With the second entry in this episodic series of visual novels from doujin developer ALICE IN DISSONANCE due out in a few hours, I thought it was time to review this narrative-heavy science-fantasy game.
Fault Milestone One is a science-fantasy tale centering on princess Selphine and her royal guard Ritona, two makakravte from the kingdom of Rughzenhaide. We start off in the midst of a dramatic battle as hostile forces storm the castle and attempt to assassinate the princess. We don’t know what their motives are, but we do know that they aren’t at all averse to bloodshed. However, Ritona manages to whisk Selphine away, but in doing so they somehow end up far, far away from where she’d originally intended. And so their journey home begins, with their first stop along the way being the poor and mana-deficient nation of Kadia.
Firstly, this is a visual novel that’s all about the story, and that story is exposition heavy. A lot of detailed world building has gone into it, but unfortunately we are told rather than shown much of it, and most of the telling is done through either infodumps or long-winded conversations. While I really enjoyed and was interested in the story, I found that these aspects slowed the pace considerably, sometimes to a tedious crawl.
As for the actual content of the story, contrary to what the opening seems to suggest, it’s really not Selphine and Ritona’s story at all. As soon as they encounter the character of Rune near the beginning, the two seem to exist only to facilitate flashbacks that reveal a different story, and they don’t make any progress in their own journey between the start and end of the game. This other story, which I would call the main plot, is about Cid Zhevitz, now deceased CEO of the Outer Pole’s largest mana mining corporation, his tragic past, and his legacy. Don’t get me wrong; Cid Zhevits’ story is fascinating, as is the world of Kadia, which makes me wonder why the developers didn’t just make this story as a stand-alone visual novel rather than trying to wrap it up in a completely unrelated narrative thread.
There are lots of interesting issues touched upon such as poverty, lack of opportunity and social mobility, what makes a person human, family bonds, and much more. And despite the mysteries behind Rune being obvious, which is unavoidable due to the decision to reveal the story via flashback, it still tugs at the heartstrings when it reaches its inevitable conclusion. The world that has been built is a fantasy place with just enough parallels to our own to keep it believable, and the idea of manakravte vs science, in particular, is a fascinating concept. There is a lot packed into the five-hour experience and, while on the one hand it’s refreshing to read a visual novel with substance, perhaps a more measured approach would have been of benefit here. Sometimes it feels like the writers didn’t know quite what direction they wanted to take things, and were more concerned with fitting in all their ideas than trying to make something streamlined and cohesive.
Since most of the story revolves around the people who Selphine and Ritona meet in Kadia, we don’t actually get to know that much about these two girls, despite them being our protagonists. At present Selphine is little more than the happy-go-lucky but caring princess, and Ritona her well-spoken guardian who would lay down her life for her charge. Again, the choice to market this as their story seems odd given that there are so many more fleshed-out and nuanced characters whose tales are being told, including Cid Zhevitz and his son Rudo, his wife Eline, and friends Hertzmann and Albas.
Moving on to art and sound, the character sprites are lovely and coloured with jewel-tones suited to the fantasy setting. At the same time, the backgrounds could have done with a little more detail to them to really bring this town to life. While there is no voice acting, the music is phenomenal, although there were many instances where I felt it didn’t match up with the tone of what was happening on-screen at that moment. Even so, it was a joy to listen to, which is not something I often get to say about the music that accompanies visual novels.
Overall, Fault Milestone One was a sometimes frustrating, but generally enjoyable read. While I’m not yet invested in Selphine and Ritona’s journey, I’m definitely intrigued for the next episode and interested to see what kind of foreign places in this vast world they’ll encounter next. I just hope that the pace picks up somewhat and that the story is told in the here and now, rather than relying on infodumps and flashbacks, so that our protagonists have a chance to grow and develop into their own multi-faceted characters.