Ballads at midnight | RPG Fan

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Sometimes our preconceptions can be completely off the mark. For example, mine with vampire stories: overall, I’ve never been the biggest fan. Much like main character Abigail in the short visual novel Ballads at midnight, I entered the game with preconceived notions of how things would play out based on the initial knowledge that the narrative somehow involved a vampire. However, as with Abigail and the vampire Lucius, given their first impressions upon meeting, my preconceptions of what the story would be like were pleasantly upended. In his heart, Ballads at midnight tells a surprisingly cohesive and engaging fantasy love tale.

Bard Abigail isn’t having a good time when the curtains open on this VN. Accused of a “heinous crime” against the crown of a realm known as Illuvia, she is taken to become the sacrifice of an exiled vampire. A supposedly monstrous and nightmarish creature if the stories she has heard are true. Facing certain death, our heroine refuses to become an easy meal for the supernatural entity even as she is thrown unceremoniously onto her domain. A chase ensues, culminating in a surprisingly civil argument where they strike a deal: if Abigail can provide something to the vampire Lucius in return, he swears to show her the way out without ending his life prematurely. As a bard, the only thing Abigail has to barter with is her music. As she shares this with Lucius, a kind of tentative bond begins to develop between the two as they realize there is more to each other than they initially believed. Of course, with this realization, other feelings might also blossom between them.

Abigail and Lucius have a captivating and evolving dynamic.

That’s pretty much the main plot point for Ballads at midnight, and delving deeper into what’s really going on would be a huge disservice since the script is compelling, offering both hidden depth and tenderly written romance. Originally an entry made in a month for NaNoRenO 2022 event as restartthis version of Ballads at midnight even includes a new ending that further fleshes out the world lore and character stories in fascinating ways, should you choose to pursue it. Although only lasting two to three hours per playthrough, this VN is a complete story experience with a very satisfying conclusion overall. Writers Wudgeous and Notafish have done an amazing job building the world, the two main characters, and their connection through vivid description and engaging dialogue. Rowanty’s script work is also impressive in this regard! The narrative is easily one of the game’s greatest strengths.

Ballads at midnight is very much a traditional text-based visual novel from start to finish, albeit on a smaller scale than some others, given that there are only two central characters and a relatively short playtime. Players progress through controller-friendly text with the press of a button, and sometimes have to respond to choices as Abigail to decide the direction of the plot. Ultimately, your decisions will help determine which ending you see in any given game. That’s basically all there is to it, but the dialogue choices and different paths to travel through the game help keep the story more interactive for players.

A screenshot of dialogue choices from Ballads at Midnight, allowing you to choose how to say goodnight.
Some of Abigail’s dialogue choices are quite witty!

Director and programmer Ayael designed Ballads at midnight‘s UI, and it’s actually one of the prettiest I’ve seen in a VN. It is very aesthetically suited to the tone of the game without looking cluttered or awkward. You can even choose to have a dyslexic-friendly font if that helps. Standard text and sound settings are provided for players to experiment with to their liking, such as the ability to skip text already read, view a history log, or even go back to the last line text if necessary. These features work alongside the ability to manually save at almost any time during playback. This is not surprising for those who are already familiar with VNs, but such options are always welcome. I guess the lack of a flowchart might make proofreading more tedious, but the title is so short, with two or three decisions at a time where you have to make them, so I don’t think that’s a huge hurdle of any way.

The amount of varnish that has entered Ballads at midnight is quite impressive, even on a small scale. The artwork has an overall cohesive feel that matches its fantasy roots quite well, the soundtrack is actually quite nice, and the partial voice acting of Abigail and Lucius is top notch. The script itself is error-free, thanks to the work of editor Jeneara. Atmospherically, the visuals and sound are excellent and very fitting for the title. Beyond the striking UI design, the background artwork and portraits of Abigail and Lucius are gorgeous. Arrapso did a fantastic job on the character sprites and backgrounds, and Luciam’s portrayal of a certain character matched the visual style of the rest of the game beautifully. The music was composed by Shar Joyner and suited the tone although the loops for the BGMs were short at certain scenes.

The game has partial voice acting with powerful and moving performances from Megan Youmans and Eric Navarro as Abigail and Lucius, respectively. In fact, I wish there were more spoken lines! Because Abigail is a bard, there are also two vocal songs in the soundtrack performed by Megan Youmans that are worth listening to: “Lute Heretic Song” and “Lute Lullaby”. Audio and vocal director Eliana Zebro wrote some great lyrics for them. There is an option to skip the songs if you wish, but you’d be remiss not to listen to them at least once! There is also a useful content warning at the start of the game that all potential players should heed.

A screenshot of the performance of a song from Ballads at Midnight.
As a bard, Abigail will perform songs for Lucius throughout the game.

There really isn’t much to complain about Ballads at midnight. It’s a complete and polished VN experience from start to finish. I guess it would have been nice to have more artwork in general, but that’s largely because the artwork itself is so appropriate and expressive! Frankly? I would be really picky if I was looking for a few flaws. It’s a solid VN for fans of fantasy romance in particular. Other positives include that it doesn’t take an exceptionally long time to play and offers a surprising amount of content for the right price (since it’s free!). To be honest, I’m very impressed with this Synstoria release. If this is the level of quality they can produce in a month, I can’t wait to see what their next bigger VN is. imperial grace will be like! Ballads at midnight is the kind of song I could enjoy listening to over and over again.

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