‘Fate Stay Night’ vs. ‘Unlimited Blade Works’: Differences & Which Is Better?

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The Fate series has been a frequent discussion topic among anime fans for nearly two decades. The story of the Holy Grail has earned its place among the favorites of many with its intriguing characters, whose fates are intricately entwined in this great chase for the Holy Grail. Among all adaptations, Fate/Stay Night and Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works are often spoken of in similar contexts while frequently being misinterpreted as UBW being a mere reboot, and here is why.

Fate/Stay Night is the first anime adaptation of the visual novel originally made in 2004. This novel had three routes available for its players, and this is where Fate/Stay Night and Unlimited Blade Works part ways. Stay Night follows the Saber route, aka the one you have to finish in order to be able to go through UBW and Heaven’s Feel. However, the anime tries to encompass certain bits from those two routes as well. UBW is the adaptation of the route of the same name in the original novel and is done incomparably better than its predecessor, Stay Night.

The Fate series and movies have been enjoying a reputation as one of the best franchises out there when it comes to anime. However, it often turns out that even those who favor the series aren’t fully acquainted with its origin. To discuss the differences between these two adaptations, we will briefly reflect on both events and do our best to avoid major spoilers on the go!

Is Unlimited Blade Works a sequel to Stay Night ?

Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works is not in any way a sequel or a reboot of Fate/Stay Night. These adaptations are based on the said visual novel, which marked the beginning of all Holy Grail wars and introduced the story, characters, and basic premise to the public. Type-Moon created the Fate/Stay Night visual novel, and it contains three separate routes, which all deal with one and the same Holy Grail war.

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This is where the paths diverge and the chronology of the adaptations gets somewhat tangled. The first route, known as Fate, follows the main protagonist of the visual novel, Shirou Emiya, and his Servant, Saber. While this is the same in all three routes, the underlying themes in each are significantly different. In Fate, Shirou is faced with the question of what truly matters to him and what are his true ideals. In this route, he falls in love with Saber, who is immensely dedicated to her high morals and upholding her honour, while remaining loyal to her cause.

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In Unlimited Blade Works, Shirou’s love interest is Rin Tohsaka, who has a much greater role in the story. UBW is another timeline that unlocks in the visual novel upon completion of the Fate route. Thus, it deals with a different underlying notion – Shirou must find the answer to the question about what is important in his life and who he truly wishes to be.

Moreover, since the relationships between the characters are altered (e.g., the switch in Shirou’s romantic interest we just mentioned), the events and battles have consequently taken a different path. Some have altered their outcomes, while others are exclusive to either adaptation.

Additionally, UBW gave a lot more room to one of the most beloved characters in the Fate franchise – Archer. By introducing his inner conflict and exploring his relationship with Rin, in addition to his character design and fighting sequences, it surely added a level of tension, mystery, and appeal to the series overall.

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Should I watch Fate Stay Night or Unlimited Blade Works?

Because the two adaptations, in addition to Heaven’s Feel, cover the three routes in the visual novel, aka the original material of the franchise, it would be best to watch both. With that being said, since the first route must be finished if we are to gain access to the other two, chronologically speaking, we ought to start with Fate/Stay Night.

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Not only does it precede Unlimited Blade Works in the visual novel, but it is also the very first anime adaptation. Thus, if you are to honor the source material, Stay Night takes priority. However, this is where the debate begins between these two adaptations, as Stay Night is generally viewed as the least successful adaptation if we review the ratings of the three titles that follow the original three routes. Additionally, the story slightly diverges from the Fate route in a sense that it also encompasses certain elements from the other two routes.

It is hard to deny the difference in production value between these two adaptations, especially when Unlimited Blade Works still stands as one of the pioneers in terms of animation and battle sequences. With ufotable taking over, the Holy Grail War epic received visually striking animation and slightly renewed character appearances. Moreover, the story feels more in-depth when discussing character development and the relationships that arise between the Servants and their Masters.

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Ultimately, the differences between these two anime series are related to both the source material they are adapting and the quality of the execution. The visual novel consists of three routes, where different endings also exist. Hence, to those who desire to honour the source material and follow its chronology, we suggest watching Stay Night first. While UBW may feel as if you’re reviewing the same story, stick with it till the end and judge the remake theory yourself!

On the other hand, if you are not as enthusiastic about the chronology of the source material as you are about the quality of animated adaptations, so to say, Unlimited Blade Works may be more so your cup of tea. It will leave out certain aspects of the story and result in a puzzle piece missing in terms of the timelines depicted in the complete story of the Fifth Holy Grail War (as portrayed in the novel), but even detached from the primary route, it is an outstanding anime that’s definitely worth the watch.

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