The story is set in the year 2016, during the final era over which magic still held a strong influence. The humanity survival and security organisation, Chaldea, was established to observe the world that can only be seen by magic and the world that can only be measured by science; as well as to prevent the final extinction of humanity.
Thanks to the efforts of many researchers, the path of human history has been ensured for 100 years into the future. However, without warning, the realm of the future that was under constant observation by Chaldea vanished. The apparent cause — Fuyuki City, 2004.
Now, before anyone that hasn’t watched this makes any assumptions, Fate/Grand Order isn’t really a direct relation to the Fate/Stay Night or Zero universes. For this story, things are set in an alternative timeframe due to something that went terribly wrong back in 2004 in Fuyuki City during the Grail War.
In the early stages of this half-movie, half-OVA, we discover that an organisation comprised of the world’s top scientists and mages have banded together in order to form a machine capable of predicting the future of humanity by measuring the light and darkness within the world. And they’ve determined that Chaldea’s light in dimming. Instead of having Shirou Emiya to tolerate, this time around we have Ritsuka Fujimaru. He’s not all that different from Shirou and could fit comfortably into his predecessors mould of being a powerful do-gooder. And when a huge fire breaks out in the main Chaldean terminal, it seems it’s up to Ritsuka to save the world along with a curiously Rei Ayaname-type girl Mash and the mage tsundere Olgamally Animusphere, who seems to be a slightly-edited version of Rin Tohsaka.
The group find themselves back in Fuyuki City and things have changed slightly. Mash has become a demi-servant and as such has acquired a Noble Phantasm that she has no idea how to use. But it’s not long before Mash and Ritsuka are thrown into battle against other servants: but their roles are slightly altered to how we usually know them.
What people might notice early on here as well is that the animation isn’t by Ufotable, who were praised for their popular rendition of the franchise in Zero and Unlimited Blade Works. For some reason the animation is led by Studio Lay-duce – those responsible for Classroom Crisis. This being the case, we still see some familiar faces and enough relatable Fate universe archetypes that people will always recognise. Yes, that means that Saber is still kicking around. And like the other servants, her role has changed. She is now the primary threat in this story, corrupted by the Grail and currently on the rampage to destroy and corrupt any servants still standing in the destruction of the city and it becomes apparent that this is what went wrong after the war in 2004.
Thankfully Mash discovers her Noble Phantasm is to summon a huge shield. And whilst this becomes impressive when it first happens, it becomes less so when we just see her standing behind it all the time, holding it up. She does use it to attack occasionally, but it’s one of the more underwhelming servant superpowers in the collection. When things escalate at the main villain finally reveals himself, we are treated to some epic battle sequences that everyone waits for when watching this series. After some rather satisfying scenes, Ritsuka and Mash return to find that the Chaldean base has been all but obliterated, but there are still survivors. Things are wrapped up with some tentative hand-holding that might leave viewers acknowledging that they have watched something Fate-universe-related, but perhaps wondering if something was missing from the overall composition.
Fate/Grand Order -First Order- is probably on of the most un-Fate-ish additions to the franchise. However, it does set the scene well for further instalments and provides some characters which I may come to like if I see them a bit more. I didn’t really actively dislike any of the characters, but I didn’t feel like I could relate to them at all. They just seemed like offshoots of character archetypes we’ve already seen from the franchise. But the general concept is a promising one, and I was suitably entertained throughout. The Fate franchise will certainly be busy this year, and I welcome them back and look forward to what else they have to offer.