Path of the Midnight Sun Review – A Path Less Traveled

    Title: Path of the Midnight Sun
    Developer: Studio Daimon
    Release Date: January 10, 2023
    Reviewed On: PC
    Publisher: Studio Daimon
    Genre: RPG

Taking inspiration from the GBA era of Fire Emblem titles, Studio Daimon has created Path of the Midnight Sun. Not to be confused with the Marvel game, this indie title blends tactical, turn-based, and visual novel aspects into a single RPG package. While noticeably ambitious, its execution flounders in a few areas.

The trope-filled narrative follows two main characters: Suzaku, the amnesiac Captain, and the Vassal of the Demon King, Faratras Hoikade. Faratras receives much attention in the introductory chapters, ensuring you understand her as a character. On the other hand, Suzaku fills the fish-out-of-water role by explaining the world’s rules and locations. The downside to Suzaku is that, besides his memory flashbacks, he acts like the typical dumb anime boy with a dash of suggestive teenage awkwardness and is mainly there to give the player information.

Faratras, on the other hand, is an incredibly likable character, being the 4th person the Demon King was sealed inside after his defeat some 60 years before the game takes place. You get to spend a reasonable amount of time understanding the weight of her duty and relationships with the people around her. The others in the main cast are similarly entertaining or interesting, with Suzaku being the only exception. Even with the overuse of tropes like a Demon King and Amnesia, the story remains un-offensive and easy enough to follow.

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Like the story, the art and music in the game are both serviceable, though I quickly turned off the character cut-ins during combat. The art is excellent most of the time, but it feels like an awkward flash game with specific animations, such as the aforementioned combat cut-ins. The voice-over work is pretty good quality, and a large portion of the script is voiced. My only critique is the overused spoken lines in combat, though the VAs do an excellent job despite this fault. And unfortunately, the music is passable, but no track stands out.

As previously stated, Path of the Midnight Sun blends several different styles of gameplay. First, every town area is explored in a visual novel style, similar to how you play the mainline Ace Attorney games. You mouse over assets on the screen to either investigate them or talk to characters in the area.

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Most conversations have multiple ways to continue, and choosing the correct responses can increase your affinity with these characters or impact their Sanity, which I will get to later. Then, after acquiring Luckos, the treasure-hunting dog, you can find hidden items and money across nearly every screen. Town areas also have side quests to pick up, which you can choose to do or not, and have several rewards on top of giving you gold and experience.

Combat is split into tactical maps and turn-based combat for enemy encounters. You move along combat maps by choosing spaces for your party to move to. You enter battle if your group touches the same area as an enemy. If you approach the enemy on your turn, you are the Attacker, with the enemy being the Defender. If the enemy comes to you on their turn, it’s the opposite, with you as Defender. Different spaces have different properties, such as decreasing the attacking team’s Accuracy or lowering the defending team’s Speed.

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This design is in line with Fire Emblem, except your entire ally team is a single unit, while enemies are divided into various groups. Actual combat is turn-based, taking a page from Dragon Quest. You input the actions of each party member before the turn begins, and they take their steps based on the Turn Order in the top right of the screen. Both your team and the enemy team have a front and back row. If you defeat the enemies in front, the back row is forced to move forward, losing the back row’s defense boost.

Each character has various skills that can attack an entire row, store damage received to execute a counterattack, and so on. These skills require either a percentage of your health to activate or Mana. Instead of having a static Mana pool to draw from, like in other RPGs, each character starts the battle with 0 Mana and returns to 0 Mana after the battle. Each character will generate a certain amount of Mana each turn. The exception to this rule is Suzaku, who, after a certain point, will begin storing the party’s Mana after the battle, starting each battle with the total amount of Mana held. The actual combat is probably the game’s highlight for me, requiring a decent amount of planning out your skill usage and when you save up Mana instead of attacking.

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Moreover, mana generation and various other stats are directly impacted by a character’s Sanity. If a character has low Sanity, they generate less Mana each combat turn, and their stats also take a hit. Your dialogue options impact Sanity during cutscenes, so favoring certain characters to keep their Sanity high is essential. Make sure not to neglect others, or you will be in trouble in the ensuing battles. And you want as many advantages as possible because this game can be challenging.

You see, money for healing items is scarce since you also need to ensure your party is properly equipped. A handful of characters have healing abilities in battle, but those require Mana, so you can’t heal when you please. You don’t always regain health after chapters, either. To top it all off, enemies are often at a higher level than you, and they do significant damage. As a result, the need for healing is much more vital and forces you to prolong combat to spend turns healing instead. Enemies on the tactical grid are also smart enough not to move away from spaces that give them benefits, forcing you to fight most of them at a disadvantage.

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Time is arguably the most crucial mechanic in the game, as every action requires it; moving to a new area in town, moving along the tactical grid, and even taking turns in battle. You can spend time in tactical sections to heal, but that will probably take up your turn, which, again, takes away more time.

This is critical because chapter and battle progression is tied to the time spent. This also includes side quests, giving you a hard time limit in which you have to do the tasks you want to complete. For this reason, and the other reasons stated, I highly suggest first playthroughs to be on an easier difficulty.

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While I’m sure plenty of people enjoy the constant references to the Fire Emblem series and the heavy use of tropes, the bulk of the experience wasn’t satisfying. I enjoyed the combat, even with difficulty, but the time mechanic added a surprising amount of stress that wasn’t enjoyable. In addition, for every character interaction I enjoyed, there were two that I found grating at best. Studio Daimon certainly did a great job forging a game they can be proud of as fans of Fire Emblem, but it will not resonate well with everyone.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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