Sometimes, the paths we travel on take us to unexpected places. One could argue the same of visual novel/JRPG hybrid Path of the Midnight Sun: an indie title that initially began life as a romhack of Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones. A successful Kickstarter later, Path of the Midnight Sun has developed into a game of surprising complexity and depth that, in several respects, stands side by side with its FE storyline inspirations. I enjoyed my time with the game immensely during my nearly thirty-hour playthrough!
As so often is the case, our tale begins with a knight on a mission of great importance. Unfortunately for Sir Suzaku Ornieres, he’s also struck with mysterious amnesia. Still, blind priestess and apparent childhood friend Shiori quickly points him back in the right direction. Sixty years ago, the land experienced the devastating emergence of the Demon King, who was sealed away only through the efforts of a group of legendary heroes. Ever since, one person of incredible magic ability has been chosen as the Vassal, the living seal keeping the Demon King from returning. The current Vassal is the Princess Faratras of the kingdom of Hoikade, and Suzaku and Shiori must meet her by orders of their theocratic nation of Pylum to assess if the seal is still functioning.
You initially jump between playing as the often confused Suzaku or Faratras. However, what seem like typical days for them (with the amnesia caveat in Suzaku’s case) soon devolve as the plot progresses. First, an infamous cult called Amaranth arises. Then, as circumstances spiral out of control, Faratras must flee her homeland as a perceived traitor with the help of a mysterious young swordsman named Hellios. Under these conditions, she and Suzaku first meet. But, it is only a short time before a third kingdom called Magnolia gets involved in the complicated affair with the tactical princess Rya and her cheerful retainer Cristoph joining their ranks. Thus a new party of heroes forms, intent on keeping the Demon King from fully returning.
That summary is just the surface of Path of the Midnight Sun’s plot. It’s a lengthy story campaign with many twists and turns to keep players on their toes. I was pleasantly surprised to find out how fleshed-out and detailed the story is, and there is one particularly brilliant plot twist that I didn’t see coming at all. It isn’t exactly an unexpected tale from a fantasy JRPG, but it’s still genuinely engaging with likable characters at its core.
The gameplay in Path of the Midnight Sun splits between well-done visual novel scenes and more traditional RPG trappings, with just a dash of SRPG in the battle map presentation. In the VN segments, you progress through a scene until you reach dialogue choices for the character whose point of view you’re currently following. These choices not only help these segments with interactivity but can also impact how others might judge the character you’re playing in any given situation. There’s a relationship-building mechanic inherent in the game, with affection rising or lowering for a party member depending on what you say or do. On top of the affection meter, character sanity levels need consideration as they change depending on how you respond in a given scene. Sanity levels are especially critical in fights, as they can make things chaotic and unexpected should they become too low. Again, carefully considering how to respond to situations depending on who is around is crucial.
I found the relationship-building at play in Path of the Midnight Sun an enjoyable and well-implemented element. In my playthrough, the princesses Faratras and Rya developed a touching romance, and I opted for Suzaku to focus on finding himself. The relationships that grow with the characters (romantic, familial, or friendship) are excellently conveyed and help the cast stand out all the more, which is saying something, as this group is quite likable in general!
These VN segments of Path of the Midnight Sun are one of the only reliable ways to access the manual save function or even play around with your inventory in true JRPG fashion, and that depends on timing and circumstances. From the inventory menu, you can peruse items you have or food you’ve acquired. Eating certain favorite dishes can help boost sanity levels for party members. Hence, paying attention to food likes and dislikes in the viewable profiles is essential. You can also equip armor and weapons you’ve received, and eventually, you gain access to skill tree building: every party member has two skill tables you can strengthen and level when you have enough points.
A point-and-click interface comes up when exploring outside of the visual novel scenes, allowing you to interact with other characters or gain insight into points of interest. At these times, you can also visit shops, manually save, or play around with your inventory options. You can also participate in side-quests each chapter if you’ve got the time for them. These quests can net you further rewards and often have interesting stories attached to them. Eventually, a camp area gets established for your party, and you can talk to characters or visit shops that also allow you to craft items if you have the required materials. Eventually, the party befriends a rare, materialistic dwarven wolf called Luckos. You can pet Luckos at camp or donate money to him, and Luckos, in turn, might find a hidden treasure for you during the point-and-click portions.
Battle maps open up once you exit a town or camp, with your character traveling from one map point to another under an often stricter-than-needed time limit. You can also interact with certain spots on the map to get rewards. Unfortunately, enemy parties also populate these maps and often form roadblocks for our heroes. They might even come at you in multiple waves, meaning you might face fierce, prolonged fighting rounds.
Combat plays out as one might expect from a turn-based JRPG battle system. Your party of up to six faces off against a group of enemies or a single boss character, with everyone taking turns. When using magic-based abilities, you select the action you want a character to take, being mindful of your mana points. Mana starts low for every character but regenerates every turn, allowing you to perform potent moves later. Mana will go back to zero at the end of a fight. Updating skills both strengthens them and reduces their cost. You can also attack normally, defend, or use items. There’s a helpful adjutant system where certain characters join your party in a support capacity. You can have up to four adjutants during a fight. While they don’t participate directly in combat, they have helpful abilities that come into play as battle wages, such as healing, attacks, and buffing active combatants. It adds a further layer to combat and is an excellent boon. You’ll gain materials and gold alongside experience and skill points when you win battles.
The combat is pretty straightforward and rather polished, though I wish there were a way to retry fights if you do happen to get a game over instead of having to reload from a checkpoint or manual save that could be far earlier. Unfortunately, you can’t manually save at all during battle map runs. While the game does checkpoint save relatively often, I did run into two instances where I had to restart the game from a point annoyingly further in the past than I would’ve liked. A few more checkpoint saves at certain moments would alleviate that frustration altogether. Battle maps are also relatively large and offer quite a bit of optional content, but the restrictive time limits often placed on reaching your objectives meant forgoing several of them at times, which was a shame.
Path of the Midnight Sun is a gorgeous game with superb art direction. I love the character portraits’ detail and expressiveness, and the character and creature designs are spectacular! The VN illustrations are lovely to look at; though that quality is occasionally applied to fanservice, there are multiple options to skip the steamier fanservice hot springs illustrations should you prefer to do so. Live2D animation significantly keeps scenes from appearing too static, and the UI is sharp and easy to navigate.
The best way to play is using a mouse, but it is still relatively playable using a docked Steam Deck with a controller, as I did for this review, though that is not the optimal approach. The soundscape was phenomenal too. I love the sweeping orchestral scope of the soundtrack, and the voice acting is genuine and immensely high caliber. The story itself is enjoyable in terms of writing, but the expressive art, dynamic performances, and music help convey it efficiently.
I appreciate how the story so succinctly ties up its loose ends, and the epilogue makes the journey worth it. However, I did feel that the game’s pacing could drag on at specific points with several “fake out” endings, which are a storytelling mechanic I dislike. Honestly though? I forgot all about that minor frustration when I finally reached the proper conclusion because it was such an entertaining journey overall. Much heart and soul went into creating Path of the Midnight Sun, and that effort shows time and time again throughout the game. It’s worth tracking down and one I’ll fondly remember playing for a while yet.