Title: The Midnight Sanctuary
Release Date: October 3, 2018
Reviewed On: Switch
Genre: Visual Novel
Visual novels come in all shapes and sizes. Typically, I’ve found that the genre relies on fanservice angles and adorably illustrated heroines, but that’s not always the case. The 3D visual novel space is one that I haven’t really explored. With that said, I’m totally open to discover the new ways these developers are trying to tell their stories.
However, I didn’t expect to experience anything like Cavyhouse’s most recent visual novel The Midnight Sanctuary. Originally developed as a VR experience, I took on the game’s Nintendo Switch version to discover this unique and intriguing presentation of visual novel storytelling on the go. What I found was a beautiful new style of visual novel storytelling that could still use a little bit of fine-tuning.
The Midnight Sanctuary begins by introducing Hamomoru Tachibana, a Christian historian invited to Daiusu Village in order to find a way to modernize the village and make it a tourist spot. Although the entire village is on board with the idea, there is no shortage of strange happenings that take Hamomoru down a path that she wasn’t expecting. The faith of the village revolves around giving thanks to the one known as the Saint and greeting each visitor as if they were this enlightened person.
Before Hamomoru can truly get the ball running on getting the village prepped for tourists, secrets of the village come to light and we’re left to see how Hamomoru deals with the situation. The story of The Midnight Sanctuary is actually fairly interesting when the developers take their time explaining what’s going on. You see, the flow of the story is often interrupted by a full stop sending the player back to town menu to travel to a new destination, which we’ll soon get in to. This happens more than a handful of times and it definitely affects the powerful storytelling because this world begs to be explored, but everything ends up feeling rushed.
During the game, players will explore various parts of the town from the map menu. However, it didn’t seem like the order in which you go to these locations matters to the story, so it’s only required to visit each area in order to progress the narrative. With that said, each area offers an event where Hamomoru talks with the townspeople and asks them questions about their way of living and history. The problem with these events is how short they are and the abruptness of their conclusions. For example, at one point Homomoru is spying on this strange girl in white and the girl walks over to her and then the scene ends and it’s a new day. This seems to happen every time the story clears something up as if it wants to leave you on a cliffhanger during every scene, and trust me, it will feel that way.
One issue that non-visual novel fans will run into is how the first chapter establishes no sense of reason to continue with the game outside of Homomoru finding out its history. The lack of conflict makes the player wonder why they’re even there. It’s important to mention though, the second chapter is where things begin to kick into gear, and secrets about the town emerge that leaves the players with questions, much of which do get answered in time.
There are some issues that I found with the Switch version of The Midnight Sanctuary such as the game keeping the button layout for a PlayStation controller so that B is the accept button when it’s usually A on Nintendo controllers. Also, during night scenes the game’s brightness makes it almost impossible to see what is going on, and the game’s English subtitles are extremely small on the screen, especially in handheld mode.
Character designs in The Midnight Sanctuary are memorizing. The look of the town and how each character fits in the world against the set pieces are unlike any art direction I’ve seen before, in the best way possible. What’s more interesting about the game is how over time you start recognizing who the townspeople are, even though they are mostly represented by hooded nobodies. The music and voice acting steals the show, and make putting this adventure on auto mode a must as you enjoy the game’s presentation.
While The Midnight Sanctuary visually offers a lot for the player to take in, the story might be one that is tough to follow. It doesn’t help that the game kicks you out to the town menu the second things get interesting. However, for those that stick through The Midnight Sanctuary until the end, which is only about 3 hours, a unique mystery unfolds with some peculiar supernatural themes.
The Midnight Sanctuary isn’t going to grab the interest of non-visual novel fans, but if you enjoy the genre and want to get a nice dose of storytelling, that I can promise you’ve never experienced before, then you can’t go wrong with this title. In the end, I feel as though a lot of these systems were made for short burst wearing a VR headset and they don’t translate over to the Switch very well. Despite this, the mobile option of the Switch does allow you to enjoy a few events during your commute but don’t expect to stay awake playing non-stop until midnight.
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