Editor’s note: Since this is a review of the entire Shimosa story there will be spoilers. If you have yet to complete the chapter then read at your own risk.
Fate Grand Order NA has been around for over two years and in that time has established a trend of dialogue heavy stories combined with fighting random mobs of enemies that don’t fit into the narrative. The entire point of this design is to insert gameplay into what would otherwise be a visual novel. The boss fights lack story-driven emphasis and create a jarring divide between gameplay and story. But, what if, after all this time a balance has been discovered? With the recent release of the third chapter in the Epic of Remnant arc, Shimosa, FGO has found a way to revitalize an otherwise uninteresting game design.
At first glance the biggest difference with Shimosa from previous arcs is that it is the shortest so far in terms of chapters. Coming in at 16 chapters, Shimosa offers a more condensed and focused storyline that is vital to creating that perfect balance of gameplay and story. Now, that does not mean it has less story for there is more dialogue and story building between each section of every story. This structure emphasizes on the importance of every action our protagonists in the story take as well as builds suspense for the boss fights to come.
At its core the story of Shimosa centers around Miyamoto Musashi and her journey from swordmaster to heroic spirit. This means that she is still very much alive during the story and highlights how powerful she is without being a heroic spirit. Like most arcs, there are other minor characters that join in the adventure but Shimosa prides itself on keeping a very tight knit group of protagonists. Aside from Musashi, the only servants that help you out are Hōzōin Inshun for a short period of time, Fūma Kotarō and Katō Danzō. Another ally in the story is Senji Muramasa who receives his debut… just not as a servant like everyone wants. Muramasa is not playable but you get to enjoy his fleshed out character in the story. Inshun and Danzō are only briefly playable but unlike other side protagonists they are not throw away characters. They hold significance in the story that splendidly weaves in their arrivals and departures. They don’t just disappear never to be heard of again, the story gives strong reasoning to why they exist for a specific period of time.
This limited cast allows the story to really focus on each of our characters and follow them as they overcome every challenge that comes their way. While there are more villains than heroes in this story, Shimosa still finds a way to flesh out each villain to make them three-dimensional. Despite the villains being possessed, demonic forms different from their actual selves, they still show bits of their personality prior to their possession. It is these small moments that give them a sense of depth and allow you to sympathize with them because they did not consent to receiving their demonic forms.
These “redemption arcs” the villains have are very similar to the same kind found in every Shounen story but Shimosa uses this to its advantage by making it a growing point for our heroes. These villains may have done heinous actions but at the end of the day it wasn’t fully their doing. That doesn’t make their actions right but instead makes their deaths tug on the heartstrings unlike typical villains. Shimosa subverts this trope of “kill the villain” or “kill the beast” by making their demise less about getting rid of them to prevent future atrocities and more of sparing them of their suffering caused by their possession. Specifically with Tomoe Gozen, her genocidal tendencies are not her true self, we first heard of her back in Babylonia when she fought and died for the survival of humanity. Two very contradicting motives, the latter being her true self, her death is not focused on ridding the world of evil but rather sparing her of her agony.
It is these elements that are applied to almost every villain, save for three, that make their scenes that much more memorable. Especially when it comes to the fight with Inshun who was turned evil, we see who he truly was beforehand so we know that his possessed self is not his true self. We see him have an internal conflict with himself and the only way he can be saved from himself is with Musashi putting him to rest.
It is in these moments were we see Musashi develop as a character. Someone who is constantly labeled as a vagrant, she wanders from town to town, world to world just to explore and hone her skills. She says it best herself that she does not like to get involved in personal matters nor does she care about justice. She is only willing to fight because she previously met with the Master of Chaldea before these events and took a liking to them. At the beginning of the story they meet care for two children that have lost their parents in the ongoing conflict. While she is someone who does not believe in the pursuit of blind ideals of justice she does help those who want to do the right thing. During Shimosa that right thing is to protect the people of that country from harm and so she fights to protect rather than for herself.
It is this character-driven story that perfectly weaves together dialogue, monologue and story descriptors like an actual novel that makes Shimosa stand out from all prior arcs. If anything, this story made her my Saber. I personally came to like her on a deep character level.
Now that is just how the story excels above the rest but in terms of gameplay, Shimosa perfectly integrates the battles into its story. Up to this point the norm has been to read dialogue and then fight a random mob of enemies that were not mentioned or had no significance in the story. In Shimosa, the mob enemies are the lower ranks of the villain’s army and the story does a fantastic job of leading the characters from one point to the next and giving their actions meaning while having the enemies appear naturally as they progress.
The other thing to note for the improvement of gameplay is that the boss fights now feel like actual boss fights. When the story progresses to the point to have the final battle with each of the seven Heroic Spirit Swordmasters, there is a brief intro announcement that reads off their names versus Musashi. With these fights Musashi will be your only support available and must be put in the very front of your entire party. This gimmick weaves together the story and gameplay and emphasizes the overall fight.
Each of these boss fights grow in difficulty and eventually become quite a challenge especially in the Musashi solo fights. Overall, Shimosa is a very powerful chapter that can revitalize interest in the game before the next big arc arrives. While the entirety of Epic of Remnant is considered optional chapters, Shimosa is vital for future chapters with its main villain and plot setting the stage for the future arcs to come.