It’s always good to see Kickstarter campaigns come to fruition – too often they end in failure or someone making a potato salad. Once in a while, a real gem falls out of the crowdfunding platform, and a game like Path of the Midnight Sun sees the light of day.
Originally slated for a 2020 release, the game is finally hitting Steam in early 2023. The wait has been well worth it, and Alfred Kamon’s game really is a joy to behold, and is both beautiful to look at and fantastic to listen to.
This is particularly important because Path of the Midnight Sun is a genre smash between a visual novel and JRPG, and is split between manga-style fully voiced story sections, combat-related tactical maps with chibi art, and standard JRPG-styled turn-based combat. What started out as a Fire Emblem mod and love letter to the genre has blossomed into a 25–30-hour adventure that puts a unique spin this style of gameplay. An adjunct it is no longer – Path of the Midnight Sun stands proudly as a top-tier JRPG in its own right.
First things first, the game looks stunning. A variety of art styles are used to great effect, and the game doesn’t go for the more pervy side of anime-style games, which is always a bonus. The only exception to this is the onsen scene about halfway through the game – credit where it’s due, this is well-flagged and entirely skippable for those who don’t want to see it, and allows you to see both the male and female sides of the scene. Both are tastefully done and cater to gamers of all orientations.
As to the story, the game initially looks par for the course as an anime princess fights a demon king – you know the drill. Path of the Midnight Sun doesn’t shy away from this trope; if anything, it leans into the tongue-and-cheek self-satire a little too hard. I counted no fewer than three ‘Excuse me, princess’ lines, where one character was trying to sass another. The first time made me laugh, the third time felt a little try-hard.
But for the most part, the game’s personality really is endearing. You mostly play as three different characters that form a six-person party. Each of these characters is unique and well-rounded, as are the relationships that you can foster between them. If you want the two princesses to unite their countries by falling in love, you can do that. If you want the Useless Knight (as one of the main characters is referred to) to just sass the hell out of everyone and make everyone hate him, more power to you. However, doing this will penalise you, as the negativity will start to affect his sanity.
Sanity is a mechanic that is both incredibly interesting and slightly underutilised. The idea is that in-game events — whether a fight with the Queen, killing your countrymen or simply skipping a meal — affect your characters’ mental health. This, in turn, affects their mana generation, which can make battles more difficult than they need to be, especially as mana pool drains resets at the start of combat. Unfortunately (or not, as the case may be), restoring sanity as part of your daily self-care routine is incredibly easy, and this penalty is almost never seen if you know what you’re doing.
What really adds tension to the game is its focus on time, with every action taking a predetermined amount of it. Everything is a race against the clock, from strolling around town buying weapons and armour, to battles along your way. If you take too long to take down the enemies between you and your goal, you’ll find yourself either annoying those you have a meeting with, affecting your sanity, or staring forlornly at the Game Over screen.
The weird thing though, given this focus on time, is that the pacing is a little hit and miss, especially around the 20-hour mark. It’s also weird that a big chunk of additional content – adjutants (soft party members who assist in battle once in a while) – are hidden in ‘Safe Areas’ of the tactical map. If you have no reason to seek safety because you’re crushing the enemies, you’re liable to miss out.
My only other gripe is a small one – there are a selection of graphical bugs that let the side down a little: missing stills on tutorial screens and adjutants missing from the menu screen, or duplicated in one instance. But this really is nit-picking; what solo developer Alfred Kamon has done over the past three years is nothing short of fantastic.