The Midnight Sanctuary is a small, 3D visual novel that ends, before it really gets going. As much as I wanted to be creeped out by some of the story beats, it never came close to anything remotely unsettling. There is a skeletal outline of something greater here, but the execution in this budget title is too shallow for anything substantive.
The Midnight Sanctuary starts with a request for Hamomoru Tachibana to come to a remote Japanese village to study and record its history. The village was started by a group escaping the persecution of Christians in Japan. Although they are traditional, they ask you to help them modernize, so they can attract people from the outside world.
The past and future are linked. As you talk to the inhabitants, you soon discover their faith is intertwined with older legends around the mysterious Saint and a shadowy past. People in the village can do some amazing things, and the fervency of faith leads to some unexpected results.
The story is the gameplay and both are lacking. There is an overhead view of the town with different locations you can visit. You will speak with townsfolk at that location and conversations are extremely brief. Often, I would start to become invested in a conversation only to have it end after less than a minute. I would jump to other locations, learn something for another minute or two, and repeat until I finished all the locations currently showing on the map.
Although you can choose the locations in any order, this isn’t a free exploration of the town or picking which characters you want to question. You will go to a place, talk with the person who is always there, and end your day back at the lodge to sleep and start a new day.
Just to be clear, there are no choices in dialogue or ways for you to influence the story. You are in the passenger’s seat for the entire game to experience the story as is. At the end of a line of dialogue, you will click the X button to continue.
My biggest complaint about the game is that it is trying to tell me a story, but it doesn’t take the time to tell me that story. That’s why none of it is creepy or scary, even though I feel like parts are supposed to be. There are conversations and scenes that should have been allowed to take a more natural course with more reactions and explanation and detail. Unfortunately, the dialogue is more terse than an awkward family reunion.
With more character development, it would have been a much more substantial and interesting ride for this passenger. I don’t have time to care about anyone or worry if something bad will happen or how it will impact people or the town. This causes the rushed ending to lack any real punch, like a balloon that is deflated instead of popped.
I appreciate a unique visual style, but it’s difficult to discern what is occurring in some scenes. Most of the visuals are simple, mono-color shapes. Except for a few characters, parts of the world and some characters are viewed as moving images superimposed over a static image. There are parts cutout to let you see the underlying image.
As characters move an arm or head for example, the cutout portion sways back and forth revealing a different part of the underlying image. If too many characters are closely bunched together, there is very little definition between them and individual actions cannot be seen. The game gets around this by listing the name of the person speaking. That was good, but I was distracted by how their mouths keep moving well after the dialogue stops.
For sound, the music is sufficient, and I thought some of the organ music was alright enough to hope the cathedral was on my list of locations to visit for the day. The dialogue is fully-voiced in Japanese with subtitles, and the voice actors are decent. For a game with an obviously smaller budget and cast, this is an area that was largely successful.
My time with The Midnight Sanctuary was really disappointing. It has a potentially cool story that is sadly never developed and a visual style that could be interesting if it wasn’t a little annoying. It’s not heinously offensive, but it’s not good. With only a few hours of gameplay, it’s dead before it can live, and, for that, there is no salvation for The Midnight Sanctuary.
The Midnight Sanctuary PS4 Review
The Midnight Sanctuary is a visual novel that never realizes its own potential. With a very short story, characters I am never given time, reason, or depth to appreciate, and a visual style that will be polarizing at best, it's a shame to see a good concept underdeveloped.
Although the music and voice acting is decent, especially for a smaller, budget title, I don't recommend playing The Midnight Sanctuary.
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a copy of the game provided by the publisher. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Reviewed using a PS4 Pro.
Jason became terminally addicted to videogames after receiving the NES at an early age. This addiction grew to include PC gaming and was cemented with the launch of the PS2. From then on, he was afflicted with epic RPGs, tense shooters, and deep strategy games, never becoming skillful, but never able to quit. He continues to play games (poorly) and share his passion for them to anyone willing to listen.