One of the more interesting partnerships formed by Sekai Project is with the Japanese group Alice in Dissonance. The Fault Milestone series is their very first project undertaken by the group and its continued growth directly mirrors the level of comfort AID as they continue their work. While I had my issues with Fault One, the fact that they could keep me invested with the strength of its (arguably) secondary character and antagonist says a lot about their potential. Side;Above, aka Fault Two, is easily narratively stronger than its predecessor. However, beyond its few faults (heh), it also had the symptoms of another company’s issues that is familiar to gaming, but completely new to visual novels; at least as far as I can recollect.
What is that company? Square Enix. I feel this requires some explanation.
In 2012, Square Enix laid out their vision for the future of their company as they revealed the Luminous engine. Even if the memory of that has faded, I’m sure many still remember the tech demo; Agni’s Philosophy. The demo and its sequel, WITCH Chapter 0, showed off a drive by SE to fully remove the divide between gameplay and cinematic sections while adding as much visual detail as possible. From a purely technical perspective, it is an ambitious gamble that could rival EA’s Frostbite engine in terms of graphical power and prestige. However, if you were to ask me if the biggest issues facing SE right now was whether or not their games looked very good, I’d have to say no.
The Final Fantasy 13 Trilogy is one of the best looking games in the Square Enix catalog to date and also one of the most polarizing for many a reason. YouTube is awash with videos dissecting the series into soup, but I think the one from Jim Sterling from a few years back sums up everything. It’s sizzle over steak to steal a phrase and, to be honest, it’s been true for Square Enix long before FF 13 first came out. Whether or not that’ll affect Final Fantasy 15 remains to be seen, but it hasn’t dissuaded my opinion that Square Enix still has a way to go before actually having a game be a good game in spite of how pretty it is.
This brings us back to Alice in Dissonance. Now, I like the group and while the Fault Milestone series isn’t in the upper tier of visual novels yet, it’s still an enjoyable series two games in. That said, I do worry that the group is looking at Square Enix for inspiration: looking to be the most visually stunning series of VNs on the market instead of being, well, good. That fear starting creeping with the introduction of Live 2D in Side;Above and for those who are wondering no; I don’t like Live 2D. While it is an interesting idea, it’s limited in technical applications to animating the sprites themselves. The minute you use it for anything else, the visual trick it attempts on your eyes fails and you’re stuck with a zooming shot of a 2D image.
However, while I wasn’t particularly keen on these visual innovation, AiD is serious about adding to the technical and visual ends of their productions, which finally brings us to today’s subject: Silence the Pedant. Now, regular readers of VNs Now will not that I’ve crossed the usual halfway point for this particular feature format and I’m only just NOW getting to the actual demo. The reason behind this will be made clear soon enough, but for now let’s focus on what this ‘tech demo’ is actually hear to show off shall we?
So, the new features they’re bringing to the Fault series mostly borrow from tried and true JRPG systems and Point-and-Click adventures a la the Telltale games. Let’s start with the visual end. The camera system has been tweaked by the new programmer for AiD to allow for smoother transitions and overall use. Considering that the camera is key to most of their new mechanics, it’s a good move on their part. Many of the backgrounds are now going to be done in 3D to allow an investigative Point and Click system. It also allows for the camera to zoom in and out and maintain clarity, which cannot be said for the current generation of character sprites. According to the demo, AiD is looking to future proof their games with 8K artwork, which would allow everything to maintain clarity regardless of zoom and ‘future proof’ their work for the eventually 8K monitors and processing tech. The future proofing hasn’t happened yet, so zooming in on the characters still produces a blur and fuzziness that breaks the others rich presentation. Whether or not it’ll be ready in time for StP’s full launch remains to be seen, but I’m sure it’s something they’re working diligently on.
Outside of the visuals and investigative mode, there are also Call and Item mode. Of the two, Item has the most interesting. It works like your standard issue Inventory system; allowing players to collect random things as they go. However, certain items will be open for Ritona to use her manakravte abilities on. The Call system is based off established in-game abilities for manakravte users to communicate telepathically. Obsessively, this will allow for more background details in certain conversations between, say, Ritona and Selphine, whose telepathic conversations take up a lot of Fault One. Both the Call and Item systems have a lot of potential for good use, and it’ll be interesting to see if they will be.
Why do I say that? Near the end of the demo the team, speaking through Ritona, makes it clear that much of what I talked about is optional. Quoting the demo,
‘These new functions serve as a gateway into our world. If you’re curious about what it’s like, take a close look at everything you see. If not, you can just skip over it and proceed with the story.’
So it’s fun, additional material to build off the basic game. Got it. So then, what is the basic game bringing to the table to make these new systems worthwhile? All we really know about Silence of the Pedant is that it’s a prequel focusing on Ritona’s life five years before the first game. While this demo does give us a few hints about her past and family, it really isn’t enough to spark curiosity on her character. The plotline of Fault Milestone has always been its weakest link and nothing present yet gives me any assurance that it’s getting the same level of attention that AiD’s technical and visual upgrades are.
The plot has to be paramount and there simply isn’t enough evidence on the table yet that AiD has learned that particular lesson. The story is more import than any new tech or improved visual they can through at us and it needs to be front and center as Silence the Pedant gets closer to release. I certainly hope I’m wrong because, again, I like these guys and I want the Fault series to continue to grow with them. And what we’ve seen in the tech demo is interesting and looks like it can be fun. However, this could well be the point where AiD decides they want a future similar to Square Enix built on eye candy, nostalgia and the occasional solid handheld title. It’ll be interesting to see what way they decide to go, but for now we all must wait a bit longer.
If you haven’t played it yet, you can pick up the Silence the Pedant tech demo here. JP3: OUT.