As much as survival horror has evolved over the years, there’s still something about old-school fixed camera angles and tank controls that pull those nostalgia strings for me. It’s a style that is positively antiquated these days and incredibly difficult for more modern gamers to get into, but us oldies that grew up with the likes of Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Deep Fear, Dino Crisis, and the like will jump at any such title.
Which is why I was so excited about SENSEs: Midnight. As the follow up title to a 2D point and click adventure, the move to Survival Horror is a bit of a baffling choice, but a welcome one regardless.
The question is, will our anime waifu pull it off, or will you just be left pulling yourself off? [sorry – ed]
Many thanks to eastasiasoft for the review code.
Uesagi Kuho is a member of her school’s occult research group, and finds herself in the middle of the park investigating a phenomenon known as The Midnight Door. By performing a ritual, she hopes to open it with the hope of finding out what lies beyond.
This ample chested neon-cladded anime chick has been left alone by the remainder of her club, who are conveniently hiding behind the conversation of their chat group. Whilst being stranded alone doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, the use of the phone’s chat group to progress the narrative is particularly welcome. Unlike most other games in the genre, Kuho doesn’t mutter to herself about the significance of objects, instead relaying it back to her club for their thoughts. It may not be the easiest to read whilst you’re doing other stuff, but they also rarely appear in moments where you can’t stop for a bit to read. I quite like the modern variant of the classic radio chatter, and its a system that I hope future survival horror games start to use too.
The story itself is a simple tale of a group of youths getting thwarted by their own curiosity after unleashing a paranormal evil, and subsequently attempting to make it out alive. There’s little to the narrative, but given that the game takes place in a relatively small park area and lasts no longer than a few hours, the minimalism makes sense.
The game itself is inspired largely by the classic Resident Evil titles. With a fixed camera and tank controls, it should feel very familiar to those who grew up with the classic. A modern control option is available, but with the frequently changing camera angles, I found more awkward to use than the classic controls. Many times I found myself heading into a direction that didn’t line up with the angle that I was pressing. Thankfully tank controls functions as you would expect, so older gamers will likely be fine with those, at the very least.
Those familiar with the previous title are likely aware that SENSEs is based in an anime cyberpunk world, and Ikebukuro Park reflects that rather well with its ample use of neon lighting to offset the more concrete structures. It mostly works too, giving a rather dystopian feel to the technological future. Kuho’s outfit on the other hand feels a little heavy handed with the puffiness of the jacket only outdone by the puffiness of her cleavage; not to mention Kuho’s face having a rather unsettling doll-like look that makes her far creepier than the Yokai creatures that hunt her.
Speaking of which, combat in the game is entirely none existent with Kuho not making use of any weaponry at all. Instead, there are an increasing number of Yokai lurkers that roam around the park. Most of these are rather inconsequential and easily avoided, but the main one can annoyingly take you down in a single hit. The game does allow you to save at almost any point, however, so frequent saving should prevent the loss of any major amount of progress.
Enemies don’t appear particularly frequent, however, leaving you to deal with the puzzles that make up the rest of the game. It’s all rather standard fare, with code hunting, inventory puzzles, and some basic minigames making up the most of them. Inventory puzzles are the most interesting, but are spoiled by the lack of inventory space that Kuho has. With only four spaces (that even includes the gatcha coins you can collect), you’ll constantly find yourself out of space. Items can be dropped anywhere, much like Resident Evil 0, but there’s no map to help you find where you left stuff. Even worse is the ability to drop items in irretrievable places – an annoyance that forced me to restart after dumping a key item into a lake and being unable to get it back when I needed it…
The inventory system feels like a way to pad out what is otherwise quite a short game by forcing you to remember where you put items and be having to backtrack constantly. Kuho moves at a painfully slow speed too, even when holding down the ‘sprint’ button, which makes tedium set in long before you even reach the end.
SENSEs: Midnight has a promising premise, with some mostly pleasant visuals to back it up. A clunky inventory system and otherwise dull gameplay hold it back from reaching its full potential. Perhaps a more fully realised sequel will make this a franchise worth keeping an eye on.