At long last, visual novel fans in the West seem to be getting what they want as more Japanese titles make their way to our shores. While it does bring on its own issues, such as piracy, it’s an exciting time to be a fan of the medium. A lot of this is due to the growing publishing house Sekai Project, who have been successful in licensing some of the most beloved and desired titles to date; including, of course, Clannad. They’ve also begun making a play in the EVN sphere; forming partnerships with different developers to get their works onto Steam. So far, they have made excellent business moves and, barring serious missteps on their part, are set for another successful year.
This brings us to the topic of the day. Originally released in Japan in 2013, Fault Milestone One had little fanfare when it’s Kickstarter launched last year. Unless my research is off, the game also has the distinction of being Alice in Dissonance/Project Written’s first visual novel , so congratulations to the team on that one. Anyone familiar with Fire Emblem will notice that Fault Milestone has a familiar style and premise, but where it goes from that premise remains to be seen. So, shall we see what Japan’s latest export has to offer?
In the nation of Kadia, the eternal life stream of mana runs thin and the people have had to scrape by with limited resources, back-bearing jobs and no way to stand on their own as a nation. Thanks to the ingenious work of one of Kadia’s own, a young man named Cid Zhevitz, an industrial revolution takes place that brings a great leap forward to the citizens of the entire Outer Pole in medicine, business and life itself. However, great ambition has a great cost and the price of Cid’s genius will affect him, his fellow Kadians and, most importantly, his family.
Yes? Anon in the front row?
‘That isn’t the plot of the game.’
Yes it is.
Look, I may never have developed a visual novel before and everyone knows I’m nowhere close to being a hardcore fan of anime and manga. But I have been reading on my own since I was able to hold a book upright, so if nothing else I know what a story is about when I read it. I know what was pitched to all of us as the synopsis for Fault Milestone One, but nobody deviates this hard from their ‘established plot’ unless it’s not a deviation. Regardless of who’s occupying the main character chair (we’ll get to them), what I’ve laid out to you is the plot of this game and it’s important we accept that fact if we’re going to properly diagnose what it did right and the many things it did wrong.
And, to be plain, the Zhevitz Family drama was done right. Watching Cid work his way up from the slums of Kadia, his battles with the local religion and rival companies, all the way to the birth of his children and the suffering that came with it it was thrilling to read. There is a predictability to a lot of it thanks to a factor that I will get into shortly. And while I would have pushed for a more balanced approach over the stream of flashbacks we get that take up the bulk of the narrative, I enjoyed watching Cid and his future wife Eline as they light the fires of the Kadian industrial revolution, then struggle to use their newfound status to help people suspicious of their use of mana lines: a substance that is worshiped in Kadia. It could have been ripped from the history of any powerful family, from the Rothschilds to the Rockefellers, and that is a factor in what helps make their half of the story effective. The other half? Suffering.
I’ve spoken before in this very forum about the usefulness of suffering when executed correctly and here it is wielded like a surgeon’s scalpel. Seemingly just as everything finally begins to work out for the two, they begin to have children. This brings with it a pain that is so cruel and twisted that it makes perfect narrative sense for it to come from within their own ranks. Add to their pain that there is no good reason for this family to be suffering like this only gives that pain greater weight, especially as it is used to flesh out Fault One’s main antagonist and Cid’s son: Rudo Zhevitz.
Rudo bears the brunt of the evil that has befallen his family and, as a child, he is in no position to handle it. And just when you think the worst is behind him, the scalpel finds a new line to carve into Rudo’s soul. By the end of the backstory, when there are no more cuts to make, Rudo’s motivations and ruthless outlook make him the perfect antagonist for not only Selphine and Ritona, but also his own father and Rune: a Zhevitz Enterprises employee and the eventual friend of our main characters. The fact that his actions can be easily justified only makes Rudo more understandable to the audience and it’s only because he underestimates his Father, as well as a solid blast via the Power of Familial Love, that his machinations and his ruthless mind crumble in the end.
Despite how his story ends though, nothing will replace the scene where Rudo finally succumbs to the pain and darkness and embraces his role as Kadia’s logos: a purely logical being determined to succeed at all costs. It’s a great way to build and use an antagonist and, if nothing else is taken away from Fault Milestone One, I hope we get a few more Rudo Zhevitzs in the EVN sphere.
It should be noted that Rune is often billed to be the core of the Zhevitz Family drama, due to her connection to Selphine and Ritona and not necessarily due to her history with the Zhevitzs. Much has also been made over the fact that she is clearly hiding something, but the problem with that is that she isn’t hiding it very well. You can figure out exactly what Rune is hiding the minute the trio have their little friendship dinner at Eyvel’s Tavern and that same minute you figure out what Rune is hiding, you can figure out how the Zhevitz’s Family drama ends. As I said, Rudo and his Start of Darkness is written well enough to keep it from dragging, but when the third act kicks into gear I was just waiting for the inevitable moment when the game reaches for your heartstrings. When it does, it felt more like Deus Ex Machina to ensure of a happy ending, which wouldn’t have been necessary if our heroines had been better utilized.
I’ve seen a lot of commentary trying to pinpoint exactly where Selphine and Ritona went wrong as main characters for Fault One and most of them came close to the problem, but never defined it. Yes, both girls are static when it comes to characterization and never stop being painfully stock. Yes, their friendship with Rune is illogical and places the destruction of the home and the threat against their lives on the backburner when it should be their primary concern. That is all legitimate. However, I’d argue that the reason Selphine and Ritona don’t feel right to so many is because for the better part of the story, they aren’t actually protagonists. They merely exists as the catalyst in which the audience learns more about the Zhevitz Family.
That doesn’t mean they are completely worthless to the overall Fault Milestone story arc. However, the moment they declare Rune their friend, despite knowing her for a grand total of fifteen minutes, both become so blinded in their zeal that as they try to help, their stubbornness can only lead to long, expository flashbacks to compensate for their lack of curiosity. This is compounded by their own ignorance of Kadia they landed in and their absolute refusal to acknowledge the fact that the country they’re now in doesn’t work the same.
There are some truly face-palm worthy moments as Selphine and Ritona bumble through the story: uncovering necessary information for the reader, yet refusing to take that same information into account and to actually learn something themselves. This led to a moment when I nearly quit the game entirely as both girls confront a Zhevitz Enterprises executive to get more information on Rune, only to assume any information he could give them might be tainted. Why? Because of misogyny.
I wish I was kidding. After several chapters of damn near the entire town all agreeing about the same thing, only for these two dumbasses to ignore what everyone told them, they immediately assume agreement with that NEAR UNIVERSAL OPINION could be based on misogyny. I almost flipped my desk, my car and my house after hearing that nonsense. But that rage came from the enforced characterizations of both girls. If, at any time, they would’ve been allowed to process information and develop through that process, rather than charge blindly forward, we would have had a much more balanced story and definitely much better characters.
It would have also allowed them to face off with an enemy that is much more interesting than the ones presented in the first few minutes of the game. The first confrontation between the girls and Rudo shows a lot of promise and, if it had been followed up on, could have given the story a sense of tension that never connected with the audience despite the family drama. In the end, a great deal of the story is wasted due to the fact that our so-called protagonists act more for the reader’s benefit than their own: stunting their characters and wasting what could have been a great fight for the soul of Rune.
Another issue facing the girls is the existence of ‘Manashock Syndrome’. Manashock Syndrome can get ridiculously complicated, but in order to understand how the plot came to be so muddled, we also have to understand how they try to explain it. Manashock Syndrome is basically how the human body reacts to the world’s mana stream. If you come from an area of the world where the mana stream is rich and enter a place where it’s relatively depleted, like Kadia, you risk your body losing the ability to process mana. On the other side of the coin, if you go from a place like Kadia and enter an area rich in mana, you risk the chance of dying due to the overload of mana into your body. On the surface, it’s actually pretty straightforward and could have been used as a ticking clock for both Selphine and Ritona to weigh the fate of their home against the fate of their friend.
In practice however? Despite being the trio’s manakravter, Ritona shows no visible signs of weakness during her stay in Kadia and Selphine, a noted novice in the field, performs acts of manakravte with little difficulty after a few days away from her mana-rich home. So, why was it introduce and try to make it a ticking clock working against the girls as they try to save their friend? I have no clue. This may be the whole ‘suffering literally builds character’ thing I’m on right now, but the fact that they managed just fine throughout the story despite ‘the risks’ tells me ‘the risks’ could’ve been shelved.
Manashock also buries the one manakravte technique that is vital to understanding the entire story, which is called ‘Path Down’. Basically, ‘Path Down’ gives biological descendants of a family access to the memories of their forebears. Knowing that, you’ve pretty much have the master plot key as it not only plays a major role in Fault One, but if my theory is correct about the ending, it’ll play a role in Fault Two. And, of all of the scientific gibberish that makes up manakravte, Path Down is the one that has the most to offer the plot. So here’s hoping it is fully utilized, unlike Manashock.
Overall, the story was a mixed bag. When the team focused on the story they wanted to tell, they hit a great stride and deliver some solid moments and interesting characters. When they were unfocused, you can tell. There is a lot of foundation for the next Fault games to build on, but that same overall foundation could have been used to make Fault One much stronger than it is.
PRESENTATION & TECHNICAL
The Presentation for Fault Milestone One is a stable and, at times, exceptional. The character art is in straightforward anime style that fits in with every other anime style that emphasizes ‘cute’ these days. My biggest issue with it was whenever the camera would zoom into the sprites faces, which only managed to show how flat and fuzzy the character art could be when you zoomed in on it. One thing I did like about it is that the adult characters were given age lines or shadows on their faces to separate the flashbacks from present day. It’s a small touch that actually made the adults feel like adults instead of immortal twenty-somethings, so I appreciated it.
The best example of the artwork, for my money, is the background art. The city scape of Kadia and its various backgrounds are excellently executed. This is best seen in Eyvel’s Tavern, where background characters were added to give every scene featured in it a sense of life outside of the static character sprites. While the other backgrounds are more static than the tavern, they all have a great sense of detail that is enjoyable to look at.
The Event Graphics and movies are also a very nice touch and directed very well to get the as much out of them as possible. It will surprise no one when I say that the best CGs deal directly with the Zhevitz Family drama, but mostly because this is when the gloves come off and we get some visceral scenes to punctuate the sinister nature of what the family faced and some much softer scenes to ramp up the emotion such as the final conversation between Cid and Eline. To be fair, the CGs featuring Ritona in battle are nicely done as well and have a kinetic feel to them that is missing in many other projects featuring action beats. I will count it as odd that the opening movie wasn’t fully translated and only the names were put into English.
If the Presentation had a star player, it would be the soundtrack. The opening theme was decent enough, but the background music is some of the best I’ve heard in a long while. I enjoyed the music so much, that I made a YouTube video of my two favorite tracks: the Eyvel’s Tavern and Rudo Themes. Check it out if you haven’t, because I feel it’s the perfect representation of what you’ll hear if you play the game OR if someone decides to release a separate OST. Just saying.
On the Technical side, well this is where Sekai Project gets both praise and slaps over the head outside of the one choice presented of course. That was due to Alice in Dissonance and it is completely useless. I don’t mind a completely linear, kinetic experience but throwing in useless choices just to have a choice somewhere rubs me wrong every time. Now, back to Sekai.
Most of the game is technically sound and has several features that have been normal in Japan that are becoming standard in the EVN community now. There is a full Gallery for the soundtrack, Event Graphics and the Opening and Ending Credits. There is also an Encyclopedia keeping track of the different terms and technologies of Fault One, which I appreciated as the different terms can get complicated and, again, most of this will be the foundation for future works. The User Interface is also well handled by turning it into a drop-down menu. Scrolling over it will bring it up and give you access to your options, but otherwise it stays down with the text scrolling out over a black gradient. The menu options also let you choose between reading in English or Japanese so if you’re speak the language, you have the option not to read the translation.
And since we’re on the translation, let’s finish up this segment there. Sekai Project has developed a reputation among other reviewers due to their awkward translations. I, for the most part, didn’t mind it in World End Economica and Planetarian read very well. Fault One, however, just felt off. The translation can go from awkward (‘We are all prisoners of the prison that is the Outer Pole’) to just plain out of place bits of dialogue that doesn’t carry the scene at all. This is best seen in a bit where Selphine is reprimanding Ritona and she comes off as being sarcastic rather than legitimately angry. If the Japanese is supposed to be sarcastic as well, then point retracted. However, the following dialogue where Selphine admits her own shortcomings gives the reader tonal whiplash that could’ve been reduced with a different translation.
Several scenes are written like this and I guess it’s for the sake of comedy. However, it only adds to the overall uneven read. Add to that the continued bane of grammatical and spelling errors and the entire experience just feels unpolished. If this is a trend that is going to continue with Sekai, everyone might want to go and buy some noise-cancelling headphones now because the outrage from Clannad fans when it’s released could cause global deafness.
On Twitter, I mistakenly stated the game takes over twenty hours to play and the amount of time I’ve had it just on my dashboard running in the background has it at over one hundred. After a second playthrough though, I estimate that it takes roughly twelve to fifteen hours to play through. At $14.99, that is decent value for your time. However, due to the issues I’ve brought up in this review I cannot say I’ll be rushing to play this particular chapter again; even though I enjoyed most of it. I think it’s value will go up after the release of Fault Two and we can see where the story goes, but if you haven’t bought it yet I’d wait for either a Steam sale or a Fault Milestone bundle collection to balance the issue of time vs. quality.
I enjoyed playing Fault Milestone One. The world is interesting and has a lot of potential, clearly there is a great effort to get the most out of its presentation and it has near cinematic moments in several scenes, and the game features one of the best Start of Darkness stories I’ve read in the visual novel genre. However, I cannot get over its flaws.
Most of the cast is too reliant on familiar tropes to stand out, far too much time is spent on past events instead of balancing the Zhevitz Family drama into the present day, you can write off the main storyline of the entire franchise the minute Selphine and Ritona enter Kadia and as for Selphine and Ritona themselves? They are the biggest negatives of the game. Despite all of their stated motivation, their actions amount to little and both go into Fault Two on the exact same footing as they started Fault One. Think about that. When you have two characters enter a completely different realm with completely different rules up against people with completely different motivations and goals than themselves after the bloody conquest of their homeland and they don’t grow at all, something went wrong.
Fault Milestone One is entertaining most of time, but it has enough frustrating points to keep it from reaching its full potential. Here’s hoping that we get a much more developed experience in Fault Milestone Two.