For a story retold three times and adapted to other parts of the franchise, one would think the fanbase would know everything and anything about the Holy Grail War. That simply isn't the case. Thanks to spin-offs, the original visual novel, and other supplementary material, there is more to the Holy Grail War than one would think.
Though it may seem daunting at first to take a deep dive into the who, what, where, and when of the Holy Grail War, it is very well worth it for any fan of the series to better understand it. So consider these a primer on the Holy Grail War and things around it.
10 Originally About Reaching The Root
While the goal of most Grail Wars is to claim the Holy Grail and its wish-granting power, originally the ritual was intended to reach what magi call the Root. Otherwise known as Akasha, it is a metaphysical place in the Fateverse where all events and phenomena in the universe originate from.
It archives information about every possibility in the past, present, or future of the universe. It stores every soul in the universe, including every heroic spirit in the Throne of Heroes. And overall, it is the meaning of life, the universe and everything in the Fate franchise. To the point where some magi believe reaching it means becoming a god.
9 The First Two Grail Wars Had No Supervisors
Not that the Fifth Grail War was any better off because they had a supervisor. As stated above, the original intention of the Holy Grail War was to reach the Root. They believed they could find a way to it by tracing back the route a Heroic Spirit takes when returning to the Root. It wasn't until the focus shifted to the Holy Grail itself that the church got involved.
As a means to oversee an item believed to have received the blood of Christ and to try and ensure that no one abuses the power of the Holy Grail for evil intentions, they agreed to be a mediator in this war among Magi. In truth, they try to guide a Master seeking the original purpose of the ritual to victory to prevent it from ill affecting the world at large.
8 The Church Does The Cover-Up Work
The Church doesn't only mediate the Holy Grail War. In a battle taking place between heroic spirits capable of leveling buildings and otherwise causing hell, there is bound to be some collateral damage. This is where the church steps in.
In an attempt to keep the Grail War a secret, they modify the memories of the victims and do their best to mitigate and fix battle damage. Ultimately serving as the Men in Black to prevent anyone normal from figuring out that magic, Servants, and other supernatural phenomena exist.
7 The Einzbergs Handle The Cost
Among the three great mage families (the Tohsakas, the Matous, and the Einzbergs), one has settled on covering all of the cost for any collateral damage. The Church may do the actual work, but the cost for any rebuilding, restructuring, or reforming comes directly out of the pocket of Illya's family.
They are probably more than happy to do so too. Considering they, like the Matou's, plan to use the war to reach the Third Magic. In the Fateverse True Magic is separated into five classes that transcend all modern magecraft. The third focusing on the materialization of the soul that also prevents it from returning to the Root. Ultimately forcing it to transcend into a higher form of existence to become a planar being that can still interact with the world. As an added bonus, they are given an unlimited supply of magic.
6 Fate/Apocrypha's Holy Grail War Was Originally Set in Shinjuku
For those that watched Fate/Apocrypha, they know that the Grail War takes place mostly in the city of Trifas. A fictional city in Translyvania to the north of Vlad the Impalers' real-life hometown, Sighisoara. What they probably don't know is that it originally was set to take place in a very different location.
When Fate/Apocrypha was still intended to be a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game, the original setting was Shinjuku. Some other servants were set to appear like Sakata Kintoki but were later replaced by the servants that appear in the anime. Instead, Shinjuku was used as one of the locations in the mobile game.
5 Extra Classes
Every fan knows the original classes of the Holy Grail War. Saber, Archer, Lancer, Rider, Assassin, Berserker, and Caster classes have been a part of almost every Grail War since the war's inception. Even the casual fan may know of the rarer Ruler, Avenger and Shielder classes of Heroic Spirits. Still, there are three classes that take a deep dive into Fate/Grand Order, the Fateverse mobile game, to know and understand.
As followed, they are The Moon Cancer class, a class specific to BB and Jinako Carigiri. The Alter Ego class which are aspects, emotions, and personalities of other servants taken form. Lastly, there is the Foreigner Class that wields powers that are beyond human boundaries, often linked with Lovecraftian horrors. Each of which have played a part in the franchise.
Art by 光崎.
4 More Than 5 Holy Grail Wars
The original visual novel and anime adaptations of Fate/Stay Night have stated that there have only been five Grail Wars. That simply isn't the case. Depending on the dimension and the story, Grail wars can be a dime a dozen.
Beyond the original five, there is the Holy Grail War of the Moon Cell, which takes place among 128 Masters and their Servants in a virtual battlefield. In Fate/Apocrypha's world, beyond the major conflicts, it is mentioned that several smaller Grail Wars have taken place. Nevada hosted two Grail Wars itself, one being named a False and another being named a True Holy Grail War that eventually collided with each other. This is not even mentioning the Grail Wars that happened in the magical girl spin-offs.
3 The Same Servant Can Be Summoned
Mages seem to love screwing with the Holy Grail War. If one isn't summoning the Avenger class to set off the entire plot of the fourth and fifth Holy Grail Wars, another is a Servant who manipulated the ritual to summon her own Heroic Spirit to battle for her. Though, those don't compare to what happened in the second Grail War.
Somehow, someway, two Masters were able to summon the same Servant in the same class. Most of what happened is shrouded in mystery, but from what we do know is that the Masters were two sisters who were able to both summon the same Saber Servant due to their unique Sorcery Trait. Which lets them both succeed the family's lineage and magic crest.
2 Rare To Have More Than One Noble Phantasm
It may not seem like it when the anime adaptations seem to have the Servants that shoot out Noble Phantasms like magical and sometimes destructive Pez dispensers, but it is supposed to be rare for a Servant to have more than one Noble Phantasm. Servants like Gilgamesh and Emiya are supposed to be the exceptions.
Noble Phantasms are the embodiments of a hero's great deeds as past on through historical facts or tall tales. Usually a weapon, accessory, or ability that defines a hero and their legend. Which is why they are usually limited to just one. Instead, you have servants running around the fifth Holy Grail War like Medusa who has three of her very own. Lets not even talk about the amount Gilgamesh quite literally throws at people.
1 Based On Another Ritual
Fate/Grand Order has added a lot of lore to the Fate franchise. Along with an assortment of new servants to try (and fail) to get, it expands the universe in ways the previous entries of the series haven't tried to touch upon. One way is the fact that the Holy Grail War is based on a different ritual that had a completely different purpose.
Leave it to greedy mages to manipulate a ritual for their own gain, but originally the Servant Summoning System was used to prevent the extinction of mankind from Beast class threats. The Counter Force summoning what are considered to be Grand Servants to contend with these world-destroying threats. Each Grand Servant considered the be the greatest Heroic Spirit among their class.