SENSEs: Midnight is the first in an anthology of prequels related to that other game, starring Mei. You play Kaho Uesugi – an occult researcher who investigates ‘the Midnight Door’ in a future Ikebukuro Park, chock-full of yokai and subtle hints of neon.
Kaho is a bit of a guinea pig as it’s only her that enters the park – of course, at night – but she has her friends on call, offering advice via a chat window. How brave they are. Soon, things get a little messy, and it becomes clear that she might have bitten off more than she can chew.
With a default 1280×720 resolution, my expectations weren’t high, but graphics aren’t the be-all and end-all. In SENSEs: Midnight, the presentation is a vast improvement on SENSE: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story, depending on how you weigh up pixel art and 3D. Playing in 1440p was great. What a contrast to the earlier game!
The fixed camera angles/cinematic rigs are a little like the original Resident Evil 2 or the newer Heaven Dust 2 and add to the atmosphere/tension as you can’t always see the way ahead. You’ll guide Kaho through Ikebukuro park, viewing her almost as a voyeur from a distance, hiding behind a bush, other times, as if directing a low-budget horror film.
As a character, she’s quite the blank canvas – both in terms of development and appearance. Again, the transition to 3D personally worked for me, but she’s a little bland, and considering the things that go on in the park… she’s a little indifferent with her expressions. Still, gamers are so demanding; the real issue with Kaho chan is how bloody sluggish she can be.
As a third-person experience, you control her using the WASD keys – W propelling her forward into the darkness, the shift key adding a little more oomph. The sprint option in SENSEs: Midnight is much needed. Firstly, you have to backtrack quite a lot if you want to unlock everything, which can be arduous. Secondly, and more importantly, this is a survival horror, and you’ll need to outrun (or outsmart) your pursuers.
Initially, there’s not much going on other than the chat window, but once you unlock Pandora’s Box, a plethora of yokai are unleashed and will chase you around the park. Most of the time you can find a hiding spot and play a little QTE to control your breathing, a.k.a. fear, but in other situations, you have to treat them like crocodiles and run away from them in zig zags. It’s pretty weird, and it took me a couple of attempts to realise this.
There isn’t any health in the game – stand still for a bit, and everything will be fine. However, Kaho only takes a few hits until death. One bonus about the deaths in SENSEs: Midnight is the unique death scenes. A bit like Manhunt, but without all the weapons. Essentially, you’ll be solving some pretty easy puzzles but locating lots of hidden items through exploration and camera work.
Without any real hand-holding, it’s not always clear what can be picked up unless you walk over and press ‘E’. One way to search for points of interest is through the first-person camera mode. It’s a little like Fatal Frame in that you search for spirits, take a pic, and then look through your journal, but you’ll see a slight glimmer of an object you might have missed. As a fan of the visuals and general ambience, this was a good addition to the game, though it would have been preferential to move the camera with the mouse and not exclusively WASD.
For the most part, SENSEs: Midnight is alright. It could have done with a deeper dive into Kaho’s character instead of introducing so many third parties through a chat window. That was offputting and hard to follow at times. Equally, Kaho could have got her bum in gear and run faster. Save often as it’s easy to die – especially if you don’t know where to go. Getting familiar with the layout is encouraged, as many of the game’s achievements are unlocked through the New Game+, so bear that in mind and don’t worry about finding all the gacha gacha coins in one go, as I attempted.
Also, don’t talk to me about the umbrella lady. I had to restart as I couldn’t get rid of her, despite following the instructions and dropping the cursed item where I found it. No more shall be said in fear of a spoiler.