Review: The Midnight Sanctuary
The Midnight Sanctuary boasts an intriguing and mysterious story, but the presentation and gameplay significantly limit its potential.
Japanese developer Cavyhouse dives deep into the realm of weird with The Midnight Sanctuary. Protagonist Hamomoru Tachibana visits a small village called Daisu, where inhabitants strictly adhere to their warped version of the Christian faith. In talking with the villagers, Hamomoru learns of their local legends, their unique customs, and their dark, supernatural secrets.
The story that unfolds at the hands of the player boasts countless oddities, all of which eventually culminate in a fittingly strange ending. In any review of The Midnight Sanctuary, one thing should be made abundantly clear: this game leans heavily on story as a crutch to make up for various other shortcomings. In fact, The Midnight Sanctuary is more of a story than it is a game, and the developers advertise it as an “interactive novel.”
The only actual gameplay involved sees players choosing which cutscene to watch next. Just select a location on the map from the options presented (sometimes five locales are available; sometimes merely one), and you’re treated to that particular clip. Your choice has no bearing on the story whatsoever other than the order in which you see things unfold. There’s never a risk of missing something unless, like me, you get bored halfway through a cutscene, tune it out, and then wonder what happened when you return to the menu.
At its best, this interactive novel format is an intriguing hook, but, in essence, it means that The Midnight Sanctuary is just a 4- or 5-hour movie. When boiled down to its base ingredients, it will rely so heavily on the player’s taste that its uniqueness will become a detractor. If you like strange, supernatural tales told with a Japanese flair, this is for you.
Other issues arise throughout the experience, stemming from the game’s format. It is crudely animated—so crudely, it’s confusing at times. Certain character sprites have transparent elements, and when you look through them, you see a portion of a permanent, static background. It’s difficult for me to explain in writing, but it’s worth noting as a significant distraction. If you play the game, you’ll quickly understand what I mean. The animation itself is laughably bad, but I felt that it added to the game’s minimal charm—at the very least, the animation was consistent.
Sonically, The Midnight Sanctuary outright fails. The story would’ve been bolstered by a hauntingly melodic soundtrack and well-timed sound effects, but those elements are absent. The repetitive music frustrates and distracts, and the sound effects rarely match up with the actions portrayed.
These shortcomings are crucial to understand as we dive into the story again, so let’s get back at it. By far The Midnight Sanctuary’s most active, most prominent element, the tale within still has problems. Mainly, the first two chapters of the five-hour adventure chewed up most of my time with the game while producing minimal narrative momentum. In other words, the pacing is incredibly slow for the game’s first half, and scenes that could’ve given me details in a matter of seconds drew on for minutes. Fortunately, the story speeds up and builds suspense through its latter half, and the faith-based supernatural tale is actually quite fun.
The Japanese voice overs resonate quite well, despite my inability to understand any of them. The entire script is captioned in English, and following along as I listened to emotive readings of the dialogue was by far my favorite aspect of the game. When The Midnight Sanctuary steps out of its own way and allows the story to shine through dialogue, it succeeds.
On that note, the actual story is chock-full of mystery, suspense, and intrigue. The Midnight Sanctuary asks good questions about faith, death, and meaning beyond life. Once you sift through the terrible presentation, these concepts shine through and make the game almost worthwhile. I can’t possibly share anything further without spoilers, so I’ll leave it here: if you’re open to supernatural tales with a religious foundation, the story may be up your alley.
Generally speaking, The Midnight Sanctuary’s few triumphant moments are so incredibly niche that it’s hard to recommend it to anyone. While I minimally enjoyed parts of the tale, it was devastatingly marred by crude animation and design choices.