fault - milestone two side:above
My review of Fault Milestone One wasn’t particularly positive, and neither will this be. But having said that, Milestone Two is better than I dared hope. It takes big steps forward in quality from the first one, and though I still can’t recommend it, it shows the creators learning and improving rapidly.
My problems with Fault Milestone Two start with the opening. It doesn’t smoothly draw you into the story of the lives of the characters, instead it slams you right into an action scene without knowing what’s going on. There’s just too much information too fast, without giving you time to latch on to something human to care about. They kind of wrote themselves into this corner by ending Fault Milestone One with the start of this scene. The sequence is creative and impressive in its production quality. But I wish they’d rolled back the story, to give us some time to get reacquainted with the cast, and to know where they’re going. All it needed was a couple minutes of calm before the storm. Because as it is now, when the opening scene ends, the air goes out of the story. It takes a good while before it builds up momentum and feel like it’s going somewhere.
The marketing describes Fault Milestone Two as a “cinematic” visual novel, and it lives up to that moniker, both in good ways and bad. The positive is that the developers went to town with production values. Part one already looked good, but this takes it to another level, using multiple angles and simple animations during key scenes. The audio is also way above average for a visual novel, with both music and ambient sound doing a lot to heighten the sense of presence and mood.
I’m not sure if it was an intentional stylistic choice in order to make it feel more “cinematic”, but the writing feels distant from the characters. You rarely get any insight into what the viewpoint character is thinking or feeling inside. For much of the episode, the primary viewpoint character is Ritona, the personal guard of a princess, who are on the run after enemies conquered their country. The viewpoint is so distant I often forgot that she, and not the camera, was the viewpoint. This harms some scenes quite bad.
For example, at one point the cast arrives at the port of a new city and are approached by a boy claiming to be a tour guide. His appearance doesn’t suggest he is anything other than what he claims to be. Ritona is suspicious of the boy, but because the scene is told entirely through dialog, she comes across as hysterically irrational. I wish Fault would make more use of the fact that it’s told through text. The dialog writing and portraits aren’t good enough to make up for it. Something made her suspicious, but without getting even a little hint of what it was, she just acts rude for no apparent reason. Movies have a hell of a time trying to convey people’s inner thoughts visually, while novels can easily move inside a character’s head and show us what’s going on in there. Fault Milestone Two does that a few times, so it isn’t averse to doing it. I wish it’d do it more often so I wouldn’t sit there trying to figure out whether a character is a racist, hates children, or if I’m an idiot who missed something.
Another problem I had is that it suffers from “RPG side quest syndrome”. I.e., it feels like the characters should be doing more important things than what they’re doing. There are multiple story threads, and they aren’t balanced as well as they could. One of them is underlined clearly as “the main story”, “urgent”, and “seriously, this is important” for the characters. And instead of relentlessly pursuing that threat, they go off and do something else. I wish they’d deemphasize the story threads that won’t be resolved within the episode you’re in, and just keep them simmering in the background for later.
It’s well worth playing this in fullscreen, as the default window doesn’t convey how high rez the artwork actually is. The passion that went into it is clearly visible. Almost every minor character gets their own sprite, and there’s tons of backgrounds and alternative angles to break up the traditional visual novel aesthetic. It’s a big story, with many moving parts, some marching forward to some goal we’ll only see in future installments. I’m interested in seeing what happens next, but I’m a bit worried about where it will end up. There’s so much going on already, that I hope future installments calm down a bit and don’t introduce anything new, for at least one episode. As it is now, the pace is glacial.
Fault Milestone Two is close to ok, but not quite there. I noticed myself skimming past the many lore exposition scenes, and some of the dialog is diabolically bad. Parts of the story hit like they should, and I certainly enjoyed the lavish production values. But it still feels like it’s written by amateurs, who don't inspire enough confidence that they know what they're doing. But at the rate they're improving, they might get it right next time, or the time after that. We'll see.