th Grail War. Just from those words, the weight of history can be felt. 5th implies that there were other wars.

    It seems like you’re swimming deeper into the franchise. Personally, a few things stood out for me:
    Saber: Generally, a King Arthur clone.
    Archer: Smug assholes.
    Lancer: Being lancer is suffering.
    Rider: You just summoned your best friend.
    Caster: You just summoned your soul mate.
    Berserker: Literally better if summoned in another class.
    Assassin: Never used as an assassin at all.
    Mages: Dicks.
    Shiki: There are a lot. A LOT.
    Purple hair: Crazy and dangerous.
    Every time a rule is is mentioned its going to be broken later.
    Kirei: Mapo tofu, suffering and jogging. All around badass.


  9. I like that you focused a lot on what was really the core theme on the novel.

    There are some interesting things to note about Shirou who embodies that theme that you might have missed. Down to his very magic Shirou embodies the concept of living as a tool to accomplish his ideals. The phrases he uses for his magic are robotic in nature which goes along with this theme. We see in Heaven’s Feel what happens to Shirou if he loses the ideal that drives him when Rin uses the geas to kill Sakura after he’s given up his ideal for her, he’s left with absolutely nothing to drive him. In the main route in HF he pays the price of fighting for Sakura when his own magic which is symbolic of his living solely for ideals turns on him and he is destroyed from the inside (Note that he cannot use Archer’s UBW since he and Archer are not the same person and HF Shirou is perhaps too alien from him and UBW Shirou).. In facing reality and betraying what he stood for he has to bear the weight of what he gave up in every sense including the price of his own magic. Since you’ve seen KNK 5 by now it’s interesting to note that Nasu said in sidematerials or perhaps an interview that Shirou’s origin has become/is sword.

    Kotomine interestingly is the same as Shirou in this way except his way of life puts him directly in conflict with his own morals and the happiness of other people. The salvation he looks for in the answer from seeing Angra Mainyu is ultimately given to him instead by Shirou who is also living his life the same way as Kotomine. Of course it’s up for debate if HF Shirou is really the same way since he gave up his ideals and changed his way of life. The final confrontation between the two would perhaps have been more fulfilling for Kotomine if it were UBW Shirou he had fought instead.

    Lastly you really touched on the focus of Rin’s character too. In your reviews of the UBW series you made it clear that you understood the most important conflict of her character is her human qualities/morality against what she feels her duty is a magus. It comes up in UBW but it really comes to a head in Heaven’s Feel even if Shirou’s conflict with his ideals is such a big part of the plot that it becomes easy to forget about Rin. You came to the conclusion in this post that Rin is ruthless and I think that’s a little off base. In UBW we see a situation where it’s much easier for her to stick to her guns and live a life disconnected from being a magus thanks to having to help make Shirou human himself and not having to face the same moral quandaries she does in HF. We can see in UBW that she is not ruthless for no good reason. That’s key to her character. In HF where she has to choose between Sakura and her duty as a magus it comes down to what choices you make in the story. In superhero and geas endings she kills Sakura thanks to the choices Shirou makes but in the true/normal/and other ends (including the implied decision she makes in Sparks Liner High and the one where she’s killed by Sakura) she’s willing to throw away her own life and her duty for Sakura. Shirou shows her the light so to speak by being her moral compass in HF. However, even in the endings where she does kill Sakura we know (thanks to Kotomine in the Superhero ending) that even though she goes through with her duty it ultimately destroys her. She is not ruthless at all, if she makes the hard choice of killing Sakura for the greater good she immediately regrets it. She doesn’t really even have the capacity for ruthlessness the other characters (like Ilya) have. In the end the magus part of Rin is simply an act she puts on for her father’s sake. The real Rin that lies underneath and drives all her actions is the same one we know from UBW.


    • I guess to some extent, I tried to treat the characters between routes as having similar past but not necessarily similar personalities. I agree that I might have been a little harsh on Rin, but I feel like ‘true’ feelings are way too deeply buried for me to accept that she is even aware of them. Funnily enough, my favourite female character in HF wasn’t Rin or Sakura but actually Rider. She’s a lot like Saber in some ways but different at the same time.


      • What about Ilya? For me she was the standout female character in HF. Rider didn’t really get enough screentime for me to rate her as highly as you do.


  10. Someone might have already mentioned this, but another reason why I love HF is because it’s a perfect companion piece to Fate/Zero. I got into the Fate franchise through Fate/Zero and I consider it one of my all time favourite anime. I think that Heaven’s Feel is the most accurate and realistic sequel to Zero in that Kiritsugu in Zero learns that his ideology of sacrificing what he holds dear and that of his family for the sake of the greater is too harsh of a sacrifice to endure. That it doesn’t seem like it was worth it, so him finding Shirou was his realization that he had been so wrong, fighting for an unattainable ideal. So in HF, having Shirou have to actually make that choice and not realize it after the fact as Kiritsugu did, makes it the most perfect companion piece in my opinion. Not to mention how both are brilliantly dark and complex, delving deep into the philosophical and psychological.


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