When you think of the visual novel genre, what exactly do you think of? I typically think of 2D Japanese based titles, and the thought of the genre being represented in a 3D game is somewhat new to me. However, we have one such title from developer Cavyhouse out now on PS4 called The Midnight Sanctuary and it is definitely one of the most original visual novels I have played.
The Midnight Sanctuary is a Japanese tale that lets you explore the Christian town of Daiusu. It’s a town that has a dark history, so when the young religious historian, Hamomoru, receives a letter inviting her visit she soon gets caught up in its past. The story is told as a visual novel and there is very little gameplay to speak of. The experience depends entirely on whether it’s got a compelling story and if it is told well. The Midnight Sanctuary is not for everyone, but for fans of supernatural folklore, it’s interesting enough to keep players intrigued to the end.
While playing you will encounter some funny moments, mixed in with emotional and sad moments. The narrative is very subtle in its execution and nothing is too over-the-top or shoved in your face, but instead has a constant strange atmosphere. The pacing of the story is slow and drags along, as if The Midnight Sanctuary was a movie it could easily be done in an hour and half versus the four hours it takes to complete.
Navigation is done by clicking on a location in the town, watching a clip of what happens there, and then continuing to do this until you reach the end. The Midnight Sanctuary starts with you getting to know all of the different characters and villagers, and there are many interesting people to meet, all having a light-hearted and welcoming attitude. About halfway through the adventure the whole story takes a different direction, and in fact there’s many different twists usually at the end of each chapter. It keeps things engaging, making for a ride worth sticking around for.
The narrative is all about religion and miracles, life and death, and a blend between faith and the supernatural. Unfortunately, it’s all told out in a linear fashion, even with the player being able to choose which location to visit next. Eventually you’ll have to see everything and nothing that you decide will affect the story or ending.
I’d be remiss not to mention the most strange thing about The Midnight Sanctuary, and that’s the bizarre art style. The graphics look like half the textures have been green screened out and then replaced with a static image of a stained glass window. It’s unique and colorful, and easily one of the strangest looking video games I’ve ever seen. Sometimes it looks like parts of the scene are missing, which I guess is what they had designed because of how you can never truly tell what’s real and what’s not in the village.
Most of the narrative is voice-acted and it’s all voiced in Japanese. It’s hard to tell how great or terrible it actually is, but there’s a lot of fun and energetic dialogue really making each character stand out. Each character is given their own personality and different quirks, which I wish I would have known more of their backstories before playing. For example, all we really find out about Hamomoru is that she is kind and likes to help people.
Even though Hamomoru is the main character, you don’t actually play as her. Instead, you play as a mute who acts as a watcher, following her around and keeping an eye on what she’s doing. It’s all very suspicious and right from the start I never really was sure who to trust. The music is also strange with off-beat rhythms and sequencing with random instruments. It’s not bad, but meshes well with the bizarre art style and premise in general.
Overall, The Midnight Sanctuary is a very unique visual novel from both its story and themes, as well as its 3D art aesthetic and imaginative visuals. My main gripes have to do with the story starting out fairly slow and some presentation blunders that break up the narrative. However, if you like religious or paranormal stories, The Midnight Sanctuary is definitely worth checking out.