Game: “SENSEs: Midnight”
The second game I reviewed after coming back on staff at VGamingNews was 2.5D 90’s-inspired survival-horror, Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story by Suzaku. While the game had its problems, the roster of antagonists was interesting and the setting showed definite promise, so I jumped at the chance to play SENSEs: Midnight, Suzaku’s follow up title. Sadly, it didn’t take me long to realise that there was very little to connect the two games, and that almost everything I enjoyed about the debut entry was absent from the sequel.
At A Glance
|+ 90’s survival-horror nostalgia
+ Group-chat concept adds context and interaction
+ Graciously short runtime
|– Painfully slow & completely lacking atmosphere
– Repeated camera cuts are incredibly disorientating
– Yet another questionable portrayal of a female protagonist
|Price (When Reviewed)
|3 hours 30 minutes
The plot is a trope-ridden teen-horror affair that centres around the young female protagonist Uesugi Kaho. The year is 2084 and, egged on by her occult-obsessed friends, Kaho breaks into the abandoned Ikebukuro public park in order to try out a ritual from an old wives’ tale. The story says that a young woman once hung herself in the restrooms of the park and that someone posted pictures of her body online; her vengeful spirit then exacted revenge on the perpetrator, along with anyone else who knocks on the door of the bathroom at exactly midnight – leading to it being dubbed ‘The Midnight Door’. Whilst sceptical, Kaho completes the ritual as her friends look on via a livestream, unleashing the spirit of the centipede woman, Okiku, who stalks her around the abandoned park.
Suzaku have banished the 2.5 dimensional style from their debut game and have replaced it with a ‘more modern’ 3D depiction that allows free roaming. It’s not entirely more modern though, as the developer has opted for a retro-inspired aesthetic – and by that I mean “the 3D graphics look old”. The comic book style art direction that allowed the Chong Sing apartments to be depicted in relative detail in A Cyberpunk Ghost Story is long gone, and the models and textures in SENSEs: Midnight aren’t nearly as effective, despite hitting their PS3-inspired brief on the nose.
The one visual area that has been given a spit and polish is the character model for Kaho, which is sadly in keeping with my main critique from the original game. Kaho totters around Ikebukuro Park in a skimpy outfit and is depicted as being foolishly busty, just as Mei-Lin had been in A Cyberpunk Ghost Story. Despite being a horror game, there has been no effort put into animations to add emotion to her face, but time has been taken to ensure that her breasts heave up and down with every step she takes, of course. Kaho is regularly inferred to be a beautiful but clumsy young woman who can hardly take care of herself, and it’s infuriating that we’re continuing to portray women in such a negative light in 2022.
Perhaps this portrayal wouldn’t be quite so hard to swallow if there was any meaningful substance to the rest of the game, but sadly, this is not the case at all. While Suzaku have opted to take on a number of survival-horror staples from the 1990s like fixed camera angles, limited inventory space and quirky puzzle-solving, the way the features have been implemented leaves a lot to be desired.
The fixed camera shots worked in Resident Evil because they could build tension around blind corners and give a cinematic look to tight and oppressive areas. Ikebukuro Park, while tiny in comparison to the maps in most modern games, is too large to carry this off, and the number and frequency of the camera cuts makes it impossible to understand how areas fit together, or even where you’re going most of the time. The camera gives perspective to where Kaho is headed in maybe 10% of shots, and the rest of the time you’re wandering around, unable to see where you’re going or what’s around you. I flatout missed two important areas for well over an hour because I didn’t know they existed – I quite simply couldn’t tell there were further areas to explore due to the camera angle. You are able to change to the first-person camera mode to look around which might help you navigate, but with the mechanic entirely surplus to the gameplay, I completely forgot that it was there for most of the game.
I’m not going to crap on the puzzle-solving in SENSEs: Midnight, as it’s no more silly than the ridiculous hoops that the Resident Evil series has made us jump through over the years (though making a molotov cocktail out of a beer might have set a new low). Genuinely ridiculous though is the limited inventory, which for SENSEs: Midnight is set at a laughably low four items. Passed off as “well women do have tiny handbags” (sigh), you’re routinely forced to put items back on the ground -and remember where you put them!- because your little backpack is filled to the brim with two different types of coins, a dirty rag and a cog.
Aside from Okiku who was at least a little disconcerting, the enemies that stalk you through the park make up a who’s who of tired spirit-tropes – a disembodied spectre, a will ‘o’ the wisp energy ball and a collection of ghost hands that reach out and grab you. The ghosts are simple green outlines that I found almost impossible to see, and that might have been a problem had they been designed with any sort of threat level at all. As it happens, all of the enemies -including the big bad Okiku- can be avoided with a simple side-step throughout the entirety of the game. The tragic disenfranchised spirits (or Shinrei Shashin) that you can photograph return from the first game, but like everything else, aren’t implemented half as well as the first time and go completely ignored.
If you get tired of the ghosts ineffectively chasing you around then you can make use of the game’s stealth mechanics to try and shake them off. This involves running to a hide spot which are highlighted by glowing moths (for some reason), where you can play a droll mini-game to try and keep yourself calm until the ghost gets bored and wanders off. There’s no need to break line of sight or get a solid distance from the spook before you can hide from them – they’re literally so stupid that they can’t see you squat down in a crowd of glowing moths, holding your hand over your mouth no more than six inches in front of them…
While the story itself is well-worn, straight-to-VCR stuff (yep, not even straight-to-DVD), I have to say that I do like the way that it’s delivered. While Kaho is exploring the park alone, she is able to interact with her friends through a group chat on her phone that will regularly pop up on the left of the screen. There’s a myriad of people in the chat who each offer their own opinions and outlooks – some are trying to be helpful while others are just being goofy or shooting off insults. This allows Suzaku to add narration to the events of the game with some context, and while it’s not perfect, it’s an interesting concept that I could see utilised elsewhere to great effect.
SENSEs: Midnight manages to take all of the ingredients that made 1990s survival-horror games fun and bake them into a hellish experience with few redeeming features. There’s zero atmosphere to accompany you as you (slowly) backtrack across Ikebukuro Park, avoiding bland, almost-invisible enemies as you go. With a protagonist who is entirely inanimate except for her breasts, dizzying camera angles and a complete lack of quality gameplay, SENSEs: Midnight should stand as a warning of what not to do for developers looking to capture 90’s survival-horror nostalgia. This is a huge step back from an opening title that, while flawed, at least showed some promise.
In the interest of full disclosure, VGamingNews was provided with a copy of the game in order to conduct this review.