Game Title: The Midnight Sanctuary
Company: Sony Music Entertainment Japan / UNTIES
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Availability: Digital Download
Battery Life: 2.5 – 3 hours
Cloud Save Support: Yes
Download: 2.2 GB

I’ve played a lot of Visual Novels in these almost-5 years I’ve been playing and reviewing handheld games, from Psycho Pass on the Vita to the risque Nekopara Volume 1 on the Switch. Out of all of these, however, none of them were anything but 2D novels with 2D graphics and renders and 2D cutscenes.

That ended this week when I was pointed towards a new VN that launched on the Switch and other consoles recently. Unlike others, it was 3D in nature. A Story-based Visual Novel with full 3D cutscenes rather than 2D made it stand out on its own, let alone its unique theme and setting.

Let’s not talk too much longer and get right to it. This is my review of The Midnight Sanctuary for the Nintendo Switch!

Story

midnight 2 - story

TMS has you in the shoes of a Guide from a small Japanese Christian Village, one of many “hidden” villages that had to disguise their faith as Buddism in ages past. To try to modernize the village and attract visitors, the pastor and chief bring in a spiritually-attuned expert to help dig up the village’s history and make a guidebook for tourists.

Not all is at it seems, as eerie small towns never are. It isn’t long after she arrives and starts digging up folklore that she happens upon a very different take on the Christian Faith surrounding a Messiah-like being called “The Saint” that is somehow tied to the fact that life and death have a completely different meaning and reality in this town compared to the rest of the world. A simple research mission quickly turns into an adventure filled with paranormal beings and a town’s dark and grim history.

While this game’s story is extremely fascinating, it starts off a little slow. The first couple chapters of the game are pretty sluggish, but once it gets moving and the paranormal starts becoming a factor, its pretty intense and thrilling. I wouldn’t call it “scary” as far as horror standards go, but there are tons of jaw-dropping moments with its religious and dark themes.

Gameplay

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TMS is a 3D visual novel game. In VN fashion, you will be cycling through story scenes and enjoying the plot while also navigating through different areas of the town that mixes up the order of some of these events. All in all, though, it’s a VN where you experience a story being told.

The way the game works is that you have story scenes and are always cycling back to a map of the village that lists different areas you can navigate to. All of these areas have new story scenes, but you can choose them in any order, which helps give you a little freedom and a bit of an interaction to do. You don’t have dialogue choices or different endings, so the order of scenes is about as interactive as the game can get.

midnight 4 - log

The game does contain a feature and option that I absolutely love that I wish more games would utilize: The ability to replay any cutscene encountered thus far. I really appreciate this feature because I always make a ton of save files for VNs for showcasing different parts of the game in reviews, but having this replay feature makes my job that much easier.

That’s about all there is to the gameplay. You do have different text and voice options like auto-advancing text, but nothing too extensive, compared to other VNs.

Now, let’s talk length. This is a very affordable game with being only $9.99 on the eShop, so I wasn’t expecting it to be a super-long game. It has some nice length to it for its price, clocking in at around 5-6 hours from start to finish.

Controls

Controls aren’t too extensive. No motion controls, so you’ll always be using the buttons.

You can move around the menus with the Arrow Buttons / D-Pad and the action buttons to interact. Unlike typical Nintendo style, the B button serves as “Select/Confirm” and A serves as cancel, adopting the more PlayStation/Xbox control setup. You can also use Y to pause the game and X to toggle the Auto-Advance options.

All in all, it’s not too hard to grasp, plus the game is set to auto-advance text by default, so you can just start it and enjoy the game.

Presentation

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Visually, this game has a very unique style to it. It almost looks chibi, but not quite. It also has a stained-glass look to it, with many characters appearing as a stained-glass background in their robes, as if they’re transparent and you see it behind them. Now, this design is really unique and I’ve never seen anything like it, but it definitely can be hard on the eyes. It takes some time for you to adjust seeing cutscenes move in this way.

Audio is something I can say something about, though. In handheld mode, the voice volume seems abnormally low. I had to jack the volume up to max to hear them properly, even when I maxed them out in settings. This wasn’t as much of a problem in docked mode, though. Just with handheld / tabletop modes.

Performance I have no complaints about. It looks really smooth and clear, and it plays perfectly on the Switch with fast loading sequences and no frame drops.

Battery Life

Battery Life surprised me, as I expected a bit more than we actually got. Here are my times, from 100% to 0%

Max Brightness + Wi-Fi – 2 hours, 30 minutes
Max Brightness + No Wi-Fi – 2 hours, 39 minutes

Low Brightness + Wi-Fi – 2 hours, 49 minutes
Low Brightness + No Wi-FI – 3 hours, 01 minute

This isn’t bad, in any way, but I was expecting a bit more from it.

In conclusion, The Midnight Sanctuary is probably the most unique VN I’ve ever played, breaking the genre boundaries by including 3D cutscenes and including a very dark, religious theme that really picks the brain about what everyone’s faith truly is. It does have some faults with a slow starting chapter and a couple presentation nitpicks, but if you’re into religious and paranormal stories, this one’s worth checking out.

Final Score: 8/10