The Midnight Sanctuary Review
Sony PlayStation 4Also available on Nintendo Switch and PC
The Midnight Sanctuary is a 3D visual novel which takes place in the fictional Christian village Daiusu. Navigating through 5 different chapters, you uncover the dark past of Daiusu.
I’ve played a few English translations of Japanese visual novels: Level-5’s Professor Layton Series, Cing’s Hotel Dusk, Last Window: The Secret of Cape West and Another Code and Capcom’s Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective. These games had unique graphics and art styles, intriguing storylines and catchy soundtracks. I haven’t played many Japanese visual novels with minimal gameplay, so maybe my expectations of visual novels might have been tainted by Westernised visual novels. But, Midnight Sanctuary has ultimately failed to live up to my expectations of the genre.
The game begins with a letter urging the main protagonist, Hamomru Tachibana, to visit the town’s newly built cathedral. Your role as the player is the nameless, faceless town guide who helps the main character, Hamomru Tachibana. The character you're forced to play has no name, very few lines, and at times, I forgot that he was even part of the story.
Tachibana is asked by the Jyuan Daiusu and Kurosu Okada to record the history and legends of the town. This is because they want to increase the status of the town and improve tourism which will help modernise the village. As Tachibana sets upon her newly given task, she discovers the town’s dark secrets. I’m certain the scriptwriters were trying to create narrative momentum by making gamers explore different parts of the town, alongside interacting with the villagers to gather information on the village past.
However, the story was extremely slow paced from the beginning and it becomes very tedious speaking to different villagers. Despite this, the story picked up around chapter 3.
Tachibana discovers the village is cohabited by the living and the dead! But, not everyone can see the dead. Remember how the village is a Christian village…no? Don’t worry, I forgot too. Only individuals with strong faith can see the dead. And guess who can see the dead? You guessed right, it’s Tachibana. All the other characters in the game cannot see the dead. O ye, of little faith? However, all the characters can see a Saint who randomly appears in the village and sends the dead to heaven. This causes despair within the living; however, the dead villagers are excited about the rapture.
Somewhere along the story, you befriend a lady in red named Eku. She’s arrived at the village to find The Crane Stone. Now, you're probably wondering how the hell does this link to the other character, Jyuan.
Jyuan’s family are descendants of the Crane’s wife and a villager. When the wife went away, she left behind the red crane stone, which has yet to be found. It is believed the Cranes wanted to bring salvation to the town.
You still with me on this….
Tachibana and Eku continue to explore the village, interact with more residents (yawn) and finally all fingers points to the village’s chief, who (you guessed it) was the father of Jyuan. Jyuan then explains the religious history of the village. A Christian girl fled from rioters and arrived at the village. The village was experiencing a famine and the girl generously shared her food with the villagers during their struggle. The villagers thought she was a messenger from God who would save the town. Eventually, her food ran out (I mean…she only really had enough for one person) and the villagers spread rumours; they accused her of being a servant of the Devil. The villagers turned on her and resorted to cannibalism to survive.
The village chief (Jyuan’s father) was in love with the girl and he had no power to stop the villagers from feasting on his fellow lover. Many villagers became guilty, sought pre-Christian legends and symbolised the girl as a crane. Others believed she was sent by God to sacrifice her flesh for the village. This founded a new Christian faith amongst the village, which the chief used to control the villagers.
Phew…. if you’re still here reading, well done.
Now I’m going to piece together the story, which the visual novel fails to do.
The Crane’s Wife and The Devoured Messenger are one of the same. The stupid Saint girl who randomly appears in the town is the ghost of The Crane’s Wife/Messenger. Jyuan’s father used religion to manipulate the villagers after he witnessed the love of his life die. The Crane’s Stone represents the heart of the Crane’s Wife/Messenger, which is the core of the town. The Saint penances the Dead for their sins and they are saved and raptured.
Jyuan wants to save the town by modernising it and banishing the “Saint”. By finding and destroying the Crane’s stone, this will banish the Saint and I guess that will eradicate the village’s religion, attract tourists and help modernise the town.
At this point, I was ready for the game to end. Thankfully, after discovering the village secret, the characters conspire a plan, banish the Saint from the town and the game finally ends. What an anti-climax.
Although the storyline was slow paced, it had potential. The game tries to be an occult horror, but it can omit the fear aspects, as there was nothing scary about this game. Apart from being scarily slow.
The pace of the story ruined my character engagement. I did not bond with the characters, as I normally did with other games, and found the characters Eku, Kurosu and The Guide irrelevant to the storyline. The game could have utilised the perspectives of different characters to get an in-depth understanding of the story. I still don’t understand why there were 5 characters in the game.
Likewise, the story itself could easily be fleshed out and developed into an adventure visual novel. There were too many details within the game that I spent unnecessary hours on, which could have been easily summarised within a few minutes. The scriptwriter already has the main protagonist and the main villain; just add a few puzzles, side missions to boost engagement with the smaller details in the game, like the Crane’s Heart, and bam! You have an engaging adventure visual novel.
The Midnight Sanctuary lacked entertainment and excitement, that I cannot bring myself to replay the game and see if there were any hidden hints, which tied in with the main storyline.
The rest of the game was a disappointment that wasn't helped by an underwhelming soundtrack. There was only one memorable score from Chapter 3, Day November 5th, Scene All You Can Eat. I’ve heard more memorable soundtracks from Cing’s Hotel Dusk: Room 215 and Last Window: Secret of Cape West visual novels. Please listen to the musical talent that is Satoshi Okubo, who composed the soundtrack for Hotel Dusk and Last Window, in the YouTube videos below.
The unique selling point of the Midnight Sanctuary was incorporating 3D graphics with visual novels. As mentioned early, I have not played many Japanese visual novels. But, I can see the appeal of using 3D visuals. The characters can be more expressive, less time is used to draw many expressions and the graphics can be reused and upgraded. This means less time is consumed in comparison to using 2D graphics, if a sequel was released. However, the 3D characters in this game were poorly designed. For instance, Eku’s arms were disproportionate to the rest of her body. I was left puzzled by the art style and unsure whether the artist was trying to incorporate various art movements, such as expressionism and surrealism. Whatever the artist was trying to accomplish, they did not convey it well enough for me to appreciate their talent.
The saving grace of the game was the voice actors. They added life and emphasis into each character, which mildly boosted the storyline’s engagement. This probably pushed me to finish the game, because those 5 hours felt like days.