fault milestone 2 side:above Review

Title: fault milestone 2 Jou
Original title: fault milestone 2 上
Alias: fault milestone 2 side:above
Release date: 2015-08-16
English release date: 2015-09-08
Publisher: Sekai Project

I really like what ALICE IN DISSONANCE is doing with their "fault" series. The second entry "milestone 2 side:above" (or "fault 2a") in this science fantasy saga is more ambitious and a marked improvement over "milestone one" and I'm eagerly awaiting for the subsequent installment.

Actually, "milestone 2", a sequel to "milestone one" has been split into two parts, to be released more than a year apart, and therein lies the main problem I have with the series. To put it frankly, I'm not convinced by AID's abilities to follow their ambitious saga to its finale. "milestone one" was released in 2013 in Japan and it took about two years to birth half of the second installment. I wonder how many more years will it take for the company to complete the game, as currently we still cannot see the end in sight. Yes, I'm pessimistic, and while the examples of Higurashi and Umineko claim the spot as completed VN serials, AID is no Ryuukishi07 and I don't trust them nearly as much. Oh, well. Let's not be overly gloomy and let's have a look at the current milestone.
We'll be back.
From the very first screen "fault 2a" boasts its increased production qualities: backgrounds and sprites are much more detailed, with the former showing the greatest improvement. It's no surprise though - the aftergame credits reveal that significantly more people worked on the backgrounds of "milestone 2". Moreover, while the VN has no animations, the new dynamic camera flits around, zooms into action and follows the characters, creating an almost animated feel.

The story starts exactly where we left our main characters in "milestone one". From this point on, spoilers to the previous installment are unavoidable, so continue only if you have already finished it. Princess Selphine Rughzenhaide, her guardian Ritona Reighnvhasta and their new traveling companion Rune have left the Kadia City and are hurrying to get to the mana rich part of the world as fast as possible, before their health is adversely affected by the lack of mana. Suddenly, Melano, one of the attackers of Rughzenhaide castle, teleports in front of them and things start going pear-shaped.
Aye, captain, getting the osteotomes.
Here ALICE IN DISSONANCE makes a few very effective decisions in order to keep us on our toes. First of all, Selphine gets possessed by one of her ancestors, which is a plot element that will be explored further in greater detail. Secondly, a technical gimmick introduced at that point managed to completely floor me, and I was left blinking slowly and catching flies with my mouth. I won't spoil you what that is, but the feature is used to great effect at exactly the right moment to rattle the players.

"fault" is a road novel, with our characters struggling to reach their home country after the unfortunate teleportation mishap in the first milestone. It doesn't have a grand epic plot, but rather focuses on certain limited obstacles that appear in their path. By limiting the scope of interactions, "fault" actually manages to accomplish more, as it can delve deeper into certain human issues and crack them open like walnuts.
Our girls look like they are in a need of fantasy Viagra.
Despite colourful, vibrant artwork and optimistic atmosphere, "fault" is a pretty dark series. "milestone one" focused on a family drama and how familial relations can all quickly fall apart and create a generation of suffering. "fault 2a" continues to explore the dark shadows in the human psyche by tackling bigotry and segregation. Our travelers manage to successfully arrive to the town of Port Sasary, however it soon becomes clear that there is also an underwater city of Neo Sasary, whose inhabitants shun the dwellers above and oppress them. The oppression is so prevalent that the people above even fail to notice it and think that they deserve everything that happens to them.

Some other VN would have our personages to try and fix this abominable situation, but thankfully not here. Selphine and Ritona have a clear goal - return to their nation, and they have no luxury to dawdle around. Instead the VN focuses on a young boy Sol, who serves as a guide to our characters in Port Sasary, and his personal suffering. The story "fault" weaves is heartbreakingly sad, but oh so real. It's about people stuck in a vicious circle with no ray of light in their future. It's a story of greed, violence and a will to live to the fullest. The writing itself and the tropes therein were more reminiscent of Western works of fiction, rather than usual Japanese visual novels, which is a compliment.
The pot is full, but their bowls look empty.
I absolutely loved the direction the story went and could find little to dislike. I believe that the main flaw of "milestone one" was its uneven pacing. The later part of the game became a full-on infodump with endless discussions round and round the same subject. Fortunately, "milestone 2" managed to avoid the same fate. The scenarist Munisix obviously improved as a writer, because I could find little fault (pun intended) with his writing, even if there were still a few conversations that could have been trimmed without losing anything. The translation is also significantly improved and I didn't notice nearly as many typos or grammar mistakes as in the preceding VN.

Characterisation is the most important thing in VNs of such limited scope and I'm proud to say that fault's characters are top notch. Ritona is a genuinely caring person and considers Selphine more than her retainer, but also a friend. She is pragmatic enough to value princess' life and well-being over her own, but she's no martyr and acts astutely and smartly in any given situation. For example, when Ritona gets sick, she seeks medical care, instead of trying to weather the illness, like any stupid VN protagonist would do. Ritona also has sharp observation skills to discern the danger long before princess or Rune suspect it. She is a rare smart, proactive female visual novel protagonist in a Japanese game, which is as rare to see as a fern flower.
Sarcasm becomes you, Ritona.
I have already mentioned in my review of "fault milestone one" that Selphine is a character who can pull her own weight. She is not a naïve spoiled princess, and tries to always support Ritona, while knowing her own limitations. In "milestone 2" the roles are reversed, as Selphine has to take care of Ritona due to her illness, not to mention the whole possession thing. If I had to find a single word to describe the possessed Selphine, it would be "badass". It's actually a benevolent possession, derived from the requirement of "path-down" manacravte to protect the princess in her hour of need, so beware anyone, who even has a notion of hurting the people she cares about. Selphine grips the reins of the plot in her own two hands and with the help of her charisma manages to achieve a lot in a very short time.

Rune is... well, Rune. In a way, she is battling with her own demons, and her past is quickly catching up to her. This milestone gives us a taste of what I gather to be the be a glimpse into the main plotline of the next chapter in the series. We'll see how she and her newfound friends manage to get out of an unenviable situation. As for this game, Rune has been mostly just an observer and a support for its main character, Selphine.
It's like Munisix is self aware.
The VN also introduces some minor characters from the nation of Rughzenhaide, who believe their princess to still be alive and are seeking her location. Unfortunately, this plot branch is underdeveloped in the relatively short time it takes to read the novel. Maybe they will have more to do in the upcoming "milestone 2 side:below", but right now they just seem to be throwaway characters with little depth. I wasn't interested in their travails and whenever they appeared on screen I waited for the action to shift back to Selphine and co.

The aforementioned manacravte is a form of applied magical science in the fault universe, with some interesting uses and limitations. In a way, it sometimes closely mimics our own scientific inventions, with Port Sasary even having something like a crude magical Internet. This fictional magical system is effective in establishing the setting and creating a certain narrative.

Just like its predecessor, "fault 2a" is a kinetic novel and can be read in about 4-5 hours. I don't consider the short reading time and the linearity to be drawbacks, however it adds to my pessimism about AID being able to finish the story. If I have one serious reproach to the game, it would be an annoying cliffhanger. The cliffhanger at the end of "fault 1" was very well done and I called it "delicious" in my review of that game. My opinion about the ending of "fault 2a" is much more negative, as it neither has such impact, nor does it inspire you to wait two years for "fault 2b".
Rune takes no shit from anyone.
Admittedly, before getting "fault 2 side:below", we'll receive the prequel novella "Silence the Pedant", and that game actually appears to have gameplay, if the tech demo is anything to go by. It might be enough to whet our appetite, while we are waiting for the actual second part of "milestone 2", but it's also not clear how long StP is gonna be and how interesting it will be to read a prequel.

All in all, "fault milestone 2 side:above" is a hearty suggestion for all fans of well crafted fantasy with intelligent characters, well thought-out decisions and a natural progression of the story, provided you don't mind waiting for the second part and then however many parts there will be after that.

P.S. It's considered a sign of a bad writer, if his novels contain lots of hard to pronounce made-up words with many silent letters and/or apostrophes. I don't think Munisix is a bad writer, but he seriously should have thought better before making all character surnames into gibberish. This is one ugly literature trope that is common to both West and East fiction.

Links of Interest

Visual Novel Database
Official Japanese site
Purchase a bilingual (JP/EN) digital release on Steam
Download the demo on Steam
Alice in Dissonance Patreon

Final Verdict: 85 %


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