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Review: fault - StP - LIGHTKRAVTE

26 May 2022

If you’ve been reading my reviews for a while, you have probably noticed by this point that I periodically make a point of picking a game up that I am in no way qualified to review. This would be one of those times, because quite frankly? If there’s one genre I tend to actively dislike, it’s visual novels.

To be clear, it’s not that I have some deep-seated aversion to visual novels or think that they’re somehow a lesser form of the genre; they’re just not something that I personally seek out in order to enjoy myself. A visual novel is less of a video game and more of, well, a mildly interactive novel, usually without many if any branching paths. That being said, it’s not like I’m unwilling to give visual novels a fair shot; heck, I even made a big point of greatly liking Utawarerumono despite that being a visual novel with a light strategy game attached. This is… just the visual novel.

But still, fault – StP – LIGHTKRAVTE (hereafter referred to as “LIGHTKRAVTE” because holy heck that title is annoying to type out) is perhaps in this regard a title that I am normally unsuited to review. There is your grain of salt to munch on before the review. Is this visual novel a treat for the eyes, ears, and mind? Or when it releases on May 27th for PC (with the Steam version played for this review) from ALICE IN DISSONANCE and Phoenixx, are you better off just replaying an old favorite?

In The House Of Stone And Light

LIGHTKRAVTE, first and foremost, should be known as a prequel… sort of. It’s actually much more of a side story, but it is a prequel. Here’s the pedigree: ALICE IN DISSONANCE has already released fault – milestone one and fault – milestone two side:above, which focus on the same world and a story that takes place well after the events of this particular story. There’s also another prequel about the character Ritona, fault – silence the pedant, which is currently in the works and will be released when it’s ready.

LIGHTKRAVTE is not directly about Ritona, however. It’s about Khaji, who at the start of the story is a gigantic wiener. (I’m going to keep describing characters like that when it’s appropriate until someone makes me stop.) Khaji is the only son of a reasonably well-known and well-connected fruit farmer, but as you probably could imagine, he has no interest in taking over the family business. Instead, Khaji wants to be a painter, able to capture the images of women that he adores looking at.

There’s only one problem – after two years of practice, he hasn’t improved in his painting at all. In fact, he seems to actively be getting worse. And he can’t even get his foot in the door to make things any better.

You might think that this is a case of someone showing how determination can make someone better, but… well, without spoiling the novel’s central twist, that’s not exactly what’s going on here. Khaji’s problem actually runs deeper, and winds up weaving in with themes of duty, obligation, and the way that seemingly utopian settings can still have a great deal of demands on their people.

Full disclosure: I was really not fond of the story by about the one-hour mark. By the two-hour mark, I was about ready to write a pretty scathing review of the story as it existed. But as time wore on, it became clearer and clearer the sort of person Khaji was, and the way that the narrative had set him up as somewhat frustrating early on paid off in dividends. By the end, Khaji’s general haplessness was well-established and likable in its own way. It wasn’t that he was really an idiot or useless… just someone stuck with a dream that he knew he couldn’t fulfill.

Unfortunately, the novel’s status as a prequel and a side story means that it felt like a few threads, including one particular thread that seemed to be clearly set up in an antagonistic fashion, were kind of just dropped along the way. Similarly, there’s at least one moment in the story that clearly feels like it’s setup for things that will happen in future novels… but doesn’t have much to do with Khaji’s story in any fashion.

Is that a crippling weakness? No, not really; there’s nothing inherently wrong with the fact that a small background character is, well, part of the background. (Khaji later demonstrates a knowledge of his place in a fictional universe with uncanny accuracy; it’s not fourth-wall-breaking, just a realization.) But it is, at its heart, a story about whether or not you have the willpower to do something difficult, and about what it means to be willing to dedicate yourself to a dream.

Light Up My Room

Like many visual novels, there are no routes or choices to be made over the course of Khaji’s adventure; events will play out and you will watch them. The game opens a quick menu with a right click that allows you to save wherever you are, read the backlog of what just happened, rewind, or – quite importantly – open an encyclopedia.

That encyclopedia bothers the heck out of me.

It’s not that the encyclopedia is bad or is somehow lacking in something; it’s more that this is a world that the writers are clearly very familiar with and have built up over a great deal of time, but one that is not particularly well explained to a newcomer. If you’ve already played the novels that this is intended as a side prequel to, it’ll probably feel very familiar, but if you haven’t, expect to be repeatedly looking things up in the encyclopedia because the story just mentions them in passing and then doesn’t bother to explain them at all.

This isn’t a crippling flaw, but it is kind of annoying, especially when several moments involve characters peppering in phrases in fantasy language (which aren’t in the encyclopedia) or talk about the differences between nations as if everyone is already expected to know what these things are. It’s frustrating, to say the least. And while a lot of this stuff is subtext that’s probably going to mean more to people who have played the later games… well, you know, this is a standalone game about a wannabe painter. That means it has to stand on its own.

Could this have been fixed? Maybe not. Maybe this really is the most elegant solution, and it didn’t stop me from ultimately making my way through things and figuring out the salient points. The game does highlight terms that are in the encyclopedia when they first come up, so you can look them up immediately (although there’s no central easy index, just a lengthy scroll list). It works all right; it’s just something of a pain point. Thankfully, you can bring it up at any time.

Gotta Let Your Light Shine Down

Far from the usual static shots of individuals, most of the recurring characters in this story are animated and have a fair range of expressions and poses, although some of Khaji’s just emphasize the fact that he is functionally a swooning catastrophe. The text bubbles also have nice effects to make it clear when a character is speaking aloud, thinking, narrating, or whatever, so it’s very intuitive right away.

The ambient art and character designs are also nicely expressive and distinct without being overdone, with none of the characters feeling flat or like they wouldn’t look right in motion. A couple of weird outfits do crop up, but… it’s an anime-style visual novel. You knew that was going to be in there, right?

The music is good, perhaps a little repetitive in places, but with some nicely emotional tunes in the mix that will stick with you. Unfortunately, the music is also where I have to note a fairly major issue; during the back half of the story, for some reason one particular track was playing in the background at the same time as every other track, which made things into something of a discordant cacophony. I don’t think this is intentional, since every scene had understandable musical cues, but it did bring down the experience a bit; however, it also seems like a pure technical oversight, and probably one that will be fixed on launch or shortly thereafter.

Also worth noting that the novel is reasonably short; I finished the whole thing in about four hours, although I’m a fast reader, and aside from a couple of aforementioned dropped threads it doesn’t feel incomplete. Just a bit on the short side. If you’re expecting something for your next few weeks, re-aim your sights.

A Million Shades Of Light

With any kind of visual novel, the final evaluation has to come down to whether or not you enjoy the characters and the story being told. The best art can’t save a boring story, after all, and all the motion and animation and music won’t matter much if you can’t enjoy the characters as their story unfolds.

Fortunately for LIGHTKRAVTE, while it makes itself a bit easy to kick at during its early moments, it eventually resolves itself into a really interesting and moving story about someone pursuing a dream that, increasingly, becomes more mature and comprehensible as he struggles. You might not like Khaji much at first – heaven knows I didn’t – but as the story progresses he manages to endear himself and understand what he’s looking for at the same time as he pushes to do something new. And the question at the heart of the novel – a question about what you would do for something you love – is one that we could all stand to ask ourselves on occasion.

LIGHTKRAVTE is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, I freely admit that, but it did the thing that Kurt Vonnegut once said every story should do: It used the time of a complete stranger in a way that didn’t make it feel wasted. And quite frankly? If you’re the sort of person who generally doesn’t think much of visual novels? This might be worth a look after all. It’s a story that not a lot of games tell, told in a way that serves to show off the strengths of a visual novel rather than its weaknesses.

But, you know. Grain of salt and all that.

~ Final Score: 8/10 ~

Review copy provided by Phoenixx for purposes of review. Screenshots courtesy of Phoenixx and the author.