A high class highschool on a remote island, fated reunions, new encounters and a touch of vampire mystery. I guess that about sums up the basic premise of Fortune Arterial in one sentence. Obviously sounds like the usual formula we have seen done to death a dozen times, but, what do you know – this one is done right. Having heard plenty of good references about the title i decided to finally sit down and give it a go myself, and the end result is a very pleasant surprise. I am not one to easily hand out praise, but when the credits of the True End started to roll, i was willing to stand up and applaud the writers for a rather exemplary piece of writing. The way all the individual story paths came together in the end, the way all the details fell in to place and the fact they actually explored aspects that are usually taken for granted in vampire stories, such as bloodlust and reasons behind it, as well as other relevant aspects, and the very origins of said vampires – things i had long since given up on in vampire stories, makes Fortune Arterial one of (if not THE) my favorite pieces of vampire fictions up to date.
The story is told through the eyes of Kouhei, a student transferring to the high-class school of Shuchikan Academy, located on Tamatsu Island – a place where he used to live 7 years ago. Due to his parent’s work they have been required to move all the time, forcing Kouhei to live a life where little value could be placed on everyday things. He has been forced to transfer schools for about 20 times now (the actual number is not recalled even by himself), never allowing for time to establish proper human connections or lasting friendships. A life he could place little value in. As his parent’s work finally was about to carry them abroad, he opted for staying behind and enroll in a school where he could live in a dorm, and finally make some actual friends and memories worth recalling. For up to now, his only true “friend” has been a girl from his childhood on the island – one who kept sending him letters despite the fact they were apart, and valuing their bond no less for it. However, several years ago circumstances robbed him of even that …
That aspect of his life is about to change though, as he arrives at the school’s gates … and what a school that is! Exterior and architecture wise easily putting some castles to shame, and an overall feel so grand the rather aesthetical uniform design suddenly makes perfect sense.
I wonder what the attendance fees look like …
No less grand than the school appears to be his first greeting, as by the gates he encounters a rather beautiful girl who energetically welcomes his arrival to the school with a big smile, introducing herself as Sendo Erika, the vice president of said school’s student council. Puzzled what would warrant someone greeting him in the first place, Kouhei is about to shake her hand when Erika shows a strange reaction and suddenly moves away. After escorting Kouhei to his new homeroom teacher, Erika hurriedly excuses herself and disappears, leaving Kouhei puzzled about her strange shift in attitude. This strange encounter puts things in to motion, eventually getting Kouhei acquainted with Erika’s brother Iori, who appears to be the president of Student Council, as well as accidentally learning the secret of the two siblings, upon which he is either forced to join the student council and swear silence, or … face the consequences.
The story goes on from there and we get more acquainted with the other characters, and Fortune Arterial has a very nice lineup of generally likable and fun ones. Despite not being a comedy, the title offers a good amount of genuinely funny moments – the humor is fresh, character interactions quirky and fun, and the game has a rather commendable amount of BGMs and sound effects, along with some visual effects and quality voice acting, all of which contribute to the atmosphere nicely – be it lighthearted or otherwise.
Before one is allowed to advance to the True End (which is where the meat of the vampire story lies, and where the writing begins to truly shine), all of the separate heroine paths have to be cleared first, and there are 5 of them:
Main heroine of the story, and obviously a vampire (Don’t tell me you didn’t expect this)… although her personality surely would not make anyone associate her with one. Bright and quirky, with a positive outlook on things and a bit of a playful streak (not mean spirited mind you), she enjoys everyday life with confidence and head held high, striving from bottom of her heart to make everyone’s life in the school as pleasant as possible, which is why she applied for student council. Because of her considerably good looks and pleasant personality she is immensely popular among the students, which cost Kouhei dearly for having walked inside the wrong bathroom during his first stay in the school dorms (which happens to be mixed, with boys living on the third floor and girls on the 4th), and getting a rather …nice… view of her (heaven and hell?). (Which turned out to be a ploy set up by Iori later on, as he had quickly switched the bathroom tabs before Kouhei went inside).
As a vampire she despises sucking blood from humans and the mere thought of attacking someone else for her benefit is unacceptable to her. She survives off bloodpacks, although this behavior is creating some troubles for her on her own end. Once we learn about her past (and future), it appears to be nothing like her bright personality would suggest though. For some reason she feels strongly drawn towards Kouhei’s blood, which should not be a normal occasion.
Kouhei’s classmate, her seat is located behind his. Relatively cold and distant, she is not easy to approach and shows no initiative for contact, and her answers are abrupt even when she is approached by someone else. A lone wolf in her own way, she is often late for school and regularly disappears from classes. No one knows where to though, as all attempts to track her have failed, and talking to her yields less results than that. Being a part of the student council, Kouhei is tasked to find out what he can about her disappearances. When results start showing up though, it is unlike what any of them could have imagined…
She likes spicy foods and has a rather spirited rivalry with Erika when it comes to math results, both girls gunning for the top spot, dating one year back, as Kiriha keeps getting perfect scores even though she is missing from a lot of classes.
Seichiro’s younger sister and also a member of the student council (What is a student council without a loli!), she is one year younger than Kouhei. Her personality is best described as a “big bundle of cute” or a “human sized plushie”. Cute and shy, she is a bit sheltered by her brother and is helping out at the school’s chapel. Generally likes sweets and enjoys serving tea to other members of student council, to the point where that seems to be her sole duty there. Her family circumstances are more than a bit peculiar though and hides a lot of secrets and traditions, making her situation more complex than it might appear at first.
Unfortunately, despite having a likable personality, i am not sure she is all that fit to carry a story of her own and would possibly be better left as a side character. Her path, compared to the other ones, was rather dull and uneventful, and refused to go somewhere anytime soon, and the romance proved to be a bit shallow.
Kanade’s younger sister and Kouhei’s childhood friend, even though their time together lasted for only one year. (We can assure you that no forgotten promises have been harmed in the making of this childhood friend). Kouhei values her friendship greatly, as she is the person who kept sending him letters after he was forced to move away from the island 7 years ago, remaining as his only friend during the time he was forced to constantly change schools, unable to make any other ones. Their correspondence was cut short a year later though, when Haruna suffered a traffic accident and lost her memory. Even though she had written him back regardless, wanting to continue the conversations she apparently had with the boy before her accident, Kouhei felt it would have been selfish to impose a “friend” role to someone who had lost her memory, thus their letters stopped. Their reunion at said school comes as a surprise for both of them.
Haruna has a bright personality and is somewhat outgoing, which came as a relative surprise, as i was expecting her to be more shy. She likes helping others and would go out of her way to do so for her friends. Some events of the past have left specific marks on her personality though, ones that can’t be seen at first glance. Despite her and Kanade’s paths being disconnected from the vampire side of the story, she has an unexpected role to play during the True End. (incidentally, my favorite character of the title, Erika being a close second :))
Haruna’s older sister, although their personalities would make one to think the opposite. Where Haruna is more reserved and responsible, you can not be in one room with Kanade and not notice her (arguably annoying) presence. Hyper and rather nosy, she is very much a “my pace” person …except her pace is dictated by seemingly being high on sugar. (Also known as pest, parasite, creature, and similar, courtesy of He Who Must Not Be Named :)). While she can be of some fun in small dosages, her overbearing presence quickly becomes a handful upon prolonged exposure. Surprisingly enough she is also the superintendent of the school’s dormitory (Upon which one has to wonder how it hasn’t burned down). She is rather “obsessed” with Haruna, going as far as calling Haruna her bride. Ultimately she is rather worried for Haruna and wants her sister to find happiness, although at times one can’t help but ask if she is being obstructive or helping. Her room is located straight above Kouhei’s, which is a fact she exploits to invade his room through balcony, often dragging Haruna along.
Overall, i must say this is a character the story could have done without. Not only is her path the low point of writing in Fortune Arterial, featuring some rather …bizarre… drama (and a tree), it also has absolutely nothing to do with the True End. While all the other characters have a role to play in the grand scheme of things, Kanade, or her path, has none. Overall her path is little besides being a “what if” afterthought to Haruna’s. Not a very good afterthought at that.
Obligatory set of female characters aside, we are also fed a few male characters. All of whom contribute nicely to the story and end up playing their roles appropriately – be it contributing to pulling yet another comedian act, or taking a part in the more serious issues, when the time is right for either.
Iori – Erika’s brother, chairman of the student council, and obviously a vampire. Overall one of the more enigmatic characters of the title, although that might be hard to believe at first, with his mind on apparently one track. A very laid back person generally, ready and willing to slack from his council work, giving Seichiro a major headache more than once. Prone to some reckless decisions of questionable *cough* nature, he is the source of a lot of the antics taking place during student council gatherings, and his verbal exchanges with Erika and Seichiro (who both have a bone to pick with his attitude) contribute a lot to the humor of Fprtune Arterial. Obviously, Iori enjoys an immense popularity among the school’s female population, due to his good looks and sociable personality. Despite appearances that he might often be thinking about god knows what (if at all), most of his actions do bring forth some (often progressive) effects, making one question if he is just lucky, or simply good at hiding his thoughtful nature behind a lax exterior.
Seichiro – member of the student council, and Shiro’s older brother. As his looks suggest, has a serious personality and somewhat difficult-to-approach high-class demeanor. Due to his responsible nature is often at odds with Iori and is frequently in charge of organizing work (and doing a good share of it), as the later is … unreliable. Although a quite serious person overall, not as stuck-up as first appearances might suggest, and has quite a few burdens to carry… one of which seems to involve being overprotective of Shiro, and stalking male friends she might be acquainted with.
Tsukasa – first guy Kouhei ends up befriending, eventually turning out to be the obligatory “best buddy”, despite Tsukasa not acting all that friendly at first. Turns out he is somewhat of a delinquent – holding a part time job (which goes against the rules) and the most frequent state you can meet him inside a classroom is “asleep”. At other time …you can’t meet him at all, because he has snuck out ot his part-time-job. Except during tea parties. No one can resist tea parties at Kouhei’s room it seems. The biggest mystery surrounding Tsukasa has got to be how he manages to remain in the school, considering he gives no attention to the lessons … and the attendance is sure to cost a small fortune.
And with the introductions done, this colorful bunch of people will be there to accompany Kouhei through his new (and improved …. hey, quit glaring, it is an improvement for him!) school life, the oddities of student council, interpersonal and supernatural drama, romance issues and (often) forced tea parties. Not that he would complain (much …most of the time ..) on the later, given the rather colorful audience.
What i liked most about the game was the general direction of the writing – all the separate character paths (minus one, which would be Kanade) have clearly been written with the True End in mind. A lot of the details previously mentioned in the individual paths end up adding to the depth and understanding of the True End, previously touched upon details that felt somewhat vague suddenly gain new light shone upon them, separate puzzle pieces start falling in to places and some things i never suspected to be anything else beyond what they were made out to be, end up as revelations that left me collecting my jaw from the floor.
Aside from nicely executed twists, what the True End ends up delivering is a very thought-out and solidly written story. The quality of writing here was quite noteworthy, and all the vampire mystery pieces end up making sense in the end. Going from Erika’s attraction to Kouhei’s blood (No, go away, it isn’t a blunt “his blood is special just because it happened to be like that”), to specific behavior of some characters, to the very origins of vampiric bloodlust and said vampires themselves. It touched upon and explored subjects everyone long since take for granted (Like the need to drink blood) in vampire fiction, and did a good job at it. I suppose it can be said the story was rather ambitious in it’s own way, and actually succeeded delivering.
That is not to say all of it was perfect though – to get to the true end, you first have to clear all the individual routes. Sadly, not all of them were as wonderful of an experience as the True End path. Generally i like to divide this section in the “good” and “not so good” parts. Erika’s, Haruna’s and Kiriha’s stories i have rather fond memories of – the stories handle their respective contents appropriately, the relationships are believable and properly developed, the characters fleshed out properly and the drama makes sense. What also earns high praise from me, which is one of the things i like about Fortune Arterial in general, is the progressive use of drama -when issues get introduced, those are used to advance the plot without becoming stale. When something comes up, characters are actually working on solving it. Actively working, communicating, planning, instead of beating around the bush and drawing things out. Issues don’t overstay their welcome and the progression is quite clear. Very progressive and developing usage of drama, which earns high points from me.
Sadly, while those three routes excelled in usage of drama, same can not be said about Shiro’s route. Once the main (and only) issue gets introduced, it just hangs in the air and floats about until it is time for the story to conclude itself …which was way too long. The drama here was anything but progressive – it was stale and draggy. The route struggled with finding relevant (or funny) content to fill itself with, and by the time the first H scene rolled around (which should be about halfway through the story), i realized i was no longer playing to see how her story ends, but to see it end, period. The romance feeling generally underdeveloped and somewhat shallow didn’t help matters on that front either. (Which largely, i suppose, has to do with the fact that Shiro is a nice character, but not really fit to carry a story on her own. She should have been much rather left as the cute, tea-making asset of the Student Council Room. After somehow surviving through to the conclusion, i was disappointed once again … i suppose it was not the worst resolution, but it definitely was not something that could not have been used at the very start either. So i was mostly left with a feeling of “meh …all that for that ?” In a word, boring and tedious.
That said, while Shiro’s route was mostly needlessly dragged out, Kanade’s route was simply rather poorly written during the second part of it. While the first part, which consisted of the two mainly getting together, was done with not much to complain about, even if the ideas used were nothing we haven’t seen before, the second part tried to introduce some new drama … and failed at that. Oh no, it didn’t fail at introducing “drama” … question was whether said drama made much sense …which i can’t say it did. They did mange to blow the issue out of proportions though, props to that … or not. The sad part is, said drama didn’t really contribute anything to either of the characters, nor did it mean much in the end. It just happened, and then the story ended … and i am quite firmly convinced it should have ended after the two got together, which involved at least some believable drama. The sad part is, i can’t say her route contributed anything to Kanade’s character at all.
It feels to me the story was initially written with 4 heroines in mind, and then they decided to “hey, lets add a path for Haruna’s sister as well!” … except the rest of the story was already written at that point, and they apparently had no idea what to do with Kanade beyond her being Haruna’s sister. As a result, both sisters, their relationship, some lingering issues (and all the related things you can think of) are explored much more thoroughly in Haruna’s path. As a result we have a path that adds nothing to the overall depth to anyone, and adds no details to be used in the True End. Just a “what if” afterthought to Haruna. Granted, that isn’t bad if you like Kanade and would like to see more of her antics, but that was not the case for me. Sadly this was something to live through in order to unlock the True End … in short, this was the low-point of writing in fortune arterial.
Now that i am done ranting on those two paths, lets move on to the next aspect i can say good things about (provided anyone is awake yet) – which would be the technical side of the game. And it indeed delivers here – it is obvious August didn’t spare money while making Fortune Arterial, and it shows. On the technical side, the game is extremely polished. The character art and backgrounds are quite the eyecatch, CG quality is good, voice acting is nothing to complain about at all (including voiced unnamed characters), and the game features a very large variety (and surprisingly good quality) of BGMs, which contribute to the mood nicely. (there are around 40 different ones!). Add to the fact some visual enhancements like animated rain, animated “burning aura” or similar animated visual effects, and we have a title that is definitely pleasant to experience.
Add to the fact it has writing that lives up to the presentation (Yes, it has a few low-points in terms of Shiro’s and Kanade’s stories, but the True End makes all that very much worth it), and it all turns Fortune Arterial in to a title i won’t be forgetting anytime soon. Both thanks to the quirky characters, enjoyable and fun conversations, and a carefully crafted story that comes together in the end for a conclusive finale. (I am keeping it to occasionally replay Erika’s/Haruna’s/True End paths). Also, given the depth they managed to add to the vampire side of the story, i am going to say this title is a small masterpiece in it’s own right. I am willing to say this might be my favorite vampire fiction up to date, as i can’t remember any other that would have impressed me with the exploration of the vampire details, even though the premise of this one would not make many expect such from the start.
Another, rather important, factor that made a definitely positive impression was Kouhei himself. In a time and age when we are long used to male leads that may well have concrete for brain and could put a dried fish to shame in terms of density, Kouhei comes like a breeze of fresh air. For once, we have a male lead that isn’t completely clueless or passive, and for once it actually makes sense why the girls would find him attractive.
He isn’t clueless, he isn’t dense and he actually notices things when they don’t come in brick-shaped clues. He is decent at reading mood and figuring things out based on that, reasonably proactive and observant. Not saying he is any kind of diviner – obviously there are some specific things he can’t know, but he is reasonably good at figuring things out, and he notices issues without them being literally thrown at him, will work towards solving them on his own end, and generally is much more clued-in than the usual bloke. He isn’t entirely lacking in charisma either, and is generally rather proactive. (It actually makes sense for him to be in the student council, regardless of the fact he was dragged there). He will actually put in real effort to get along with the girl he likes and will work towards said relationship, and can be quite reasonably romantic when it comes to that part. An actually good male lead like Kouhei comes around rarer than once a blue moon … was a refreshing experience while it lasted.
(On that, i suppose somewhat related note, much to my surprise i actually found the timing and buildup of ero scenes in this one to be decent. (With Shiro notably less so than others though, and Kanade was somewhat questionable as well, past the first). Usually such content makes me faceplam in terms of execution and timing, but it actually felt like a normal stage of the relationships for the most part, instead of being something tacked on at the most improper of timings … which, seemingly, also comes once in a blue moon).
Definitely a noteworthy title; i can only hope an Anime based off this appears sometime in near future (and hey – it might, given how well-sold this title was) … and that they don’t screw it up. But for now, i would gladly recommend this game to anyone interested (and capable) of going through it. You wouldn’t regret it.
(On a side note – yatta! There are no tsunderes here! can you believe that! Oh, the glory, there is a God …er …Devil …whatever, that decided to spare me! …
…all right, i am leaving now).