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fault - milestone one Review - Ohh... but the stains on your hands say otherwise.

fault - milestone one Review

Rating: 0,3
A long-winded, but heart-wrenching visual novel of saving a broken family with the power of magic.
Developer:Alice in Dissonance
Publisher:Sekai Project

Background

Anime was something I indulged in during my university years. Not only did I find anime art style elegant, the stories told were things I rarely saw in North American productions. Then again, I wasn't exactly well-rounded in things I watched as a kid, watching mostly Star Trek and The Simpsons. I also didn't like to read books either, and I still don't, which is why I play video games. Anime introduced me to the romance genre, something I once believed was only for girls, and it has helped open my mind. But over time, I began to see patterns in shows and realized that even anime was not immune to Sturgeon's Law. Mundane slice-of-life shows dominated seasons while fan service took priority over story.

Today, I watch anime on rare occasions. But ever since visual novels started popping up on Steam, I decided to browse them. I recall from discussion forums that people often compared shows to their respective visual novels and visual novels are often regarded as the better version. While there is no Fault anime, Fault caught my eye because of the attractive character designs and because it's not softcore porn like many visual novels on Steam are. Since it's something I haven't seen before, I decided to take the plunge and make it my first visual novel.

Controls

This is not a game, but it does have controls. You can click the left mouse button, press Enter, or press Spacebar to advance the text. You can use Page Up and Page Down to go back and forward and you can press and hold Ctrl to fast-forward. Unfortunately, there is no text history screen to quickly review past dialog or a timeline to quickly and accurately navigate scenes. If you don't have a save in the place you want to review, you have to load an older save and fast-forward, which is inconvenient. There is an encyclopedia that lets you review some terminology, but I find it to be not as complete as it should be.

There are two ways to save. You can use the quick save feature in the quick menu on the bottom of the screen, or you can press Esc to enter a fullscreen menu that lets you manually save into a specific slot. There are eight regular pages plus a quick save page and an autosave page, and each page has nine slots. You can use the saves to create your own chapter select, but you have to remember to do so, which you probably won't because this is a linear story with no choices, except for one out-of-place choice that doesn't matter.

While you can click to advance, this becomes tedious after a while. There is an auto mode that you can use and you can adjust the speed of the text typing itself out as well as the time it takes to advance to the next line. One thing to note about the settings is that a higher text speed makes the text type out faster, but a lower auto advance speed makes it advance faster.

Story

The peaceful kingdom of Rughzenhaide has come under siege by an unknown enemy. Their goal is to assassinate Selphine Rughzenhaide, who is the current heir to the throne. Selphine possesses the royally inherited power known as the Path-Down, which allows her to inherit the memories of past rulers and use their experience to lead the kingdom. She has a personal bodyguard, Ritona Reighnvhasta, who kept Selphine hidden and safe during the attack using magical powers called manakravte. But after realizing her opponents are too strong, Ritona uses an experimental teleportation magic to teleport herself and Selphine away, but it takes them to a faraway land neither of them recognized.

They discover a city where, after using language translation magic, they learn to interact with the people. The first things they need are mana-infused stones called sediment stones to perform basic manakravte. However, they learn that they are in the city of Kadia, which is in the Outer Pole region of the world. In the Outer Pole, there is no manastream that they can draw from for manakravte. The scarcity of mana meant that even sediment stones were extremely rare and prohibitively expensive to buy. The lack of mana also has consequences on their bodies. If they become accustomed to the lack of mana, they will die if they try to enter a region with mana afterwards, a phenomenon referred to as manashock. That means Selphine and Ritona have limited time to stay. They still possess mana within themselves for manakravte, but it will be difficult to recover.

Making a friend

They are approached by Rune, a girl who is awkward in front of strangers, but is interested in the outside world, so she gives them a tour around the city. As they spend the day becoming friends with Rune, she plans to give them a parting gift for their travels. But in the following day, she disappears. They are approached by Rudo Zhevitz, the chief executive officer of Zhevitz Enterprise, which is the biggest corporation in the Outer Pole. He tells them that Rune is actually named 'Sara', she is the corporation's property, and that they should just keep their mouths shut and leave, even offering a bribe in high-quality sediment stones. However, the girls aren't satisfied with leaving a friend behind to what seems to be slavery, so they investigate this company by asking around.

A successful, yet broken family

Zhevitz Enterprise was initially a family business led by the father, Cid. Cid discovered mana embedded in rock and learned to harness its power to solve problems like heating in the winter. Basically, he discovered the equivalent of electricity, which then led to an explosion of innovations with it, from medicine to robots. The Zhevitz family had two children, Rudo and Rune. Rudo was a normal kid, but Rune was a psychopathic problem child who felt no emotion unless she brought harm to others. Rudo tried to steer Rune away from violence by spending more time with her, but she managed to kill her mother as well as Zhevitz's business partners with poison. She also tried to flee the Outer Pole, but she was killed by manashock. With two family members dead, business deals ruined, and Cid becoming unhinged from the stress, the Zhevitz family was on the brink of collapse when Rudo turned into a ruthless businessman driven by cold logic and led the company to new heights by turning the company from a family business to a profit-maximizing corporation.

A misunderstood sacrifice

Cid developed a terminal illness, but he secretly worked on creating a sentient android in the image of Rune. Cid discovered that every living being had mana within them that gave them life (i.e. a soul). He had recovered mana from within Rune's body to infuse into the android, giving it her memories. But knowing that Rune did not have emotion, he also infused his own mana into the android to give Rune the emotions she didn't have. In the end, he sacrificed himself in order to create it and all his knowledge about it went with him.

The android was unlike anything Zhevitz Enterprise created with how realistic it was. Without any documentation left behind, no one knew what it was for. Many of the company's board members were impressed and curious, so they put it to work and watched it, referring to it as "Sara". Initially, Sara did not know much, but as time went on, it manifested Rune's memories. After meeting Selphine and Ritona, Sara stole some sediment stones from the company mines to give to them. Given Rune's history of psychopathy and this latest crime, Rudo believed this android was a threat and wanted it dismantled.

Realization

After learning about the Zhevitz family history from Albas, a man close to the Zhevitz family, Selphine and Ritona go talk to Rudo at the company. Selphine told Rudo that Cid didn't just create a replica of Rune, he developed a Path-Down method to infuse Rune's memories into the android to carry on Rune's legacy, and it didn't matter if the body was a machine or made of flesh. Rudo didn't believe it at first, but after talking to Sara once more, he realizes that it is not a mere automaton nor an emotionless killing machine.

Rudo recalls a time when he listened to his mother talking to Cid on her deathbed. Her last request to Cid was to not leave Rudo alone because when Cid dies, Rudo would truly suffer as the only one left. Indeed, Rudo's current callousness is just a shell to cope with his emotional burden of losing his entire family. But seeing the result of his parents' last wish and sacrifice before him and how he was just about to throw it all away, Rudo breaks from his cold persona and accepts the new Rune as his sister. With this, he cancels plans to dismantle Rune and lets her go with Selphine and Ritona on their travels since Rune's android body is immune to manashock.

A beautiful ending

Even after going through the ending a second time for this review, I can't help but tear up at the beauty of it in the same way when I read it the first time. It takes its time to build up context through deeply written back story, telling how the Zhevitz family grew from nothing only to have it come crashing down through tragedy and then being saved in the end through the power of persevering love and sacrifice. It teaches you to keep working for the future no matter what happens because our time is limited and we must not spend it in despair. It is up to our own efforts to stop a bad situation from downward spiraling into something worse and to salvage what we can. The build-up is so well done that it doesn't come off as cheezy and actually feels legitimately powerful, helped a lot by the expressive art and fitting music.

Culture shock

An overarching theme is the comparison of different sociopolitical climates and how problems stem from them. Rughzenhaide is described as a socialist utopia with a post-scarcity economy. They don't use money except for foreign trade and greed is looked down upon. People are able to communicate through magic that lets them understand each other's feelings, so there's generally little conflict. Men and women are also treated equally because the only thing that matters is a person's ability to use magic. However, Rughzenhaide still has social inequality because only royalty have the Path-Down and there are different ranks of manakravters.

It is a stretch to say that sexism is simply due to gender differences in ability and a lack of empathy. Sexual supply and demand is unequal, which creates conflicts of interest such as love polygons and unrequited love. Less attractive people will have a harder time finding or keeping attractive partners, which erodes their self-esteem and breeds resentment that can manifest as sexism. There will never be equal outcomes as long as people are unequal and empathy won't change people's sexual desires, so there will be people who fall through the cracks. The best we can do is draw attention away from the inequality by creating illusions of being with attractive people. We create and immerse ourselves in fictional images of ideal people to make up for the shortfall. Hence, we have anime. The good thing about it is we begin to model ourselves after the ideal to become better people.

Sexism.jpg
Rughzenhaide is described as an egalitarian society with no sexism, achieved through the power of magic.
Ritona.jpg
Are you sure that's where he's looking? You would think that coming from a society that eradicated sexism, she would wear gender-neutral clothing, especially for her line of work.
Inequality.jpg
Hmm, so Rughzenhaide still has inequality of sexual desirability. That Ritona thinks these things indicates that sexism can't be as gone as she said because this is the sort of thinking that breeds jealousy among the undesirables.

On the other hand, Kadia is a capitalist society. Crime is a problem and people who can use magic are kidnapped and enslaved, even though slavery was officially outlawed. Men are also dominant in positions of power and sexism is a thing, but people are generally civil and helpful. While these things are mentioned, the story doesn't tackle those issues or connect them to the main plot. The girls' lack of understanding of the culture hasn't created any real obstacles beyond a few raised eyebrows and their meddling in another culture's affairs has not created any problems.

Star Trek teaches that interfering with other cultures leads to bad consequences and should never be done without a very good reason, but Fault takes the optimistic perspective where meddling in another's affairs is necessary to create an ideal outcome for everyone. While different cultures have their own ways of doing things, there are still common elements, like pointless death and destruction being a bad thing. When does respect for another's autonomy turn into a callous disregard for suffering? The idea of respecting a culture assumes that people of that culture are infallible and cannot benefit from outside influence. If you don't know anything about their culture, you should learn it so you can inject a fresh perspective to stimulate cultural innovation.

Technological leap of faith

The history of Cid seems like a classic entrepreneurial success story. The problem with it is that he basically just discovered the equivalent of electricity and then he moved straight into creating computers, androids, and steampunk MRIs even though it was stated that manipulating mana was quite dangerous. How they went from burning coal and kerosene for heat to robotics and artificial intelligence in a single human generation is a huge stretch of believability. But it's not just a technicality. It makes Cid's effort to resurrect Rune implausible with how he is able to create a lifelike android in an industrial era, replicate something as powerful and royally sacred as the Path-Down to bring someone back from the dead, and fix psychopathy all on his own. I suppose it's easier to manipulate mana to do things electricity can't considering mana can be used by humans to create pillars of fire or summon shadow soldiers on the fly, but I can't shake the disconnect here. Mana is used as a convenient do-anything substance despite explanations on how it works.

Excessive writing

There is plenty of filler text and padding, that is, slowing or stopping plot progress for mundane exchanges. It even repeats information like how there is a scene where Rudo has a dream about his past with Rune revealing her psychopathy, and then we are told about that again from Albas' perspective. There is also lengthy side-tracking like talking about the founding of Zhevitz, how it operates, and its relationship to society. It even does this after revealing Rune's psychopathy. It got me interested and I wanted to know what happens next, but then it side-tracked into irrelevant lore.

Such background details should not be covered in the main writing and should be relegated to encyclopedia entries because it breaks pacing and forces me to sort out plot-relevant information. There is also exposition that doesn't make sense in the context of the world (i.e. explaining things that should be common knowledge like manashock), but are done for the sake of the audience. Sometimes, I found myself slogging through mundane sections wondering when something important will happen. It didn't help that the writing threw a lot of weird names and terminologies at me, like "Nidzche" and "Gkrouwlies".

Final words

Despite its flaws, I'd say it was still worth it for the ending. Very few anime made me feel the way I did with Fault. Visual novels can take their time and build up context because there is no need to sort and cram information within twelve, twenty-minute episodes. It's also a lot easier and cheaper to write text and reuse static images than to hire voice actors and animate. Visual novels provide enough graphics to reduce ambiguity and the art allows for expression that goes beyond what my limited imagination can come up.

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