I’ve played a lot of genres through my PSVR headset, from your common wave-based FPS to the top-down third-person games. However, I never thought I’d actually play a full-on Visual Novel in Virtual Reality! The Midnight Sanctuary is a rather mysterious and haunting story from Cavyhouse and Unties which can be played in both flat and VR mode on your PlayStation 4.
With its mesmerising graphics, creepy soundtrack, brilliant voice acting, and rather interesting art design, The Midnight Sanctuary had me interested from the moment I started playing it a while back, yet I wasn’t truly hooked until the game was updated with PSVR support. Just how can a visual novel work in virtual reality? Let’s find out…
Our story begins with our protagonist, Hamomoru Tachibana, who has been invited to stay over in Daiusu Village, a small community which has been isolated from the rest of Japan for a long time. Her task is to catalogue the traditions of this obscure village and help them think of ways they can attract more outsiders to visit them and repopulate the ever-dwindling number of residents. However, your stay in Daiusu village is going to be far from an uneventful one as you’re not the only new face which crops up…
Two new people appear throughout the story, one of which is a fabled ‘saint’ which the villagers have a rather unusual tradition and request with. As you uncover just what this is and unearth the disturbing history of the village, your whole perspective on the community and what you believe to be true is completely flipped onto its head. I’m obviously not going to go into the story any more than this, as it’s a pure visual novel – no choices, just sit and watch as the story plays out – so it’ll be pointless if I gave away too much.
So, without any spoilers, let’s take a look at just how this game/experience works and how the simple addition of VR changed my perspective on the whole game (literally and figuratively).
I’m sure all of you are familiar with the term, if not then I’m sure you can guess what it is based on the name! The Midnight Sanctuary isn’t technically a ‘game’ as such. Unlike Punch Line or Death Mark, The Midnight Sanctuary is more akin to London Detective Mysteria as there are no multiple choices, no mini-game segments, no branches and no standard ‘gameplay’. You simply sit back and read along as the story unfolds in front of you. However, between segments, you can pick which locations you wish to visit, but that’s the extent of the interactions you’ll have. Fans of Visual Novels will be fine with this but newcomers to the genre may be left expecting more if I’m being honest.
Speaking of reading, The Midnight Sanctuary is in Japanese in terms of the audio with English and Japanese available for the subtitles. Again, this may be a crucial deciding factor on whether you buy it or not, but for me, it’s the norm. The voice acting, even though I don’t understand Japanese, is high quality and the actors play each part perfectly with the quirky and exaggerated tones they put on based upon how the characters are portrayed within the story. Also, after playing the whole game from beginning to end, I only spotted one spelling mistake which I took note of – which was part of a song towards the end of the game – it doubled up a letter within a word. So, not bad for a 4-5 hour visual novel.
My eyes! It’s so beautiful!
Okay, one of the things which will have stood out for you by now is how The Midnight Sanctuary looks! When playing the game in flat mode (non-VR), the game presents itself in fixed angles as you follow Hamomoru and her mysterious guide around the town while she talks to the people about what’s going on and their sordid history. However, once you don the headset (which can be turned on via the map screen at any time), you literally become the guide within the game. So, you’re now seeing each scene from the fixed position of where the guide is standing – if Hamomoru talks to the guide, she’ll turn and talk directly to you within this mode, which is kind of creepy and very immersive. However, you can’t technically move within VR, so if something is going on around you, you have to manually turn or use the Triangle button to readjust the centre-point of VR so you can easily turn and view the event.
Visually though, the game looks and feels so much better within VR. Outside of it, there is this very unusual art design in that certain parts of the game are literally transparent, things like the fires, villagers cloaks, steam, etc… You can see which elements these are in my images by the colourful patterns – they are all transparent elements. However, the colourful pattern you see is a static image in the background – so as these elements move, the pattern you see remains static if that makes sense? So, whilst in flat mode, some things can get a bit hard to see as the game is presented in fixed angles and there may be a few characters stood next to each other, so the transparent nature of their clothes will bleed into each other. It’s not hard to see what’s going on, it’s just a very strange artistic design which takes a while to get used to.
However, jump into VR and the whole thing becomes so much better in my opinion. Things are still transparent, but the ‘background image’, which was static in flat mode, is now locked to your viewable area. As such, as you move your head, the colourful image stays the same as it shines through the transparent elements, but as you move, the image does too – this creates a rather psychedelic and mesmerising array of colours as they seep through the clothes, fires, and various artefacts. It’s hard to explain, but if you have a PSVR device then I’d advise you to watch this visual novel with the use of the headset rather than in flat mode – even though both are great for understanding the whole story, I just think VR makes it a lot more immersive and visually stunning.
One of the things which really made me feel uneasy about the game, and almost think of it as a horror game, is the extremely creepy and surreal soundtrack. Whoever did the music for The Midnight Sanctuary is amazing. It’s played out as a very minimalistic soundtrack, yet it feels really creepy, uneasy, disturbing and mysterious. It really fits the tone of the game and helps to emphasise the scenes you’ll experience later on within the story as you begin to uncover things which you maybe shouldn’t have. As I mentioned above, the voice acting itself is really good as well – even if you can’t understand Japanese, you’ll certainly feel the emotion each actor portrays within their performance.
Without giving away too much of what’s happening, the game does contain death, including suicide and some horrific non-visual events (told about but not shown). So, if that sort of thing does affect you in any way – this is a caution. The whole experience was about 4-5 hours for me as I swapped between flat and VR modes to see how the game changed, and I loved every second of it. I can honestly see this working perfectly as a movie/anime (if it hasn’t been done already) as the tone and narrative are great. If you want to play a creepy game which isn’t full of blood, guts, jump scares, and frights – The Midnight Sanctuary could be for you.
Please don’t get put off by the chibi-looking big-headed characters and the rather simplistic environments within the images for The Midnight Sanctuary. It all acts as part of the visual design and works perfectly when experienced within the game. At first, I played about an hour upon release in flat mode and thought the story was interesting but I was finding it hard to truly get hooked, so I had to move onto another game for review. However, since the VR update, I decided to check it out whilst I was at my parents over Christmas and I couldn’t put it down until I’d finished the whole story – I was fully invested and loving the mixture of horror, thriller, suspense, and comedy.
I feel the lack of anything to do other than pressing Cross to move the story on, may put some people off as well. However, it’s a true visual novel in that the whole thing is basically a story and you’re just along for the ride (literally if you don the VR headset and get into the head of the guide). Also, there is no platinum but the trophy list is an easy 100% as all trophies unlock just by playing through the story and uncovering things about what’s going on (so don’t read the trophies before playing if you want to avoid spoilers – they are all hidden on PSN).
I’ve just realised that the game is also available in VR on Steam and in flat mode on both Steam and the Nintendo Switch, so there is no excuse not to try it out – unless if you only own an Xbox One, as it doesn’t appear to be on there. Also, if you’re reading this before the 18th Jan, The Midnight Sanctuary is on sale via each digital platform. I would highly advise you to play the game via VR if you have the device, otherwise, it’s still more than accessible, albeit a little less ‘interactive’ and immersive.
The Midnight Sanctuary is a hidden gem from 2018 which deserves a lot more credit than it got. Upon launch, the game was a treat to play with its eerie setting and uneasy atmosphere, yet the free PSVR patch added a whole new perspective to the story as you get up close and personal with the big-headed protagonist and relive her tale as her guide to the village. The game itself isn’t horrific, terrifying, or scary but it will leave you feeling a bit freaked out and disturbed as you uncover more about the village you’re currently residing within. Visually, it may look simple, but in motion, the game looks a lot more colourful and psychedelic, VR mode emphasises this and turns the whole thing into a visual treat for your eyes!
If you like visual novels and would like a 4-5 hour story which isn’t like anything else which came out in 2018, then you can’t really go wrong with The Midnight Sanctuary.
The Midnight Sanctuary£7.99
- - Really interesting story and narrative
- - Perfect mix of comedy, thriller and horror
- - Visually simple yet very pleasing to look at
- - PSVR/PCVR modes look great and fully immerse you in the story
- - The music and voice acting are spot on!
- - Pure Visual Novel (no interactions other than choosing your location). This may put some people off
- - Only Japanese voices (may also put some people off)
- - Can get a little confusing at times, or at least a few scenes did for me
- - No camera rotation in VR, so looking around is manual body movements only