Fate/Extra CCC: A Love Story, A Story of Love

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Let’s start this post by talking about Type-Moon.

It’s no exaggeration to say that this blog – nay, my entire presence on Twitter – would not have been possible had I not discovered Type-Moon’s VNs. The first ever eroge I played was Tsukihime, more than 6 years ago. It’s been so long now that I barely remember how it all went; all I know is that it became my gateway to this niche hobby that’s now pretty much inseparable from my online identity. Over the past few years, I’ve immersed myself in the Type-Moon community – I read and watched pretty much every translated Type-Moon thing from the original Fate/stay night VN to the very obscure Angel Notes short story.

At some point, I stopped. You could say I grew out of the obsession – all that was left to do in the T-M community were power level arguments and wait for translations to come out of thin air.

Fast forward to July-August 2015, when Fate/Grand Order got released. At first, I was planning to play it only for Sakurai Hikaru’s portions of the scenario. But there was no escape from the moment I installed the game on my phone – I fell hopelessly in love once more with the dumb memes, the quirky but incredibly fun characters, and the vast setting that the franchise is known for. But on the other hand, coming back to the Fate/ franchise after a long absence also led to a realization:

No one in the English Type-Moon community knows what they’re talking about.

Spending my time lurking /vg/’s and Reddit’s Fate/Grand Order threads, as well as seeing various opinions on the recent Unlimited Blade Works anime has only reinforced that opinion. Much of the opinions I’ve seen on Fate/stay night – and by extension, Kinoko Nasu as a writer – are based on horribly twisted “common knowledge” and endlessly-parroted memes on Nasu’s knowledge of sexual intercourse and proper writing – both of which can be blamed on sub-par translations and adaptations of his games. (As a side note: criticism of the original work’s prose based on a poor translation is a whole other can of worms to open, but that requires an entirely different post so I won’t dwell on that here.)

But I digress; I’m not here to talk about my opinions on the Type-Moon community. I’m here to talk about Fate/Extra CCC – the sequel (kinda) to a game that sits on the fringes of the Fate/ franchise. As you can imagine, there is little to no information about the game that makes it to the English community; even I knew next to nothing about CCC before I played it. If you follow me on Twitter, you should have already seen me spam your timelines with heaps of praises about the game. So let me spend the rest of this post explaining just what Fate/Extra CCC is, and why this game will perhaps be the most memorable work I’ve experienced from Type-Moon thus far.

Fate/Extra CCC is the companion game to Fate/Extra, one of the very few Type-Moon games which got the blessing of an official English translation. [1] Unfortunately, Fate/Extra is a bland and rather unremarkable game – take the Holy Grail War from Fate/stay night, change its format to a tournament, and put it in a sci-fi setting, and you’ve pretty much summed up Extra. While it’s not a bad game, it’s definitely mediocre and even a slog at some points – the game is poorly-balanced and the Master-Servant relationships don’t feel compelling enough when you only have a week (in-game) to get to know them before you eliminate them from the War. So it’s somewhat understandable that it got buried and forgotten even by Type-Moon fans…

…Until Fate/Extra CCC came out. For the eroge readers that visit this blog, you’d know what I mean when I say CCC is the Muv-Luv Alternative to Muv-Luv, the Heaven’s Feel to Fate and Unlimited Blade Works. It’s not a direct sequel to Extra, but rather an alternate “what-if” look at the game’s characters and setting. It also happens to be Kinoko Nasu’s latest full game and scenario, so CCC is the perfect game to check out to see just how much Nasu’s style has changed since Fate/stay night.

Fate/Extra CCC starts out by taking all of your expectations from Fate/Extra and completely overturning all of them. The Holy Grail War itself is destroyed, and all of the characters you know from Extra all show the sides of themselves that they couldn’t show to you – an enemy to be eliminated in the Grail War. The beginning of CCC is where Nasu goes completely crazy with his characters: as an example, if you remember Leo B. Harwey to be a dignified, no-fun-allowed prince from Extra, you’ll be forced to forget all of that as he declares his dream of setting up his own Student Council of わくわく seishun hijinks, be all excited as he readies cameras while the protagonist (that’s you) is cornered into stripping his/her outfit to enter a dungeon, and send Gawain (who, incidentally, is pretty much impossible to beat on a first playthrough) after you to collect your debt of 100,000 Sm[2] and beat you up if you refuse, all with a princely smile on his face.

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On the gameplay side, the rock-paper-scissors mechanic returns but with several balance improvements – most notably save/heal points within dungeons that finally relieve the frustration of dying to an enemy with 4 hidden hands and losing 5 hours of progress as a result. Most of the game is now voiced, the graphics improved, and a lot more of the environment can be explored. Most importantly, the gameplay portions now serve as a necessary complement to the dense scenario behind CCC – even the Servant Matrix (status sheets like in stay night) information is all relevant and not just fluff to “develop” the Servants.

A cursory glance at CCC will tell you that it’s a fanservice-heavy game, in both the sexual and “you’re a fan, here’s some stuff you’ll find funny” senses. And it’s true – this is probably the closest we’ve come to seeing another Type-Moon eroge without it actually being an eroge. I can already hear the “Nasu is sexist omg!!1!” cries in the distance, but hear me out – the heavily sexualized nature of the game ties heavily into what the story is about. And what is that, exactly? Let’s bring up a clear comparison that some anime viewers will be familiar with: Revolutionary Girl Utena.

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While I don’t have a way to actually confirm whether Nasu intentionally put in CCC elements that can be traced to Utena, the comparisons are very easy to make. On the surface level, CCC mimics the repetitive structure of Utena and its duels: each chapter ends with a duel with your Servant against an opposing Master. Duels in CCC are less of a contest of strength and more of a contest of principles – in CCC, you’re not fighting to kill every Servant you encounter, but to open their Master’s heart and break the walls that they have built to block your way. Each chapter begins with a fairy tale from Andersen that tells the story of the central character of the chapter. The use of flower motifs is heavy – cherry blossoms/sakura petals are as important to CCC as roses were to Utena. The use of imagery and theatrics is so heavy that I find it very hard to believe that the connection to Utena is unintentional.

CCC also makes use of the characters’ sexualization to make a point. Sexuality is used both seriously and in jest – in the same way that Utena was not afraid to show that its characters are teenagers experiencing adolescent desires while also parading shirtless gay Touga and Akio, CCC is not afraid to use Elizabeth Bathory ~Top Idol~, Meltlilith’s, Passionlip’s, and BB’s outfits to both provide fanservice and contribute to the game’s overall theme.

And just what is that theme? In the first place, what is Fate/Extra CCC even about? I’ve talked about what CCC is not: a standard Fate/ series about a death game for the Holy Grail. So let’s move on to what CCC is – I think the entirety of CCC can be summed up in this way:

Fate/Extra CCC is a story of love.

There’s a slight difference from saying that it’s a love story – in fact, that falls under the overall umbrella of CCC‘s themes. What CCC seeks to answer is the question that we have all asked at least once in our lives: what is love?

Turns out that it’s a question that’s harder to answer than it looks. The word ‘love’ in English covers different things in Japanese – 愛 (ai), 恋 (koi), 欲 (yoku), 好き (suki) are all “love” in one way or another. Let’s start with 欲/yoku, the instinctual desire for something.

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CCC‘s story starts with a berserk AI who calls herself BB, who trapped you and the rest of the cast in the Far Side of the Moon, away from the Holy Grail War. To block you from getting back to the Near Side, BB sets up the Sakura Labyrinth, using the hearts of female Masters to create walls – after all, a maiden’s heart contains the most tightly-guarded secrets. The Masters under BB’s control now stand against your way, and you must break into their hearts and fight them in order to get back to the “proper Grail War” – the place where you all belong.

The ‘secrets’ of the girls who become cores of each dungeon often take the form of something that they are obsessed with – something that they hide from others, but also something that they enjoy doing, that they love doing. I mentioned that the heavily sexual nature of the game ties into the story, so here’s why: sexual desire is a very basic form of love. It is a biological instinct to seek what makes us feel good. Fate/Extra CCC takes one step further and shows a dualistic nature of this instinct – we are driven by a desire to control the things we love, but we also sometimes get controlled by the things we love. This is first clearly shown during the first two dungeons where the themes are a desire to be controlled and a desire to control, but it’s even more clearly shown with BB’s two alter-egos, Passionlip and Meltlilith.

Both Passionlip and Meltlilith are newly-born Alter-Egos who awakened to love – specifically towards the protagonist. They represent both extremes of these desires – Passionlip appears to be more passive and masochistic, but once she’s gotten a hold of her target of affection, she will grab it and never let go until it’s crushed under the weight of her love. On the other hand, Meltlilith appears to be more aggressive and sadistic, but she wishes to melt everything she loves so that she can accept all of them and give them eternal pleasure in her cradle. Both of them are heavily sexualized – and that’s the entire point and part of why I love CCC‘s depiction of its female characters: Nasu isn’t afraid to write women who have a strong, passionate desire for their targets of affection.

Although Passionlip and Meltlilith are strong representations of the extremes of “desire”, there’s one other major character whose obsession is just as strong, if not stronger than these Alter-Egos. I’m talking about Elizabeth Bathory, ~Top Idol~, and a recurring antagonist throughout the game.

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Elizabeth Báthory’s role in the game is almost analogous to Nanami’s role in Utena – a comic relief character, but also an important central piece to CCC‘s story. Liz is a thinly-veiled parody and critique of idol culture – the game describes her as having a great voice, but wastes it singing crappy, out-of-tune pop songs, to the point that her Noble Phantasm, Báthory Erzsébet, literally has her bring out giant speakers to blast the eardrums of her enemies and put the Curse status on them. She describes idols as the greatest form of torture because she can hold the attention of a legion of fans as they listen to her soul-crushing music. But most importantly, her obsession with idol culture also ties into her desire for eternal youth.

Liz is obsessed with remaining eternally young, chaste, and beautiful. She is completely in love with herself and wishes for the world to revolve around her. This obsession is also partly due to the expectations put on her by the people around her – she’s a noble; a countess whose duty is to rule over her people and to remain eternally beautiful. Believing that she’ll keep her youth by bathing in fresh blood, she continues to torture people throughout the game.

Unfortunately, CCC has a bone to pick with that attitude. The game doesn’t stop making fun of her attempts to become “pure and maidenly”, at one point even straight-up making fun of her for having completely no sexual experience. But most importantly, CCC wants to make it clear that her strong self-love and desire for eternal youth because nothing remains perfect and untarnished forever. And so we get to the next big theme of CCC: impermanence.

Passionlip, Meltlilith, and Liz all have one thing in common: they all wish their targets of affection to remain eternal and unchanging. Passionlip and Meltlilith both don’t want to accept that the protagonist is a human being who changes with time. Liz does not want to accept that her beauty is something that will fade, and that she will lose the attention of everyone who praised and pampered her.

But these obsessions aren’t something that can be granted. Love is rarely perfect or ideal – it’s give-and-take, being controlled and in control, and something that always changes, never fixed or eternal. Sakura flowers are important to CCC because of this – they are beautiful to look at in spring, but will never stay in bloom for long and become scattered in the wind when their season ends.

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Impermanence echoes throughout the game – in the first place, the ultimate goal of the Student Council is to escape eternal stagnation in the Far Side. The Old Schoolhouse you stay in is a reminder of eternity; it’s a sepia photograph frozen in time – there’s no past, present, or future, and the Sakura Labyrinth in the schoolyard serves as a hope for escape. But perhaps the strongest reminder of this is the fourth chapter of the game – a chapter about the fear of death.

The master of the fourth dungeon is afraid of death. Having lost her parents while young, she opted to look away from everything instead of facing reality. It’s easier to just let time pass and accept the embrace of death instead of wasting time on meaningless events. Her dungeon is rejection personified – everything in the world is pointless if it’ll all end someday. If it will all end someday, what’s the point? If life can end so easily because the circumstances were wrong, if life can be so unfair, then what’s the point? What do we do in the face of impermanence?

When you pick Gilgamesh as your Servant, you offer him your three Command Spells to earn the right to look at him, speak to him, and listen to his words. But offering your Command Spells also means offering your life – since Gilgamesh refuses to go to leave the Far Side, returning to the Near Side without a Servant or Command Spells means defeat and death for you. But throughout the game, even if you’re scared to death, even if you’re faced with the choice of safety or your Servant, the one thing you’re not allowed to do is let go of him. Why is that?

Until the very end, your Servant will stick with you – even when your fellow Student Council members are gone, even when everything is hopeless, your Servant is someone you can rely on until the end. The one thing you’re not allowed to say to Gilgamesh until the end is “There’s absolutely nothing left” because you have him. You are powerless when you face death alone.

Let’s put that in a different way – even if you’re powerless when you face death alone, when you have someone with you, there’s nothing to be scared of. Fate/Extra CCC is a story about leaving eternity – leaving stagnation and choosing to move forward even though you don’t know what’s coming for you. And that journey – that choice to move forward – is an easy choice to make when you have someone with you. When you have someone to love.

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I was originally going to write about the other kinds of “love” discussed in the game, but I think that discussion is best saved after playing the game. Fate/Extra CCC, in a way, is a journey about discovering what love means. Let’s go back to the question posed earlier: what is love? One answer you can arrive at is that it’s something you should never say the reason for. So if you ask me, “Why do you love Fate/Extra CCC?”, I could say that “it’s good”, “it talks about a lot of cool things”, or “because I’m a Type-Moon fan”, but no matter how I spin it, this is a game that I love for very personal reasons.

I wrote this post for two reasons – first, to try and inform people about what to expect from CCC, and second, to try and convince people that Kinoko Nasu can write something that goes beyond what he wrote in Fate/stay night. This post only scratches the surface – it’s easy to see that Nasu put a lot of time, effort, and love into making this game, and used it to showcase all his influences over the years. Among the endless Fate/ spin-offs, I’d say that CCC stands on a different level, and is something that people who have been a fan of Fate/ at some point should experience. I’ll end this post with the hope that it’s accomplished either of its goals – I hope that you, the reader, will pick up Fate/Extra CCC someday and find the answer to its big question!

さらばだ、悩み多き少年少女!せいぜい人に恋し、愛に迷い、生に苦しむがいい!無駄に使える時間はないぞ!

[1] As far as I know, only Fate/Extra and a Fate/ fighting game have ever received official English translations.

[2] Sakurament, the game’s currency

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10 thoughts on “Fate/Extra CCC: A Love Story, A Story of Love

  1. awesome, good review

    >No one in the English Type-Moon community knows what they’re talking about.

    100% agree with this most fans shitting on the writing but don’t even know that Tsukihime and FSN english translation is actually fucking awful , it bothers me too see so many people treating the pretty questionable translation as a valid basis for leveling criticism at the writing itself.

    Also, just in terms of being hard to translate, Nasu really loves stylistic furigana and has (IMO) a talent for effectively using furigana to give sentences multiple meanings and nuances. I don’t think any of the current translations of his stuff really convey this, but then again I’m not sure if it’s even possible to adapt this to English sensibly…

    >Fate/Extra, one of the very few Type-Moon games which got the blessing of an official English translation. [1]
    sadly IIRC according to TM Beast Lair forum even the extra official translation wasn’t actually good

  2. I’ve read a translation about Gilgamesh’s past in CCC because i was curious about his development on the game, because even if you count F/Z and F/SN, there is little about his past, or in other words, his adaptation of the legend in the Nasuverse, like Arturia.
    And i was very impressed how Nasu did it, the themes about fear of dead (Enkidu which he considered an equal, dying), eternal youth (the conclusion he achieved in the end when the snake stole the potion of youth) and his dream about an ultimate objective to humanity, “to leave his garden someday” (it leads to a point of what you said, why we’re all here).
    it was incredible, i wish i could know japanese to play it, and read Garden of Avalon, which seems very good, but i will learn it eventually.

  3. Good write-up. I’m in love with this game.

    >No one in the English Type-Moon community knows what they’re talking about.

    heh

  4. I’d love to play it, but it’s not in English. I will wait for cj_iwakura and believe in the patch. Otherwise, how long do you think it’d take to get a proficient moon level?

    • I’ve been learning Japanese for approximately two years now. I’m fairly confident in my reading comprehension and listening skills, though my vocabulary needs improvement. I’d say if you learn the fundamentals, start reading stuff and keep exposing yourself to the language, you’ll be able to read fairly complex stuff like CCC within the same time as I have.

  5. Pingback: My Passionate Idol Activities – Aikatsu! | Is this really Aikatsu?

  6. Earlier, I love CCC for giving the thoughts of psychology depths of people and character writings (I love psychology despite not being a psychology student). CCC is a complex game in it’s own thought entirely. And after I read your analisis, my love for CCC grows even more. Thank you for writing this article.

  7. I hope you don’t mind me asking, but I’ve been studying Japanese for, I’d say at least a year and a half, barring some lazy chunks of time where I didn’t do as much as I should have, and I’m honestly not sure how I can get to a level comfortable to reading this game. I recently got back into Heisig’s Remembering the Kanji and am almost done with about 15 days to go, and I wanted to ask how exactly I should try coming up to this level of reading. I’ve spent time reading much more simpler visual novels in the past using a text hooker to read text, but whenever I encounter text from something like the Fate series, I really have trouble figuring out what people are saying.

    So, sorry for the rambling, but in short, I kinda wanted to ask if you had any recommendations about how I can improve to get around your level for this stuff. More specifically, I kinda wanna know if there was anything you did to get more exposed to this level of reading and listening, since I honestly feel like I haven’t been improving in a while.

  8. This is a really interesting essay (never made the connection between the love & flower motifs in Utena and in CCC) but I think you’re misinterpreting Gil’s line “there is absolutely nothing left.” https://tsukinoura.wordpress.com/2013/07/11/entry-29-rooming-with-the-king-of-heroes/ You’re talking about the line from this scene, right?

    Gilgamesh isn’t saying that because Hakuno’s isn’t ever alone because he’s there, he’s saying that if Hakuno ever feels like they can’t continue forward, then they are to tell him “there is absolutely nothing left”. And Hakuno knows that if they ever do say those words, Gilgamesh will instantly kill them.

    Gilgamesh is only interested in a Hakuno that’s persevering despite everything, because that’s what he considers the defining (and best) trait of humanity (plus, as he notes, he completely lacks perseverance himself). Jinako’s failing isn’t that she became terrified of death after her parents were killed (though that’s obviously a large part of it) it’s that she rolled over and gave up, descending into stagnation via self-hatred instead of trying to move forward despite her fear: that same theme of easy stagnation versus risky progress. It’s pointed out that when Jinako’s talking about her fear of death during the conservation with Gatou that Hakuno’s “Five Meditations” aren’t reacting–in other words, Jinako’s fear of death isn’t actually the problem with her, which is confirmed during her punishment scene, where it turns out that her problem is actually her self-hatred.

    Hakuno, on the other hand, keeps moving forward, despite the fact that they’re doomed to an almost certain death even if they defeat BB and I think that’s what Nasu was actually trying to say with Jinako’s section–not that you can face death if you have someone (because that really isn’t true in the end–everyone, without exception, must face their own death alone) but that you must do your best not to give into fear and keep moving forward, no matter what. After all, right after beating Jinako, Hakuno is captured by BB, separated from their Servant and imprisoned in her “punishment space” alone. But even though they were completely alone, they kept trying to find a way out, kept moving forward even though it looked like everything was hopeless and *that* is what saves them in the end–the choice to keep moving forward, no matter what, even though they had no one but themselves.

    • Good points about moving forward and the roles of Gilgamesh/Jinako. I don’t think your interpretation of the “There’s nothing left” line is necessarily mutually-exclusive with mine; I was looking at the line more at the meta level and how it relates to the game as a whole rather than relating to Gilgamesh’s personality. But if you do consider how Gilgamesh is normally, then your interpretation of the line is also valid; there’s absolutely no reason for him to stay if Hakuno no longer wishes to move forward.

      I did mention that we’ll all face death alone, and it won’t really matter whether we have someone by our side at the end. But I think what it says is that what leads up to the end matters – Jinako is “saved” when she finally accepts Karna as someone who’s always there by her side; she moves on from stagnation when she realizes that someone actually cares for her. But again, good points on the moving forward part; Jinako’s chapter and the interlude are some of the most memorable parts of the game for me because they encapsulate the game’s messages so well.

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