Path of the Midnight Sun Review
Path of the Midnight Sun is the debut title from indie developer Studio Daimon. One of the latest to combine RPG and visual novel, the game has its origins in a Fire Emblem ROM hack, eventually branching into the full-fledged game it is now. While some of that inspiration is clear, it stands on its own merits; neither gameplay style is likely to wow anyone on its own merits, but they are used in good balance to make for an engaging 25-hour experience.
Path of the Midnight Sun takes place sixty years after the appearance of the immortal Demon King, who was defeated once humanity found a way to trap his soul within compatible humans known as vassals. The game features three main viewpoint characters — Suzaku Ornières, Faratras Hoikade, and Shiori Leblanc — although the latter gets less time as the viewpoint than the others. Its chapter structure largely rotates between them, though once the full party of characters joins up, they rarely split up again. Suzaku and Shiori have been sent out on a mission to find the current vassal, Faratras, who lives in the kingdom of Hoikade’s castle while being taught how to stay in control of the Demon King’s powers. However, as the game begins, Suzaku suffers from a sudden memory loss, while a violent incident forces Faratras to make her escape, hunted by her own people.
The first half of the story is a fairly well-worn tale of a party escaping pursuers while looking for allies. It builds out some of the continent of Arvium and its recent history and the connections between its powers well enough. The game does its best work in establishing the relationships between the characters, with the three main characters joined by a trio of other members. Once the full threat gets going, the game’s twists and turns strong elevate the story, making good use of lingering questions and hints from earlier on. While it’s a bit blunt in pointing out the clues to those twists upon their reveal, and some jokes are a bit repetitive and referential, the overall depth of the plot is enough to keep the story engaging, and the full conclusion ends on a pleasing note.
Engagement is helped by a good balance between the game’s visual novel and RPG elements. Path of the Midnight Sun is split between major event scenes, narrative exploration, and combat encounters. The exploration takes some light point-and-click adventure elements, with players moving between a small number of locations. The game also offers conversational choices, which mostly impact the party members’ sanity status and their relationships with each other, which can lead to some romances in the end, though there’s little challenge in selecting good responses. Sanity also plays a part in combat, as low sanity will cause a character to perform worse, but it’s so easy to keep every character’s sanity up that it renders the mechanic largely redundant.
Turn-based combat encounters see the party split into two rows and tackling a group of enemies also divided across two rows, often in multiple waves. Orders for all party members are given at the start of the round, with the turn order indicated in the top-right to give players the opportunity to plan accordingly. Each party member gets a single action, with options to attack, use a skill, defend, use an item, or move to another spot. Skills use either character health or MP — the latter of which is restored every turn — and can hit a single target, a row, or all enemies.
What makes Path of the Midnight Suns’s combat more distinct is its placement within larger missions. These take place on a noded map, with players given an objective and a time frame. Moving between nodes or engaging in combat takes up time, and players are given a certain amount of time in each phase; after this, enemies are given the opportunity to move, potentially joining up into a bigger encounter with more waves. Certain nodes apply effects on the defending or attacking party, such as reducing accuracy, so players will want to check before deciding whether to be aggressive.
Character growth comes with basic, by-the-numbers level up and equipment systems. There is also a light hunger mechanic, where players will want to give food to each member every chapter or so. Like the sanity system, it’s largely superficial and easy to deal with, but it at least gives players something to consider over flat out advancing through the story and battling without prior consideration. The most interesting character element is the combination of MP and skill trees. After each battle, any unused MP is absorbed and stored by Suzaku’s Manacrest. While he gains the ability to transfer MP to others in combat, its most important use is to unlock and level up the party’s skills.
The combat largely does the job it needs to without ever becoming a strong reason to play the game on its own. There’s a good variety of skills to use across the party, though the enemies get repetitive quite quickly. There are five difficulty levels, with players able to reduce it during a playthrough but not increase it, even back to its initial setting. On the normal difficulty, it’s easy to find a reliable strategy and pattern of skills that will handily deal with all regular enemies. However, bosses can be a different matter; they have reliable attack patterns, but there are a couple of key boss encounters that can easily cause frustration with how much more of a challenge they provide compared to every other fight in the game.
Path of the Midnight Sun features partial English voice acting, with its combat and many of its major events receiving voice-overs from a fairly experienced cast who put in solid performances across the board. The music, composed by Andrea Caranfil, provides a good backing track with exciting battle themes joined by melodic character and location themes, although it doesn’t linger long in the memory afterwards. The visuals are okay, with nice and distinct main character designs, though the 2D animation on them feels stilted. As mentioned before there isn’t much enemy variety, while none of the location designs are very memorable, falling into standard medieval fantasy RPG templates.
As the debut title from a very small development team, Path of the Midnight Sun is a fine effort. It manages to find a decent spot where its visual novel and RPG trappings balance out without one overwhelming or undercutting the other, and the story and characters make for an interesting tale with enough that holds up for its length. It’s a game that allows players to take it at their own pace, to its benefit.
Disclosure: This review is based on a free copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Deep story with engaging character relationships
Good balance between visual novel and RPG sections
Some balance quibbles
A few systems feel superficial