The “death game” seems to have become an extremely popular story trope in media over the past decade or so. Stories that involve shoving people (often children or teenagers) into a game of survival, forcing them to kill each other if they want to win. It’s a pretty morbid topic if you think about it, but it’s also wildly popular.
The video game medium is, of course, no stranger to these stories. Hell, the current darling genre of multiplayer gaming is the “battle royale” game, with games like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite being heavily influenced by death game literature like The Hunger Games and the eponymous Battle Royale.
Everyone’s favorite fusion of gaming and literature, the visual novel, has tackled the genre many times as well. Surprisingly, for such a niche genre in the west, its the entries with death games that seem to have a better chance of permeating into the mainstream. Series like Zero Escape and Danganronpa have reached the point where even some casual gamers will recognize the names.
Continuing on with this current murderous fad, the game we are looking at today is also about a death game. There’s one new twist though…all of the participants are already dead!
Developed by aieuoKompany and published in the west by Sekai Project, Fatal Twelve was released on March 30th, 2018, exclusively for PC via Steam.
There Can Be Only One
Fatal Twelve follows Shishimai Rinka, a rather average high school student. While traveling home on a train with one of her friends, though, she winds up caught in an explosion in the train car. She manages to shield her friend from the blast, but loses her own life in return.
Somehow, though, she wakes up later in her home with her friend, none the worse for wear. Her friend doesn’t recall anything about an explosion, either. However, shortly after this, Rinka begins having some strange dreams. Dreams in which she finds herself in a room with eleven other people, informed that she has died, but has been brought back to life to take part in a ritual known as the Divine Selection.
Twelve people, including Rinka, have been brought back to life through this ritual, but only one will be able to continue living at its end. This ritual is a game of elimination – if a competitor can find another’s real name, cause of death, and final regret, they will be removed from Divine Selection, and their death will become permanent.
An issue that these death game plots can often run up against is in character development. After all, if the whole point of a story is to methodically kill off a set of characters, there’s bound to be a few that don’t get much time in the spotlight due to, well, leaving the game early. Fatal Twelve seems to try and give most of its characters strong development and importance to the story…but ends up stumbling.
The first two eliminations have no impact at all, due to lack of characterization of the victims. Hell, the first one barely gets three or four lines in the game. After these, though, the writers seem to change course and attempt to build some emotional connections between the player and the characters. The next couple eliminated characters actually get decent screen time, background story, and a bit of development.
Unfortunately, for a game that runs around ten hours or so, there’s just not enough time to actually build that attachment. You can tell the game wants you to care about these early characters, between the dramatic music and Rinka’s emotional musings on them, but I just couldn’t get attached to them. It isn’t until around half the cast is eliminated that we are left with actually well-developed characters.
Around this point, maybe three or four hours in, Fatal Twelve becomes incredibly gripping. With the cannon fodder early eliminations gone, the game is really able to hone in on the now tighter cast and build the relationships between them. Compared to the rushed one-note characterizations of said quick removals, the cast remaining for the rest of the game can have a surprising amount of depth and nuance to their personalities. I can’t really go into specifics without risking spoilers, but I can say that many characters are nothing like they originally seem, and I became attached to some of the least likely ones from their first impressions.
The development of these characters is furthered by the story using a shifting viewpoint. While the majority of the game is spent in Rinka’s point of view, on occasion, you’ll be put in another character’s shoes. Being able to see concurrent events, or multiple views of the same event, really helps to flesh out the more important players in this story. My only issue with this is that it isn’t always immediately apparent when your viewpoint switches to another character, as the switch happens with the same normal fadeout that happens when changing locations as Rinka.
The high doesn’t last, however, with the back half of the game both having some entirely predictable reveals and plot twists that come out of absolutely nowhere. The writers behind this game are lacking some skills in the foreshadowing department, either being way too blatantly obvious or just forgetting to perform any buildup at all.
If there’s one major theme I can pick out of this game, it seems like the writers of Fatal Twelve put a strong focus on the concept of names. Not only is learning the names of others an important task in the Divine Selection game, but quite a bit of time is spent musing on the meaning of names, and the importance of a name given to someone. It’s quite an interesting topic that I don’t usually think much about, and while it seems kind of odd for a death game story, this theme of names is woven into the plot in some interesting and surprising ways.
Generally, the visual presentation of Fatal Twelve is great, but with a few very rough patches. For one, the character sprite designs can be hit or miss. Rinka herself, along with most of the main cast, have great detailed designs that reflect the personalities of the characters well. The side characters and early eliminations, though…well, their designs have about as much care put into them as their writing, which is to say not much.
The main cast are the only ones that are really featured in the game’s art stills as well, which all look excellent. The graphical style was easily the best part of aiueoKompany’s previous game, Sound of Drop, so I’m glad to see it’s mostly intact here. Some of the background art can get a bit too repetitive for my liking (like a chapter where you explore a hospital, and every area is represented with the exact same backdrop), but the more unique environments have some great designs.
Fatal Twelve is also fully voice acted in the original Japanese, with most of the performances being decent. I can’t really say there’s a particular performance that stands out, but most fit their characters well. The soundtrack here is mostly serviceable, with a few wonderful piano tracks during more dramatic moments, but somewhat forgettable outside of those.
Lightweight Death Game
Overall, my experience with Fatal Twelve could be represented with a bell curve. The game starts somewhat rough with a number of underdeveloped characters, but once that weight is shed, it really takes off and becomes a great experience. The handling of some of the final story revelations, though, manages to cool my opinion of the game a bit.
Even with those complaints, though, I can’t say I was ever bored while reading through this story. I found myself constantly enjoying the tale being told, even through the weaker moments. The plot isn’t an Earth-shattering game changer in the slightest, but it was still a fun and occasionally thrilling read from front to back.
At a budget-friendly $20 at the time of writing, Fatal Twelve is easily recommendable as a quick and entertaining read between more intensive games or stories. It’s not the greatest take on a death game story I’ve seen, but it’s a great “popcorn flick”-style story with some interesting characters and themes.
~ Final Score: 7/10 ~
Review copy provided by Sekai Project for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer.