SENSEs: Midnight Review – Talk About a Nightmare

SENSEs: Midnight Review – Talk About a Nightmare

SENSEs: Midnight is the newest game in the SENSE anthology series, developed by Suzaku games. Set in 2085, two years after SENSE: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story, occult-club member Kaho uses her trip to Ikebukuro, Japan, to discover the truth about the legend of the Midnight Door. In a daring break-in into a park past midnight, Kaho’s adventure towards learning the truth behind the Midnight Door begins.

To begin, it is important to note that SENSEs: Midnight is a 3D game, in contrast to SENSE: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story using 2D graphics. Additionally, SENSEs: Midnight is a much shorter experience than its predecessor, which is reflected in the price-point of the game. However, SENSEs still plays on similar gameplay structures as its predecessor, so fans of the original can expect similarities in the gameplay.

The overall plotline of the story is simple to follow, Kaho will break into a park, investigate the Midnight Door, and break out. However, the game presents a chat system in which Kaho will periodically receive texts from her friends, who are watching and commenting on Kaho’s current actions. This will be a feature that lasts throughout the game and acts as a form of hint system to offer some form of guidance throughout the game. Additionally, they’ll offer notes, which you can find in your inventory, that offer possible interpretations behind the phenomena you’ll be faced against in the park.

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The bulk of the gameplay begins once Kaho initiates the Midnight Door ritual, which, as expected, awakens the supernatural within the park. You will first be introduced to the most deadly spirit in the game and also the root of the curse of the Midnight Door. You’ll slowly be introduced to additional spirits, which will be introduced as yokai with their accompanying notes. Now, with spirits that will impede your progress, you’re given three ways to deal with them. The first and most common method of avoiding death is simply running around the spirits.

All spirits in this game are meant to be outrun for an infinite amount of time, you just need to make sure that you juke them out when they get close enough to lunge at you. The second way to avoid these spirits is to hide within talisman spots, which are marked by glowing butterflies. Then, you’ll be prompted to complete a sort of balancing game that steadies Kaho’s breathing. While it’s difficult to fail, if you happen to do so, you’ll be booted back out into the open. The last way to deal with spirits is by using one-time use magatamas that you’ll occasionally find laying around. Once hit, the magatama will activate and neutralize surrounding spirits.

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However, while these mechanics are staples of the 3D horror genre SENSEs was inspired by, the execution of these mechanics is severely lacking, as they pull retro mechanics without considering the quality of modern additions to the formula. One thing to note is the game operates solely with tank controls, which I find to be a non-issue. However, I did find a major problem with the main form of avoiding enemies, which is simply walking past them.

There are two speeds you can move at, a snail-paced walk and a “sprint.” Despite being the default, you will never want to walk, as you simply move too slowly in a fairly open space. As you will be sprinting almost all of the game, and this is the fastest you’ll ever go, the only enemy you need to be wary of is the main spirit. The main spirit will chase you across the entire map, and in traditional horror jank-ness, you’ll just be making zig-zags in your sprint cycle while the grotesque creature flies up to you and makes the same lunge animation.

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You’ll only get rid of the main spirit through the use of a magatama or hiding in a talisman spot. While weaving out of the main spirit’s attack is simple in theory, you will occasionally run into a fixed camera point that disorientates your view of the lunge, after over a minute of being chased, you may slip up and be hit by a single, fatal blow. All recurring spirits move even slower than your walk, and it’s virtually impossible to get hit by them as long as you don’t stand still or don’t walk straight into them during an attack animation. Don’t worry if you do get hit by a recurring spirit, though, it’ll take three straight hits until you end up dead. Essentially, these enemies are either tedious or completely pointless. This brings me up to the camera mechanic, which I feel was a missed opportunity.

Inspired by Fatal Frame, you’ll receive a camera, which will let you free-view the environment in first-person. As I didn’t mention before, your camera will have nothing to do with combat, unlike Fatal Frame. However, you will be able to view ghosts that are initially hidden by capturing suspicious-looking areas. As an aside, I liked the atmosphere of the decrepit park mixed with neon tagging and artwork. However, I feel that the cyberpunk aesthetic was a step down from the impressive showing from its predecessor, though I understand that the art style is difficult to translate from 2D to 3D.

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Returning to the previous topic, I feel as if the camera was a missed opportunity because you can’t move around while using it, while still being vulnerable to all ghosts. I believe the environment to be a strong point, and I would like to view certain things, but I typically found myself rushed by the spirits since they can’t be disabled without a magatama, which is a fairly limited resource. Collectible ghost pictures are tied to this, and you’ll also get to occasionally see Easter eggs of the previous game through your camera. Overall, the camera feels lacking, and among the annoying problems like the camera flash ruining camera notes, it generally contrasts with the core gameplay.

Speaking of the core gameplay, you’ll find the typical Resident Evil-esque puzzle solving. There’s nothing wrong with this aspect of the game, and it’s the most enjoyable aspect of the core gameplay. You’ll run around, finding miscellaneous items that will be used to further explore another puzzle. Occasionally, the puzzles will be a bit hidden or hard to understand, but to a reasonable, charming extent.

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However, I feel that the narrative and the aforementioned issues bog down the enjoyability of the puzzles. The narrative itself is focused on escaping the park for the few hours you will be playing after falling under the Midnight Door’s curse. While there is a lot of world-building text, it mostly feels unrelated to the current predicament.

Though, I do have to commend the great translation, as all the text was very easy to read and understand in the English language. In the few spare moments you have in looting an area of items, you won’t be able to use your camera to look around. All puzzle areas won’t include spirits, so there isn’t any combination of puzzle solving and managing the spirits. Altogether, the mechanics do not mesh at all, though the puzzle solving and camera are decently enjoyable as solo mechanics.

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SENSEs: Midnight is a sort of transition piece, and the challenges of converting development to 3D-focused gameplay can be daunting. There are a few weird design choices, such as having access to save points, auto-saves, and manual saves, instead of using one or the other. While this isn’t detrimental to the player, I suspect that these are choices done due to an unfamiliarity with the genre.

While the attempt is commendable, this game falls flat in providing an enjoyable experience, though there is tons of room for improvement. If you were a fan of the predecessor, the price of admission to experience a new chapter in the SENSE anthology may be worth it for you. However, as a stand-alone product, you may want to wait for a future title that works with the presented mechanics in a more refined way.

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