Midnight’s Blessing 2 Review
Children of the Trite
Do you ever wonder what went into making those great, classic JRPGs of yore? Think just how many hours it took to make those 8- and 16-bit sprite graphics look so good, how much thought went into balancing the game so that leveling up is satisfying without making the game trivial, how much effort went into designing AI that made combat feel challenging and strategic without being cheap.
I’ve been thinking a lot about these things recently, because with a game as dismal and dreary as Midnight’s Blessing 2, not only do you need to fill up your vacant mind with something, but you also constantly find yourself asking: how can a game that is superficially so similar to those great old games be so incredibly bad?
Midnight’s Blessing 2
Developer: Warfare Studios
Publisher: Aldorlea Games
Release: January 21, 2017
Intel i5-4440 @ 3.10GHz
Zotac GeForce GTX 980 Ti AMP! Extreme
For the eternity playing Midnight’s Blessing 2 felt like, I tried to figure out what it reminded me of. As alienating as the game is, there was something eerily familiar about it, like someone who reminds you of an old friend that you can’t stand anymore. Only now I realize: Midnight’s Blessing 2 feels like one of those games that annoying kids would shit out over a weekend when the original RPG Maker first came out. Everything about it, from the mechanics to the menus, feels like the default option in any shitty make-your-first-game program ever made. The main difference is, Midnight’s Blessing 2 has the sheer gall to sell itself to you for 8 friggin’ dollars.
It is at this point I would like to remind you that Downwell came out on Steam for 3$.
Let’s get this out of the way: yes, there is a first Midnight’s Blessing, and in my damnable stupidity, I decided to try and play it for the sake of this review. MB tells the story of… oh god… Sidni Larkhearst, a young girl who spends her life working for her mother in a remote postal office. One day, Sidni finds out that she is being hunted by none other than vampire lord Dracula – yes, the Dracula – for some reasons, and must now flee her home and embark on a quest to vanquish her pursuer.
Mechanically, MB and MB2 are the same game. Combat is turn-based, and in classic JRPG fashion, each character can elect to attack, use a special ability (‘talent’, a word which can only appear in a game like this with the greatest irony), defend, or use an item. Characters can equip weapons and armor, use accessories (“buttons”), and of course, learn more special abilities. Outside of combat, exploration takes place from a top-down point of view, with your party free to explore various locations and talk to NPCs. The main difference between MB1-2 and most classic JRPGs is that instead of enemy encounters that occur randomly as you explore the map, monsters are visibly out and about, and fights only start when you run into one, kinda like – heh – kinda like Chrono Trigger!
There’s also the minor issue that Midnight’s Blessing’s combat is mind-numbingly boring. Most fights involve you hammering the confirm button as fast as you can until everything on screen is dead. Sometimes, in boss fights instead of hammering the confirm button, you will first scroll down and then hit confirm twice to get your character to use a talent which is, for all intents and purposes, exactly like a regular attack – including the chance that it’ll miss! – but has a slightly fancier animation and does more damage. Oh, and you’ll use healing items every now and then I guess.
“It’s amazing how there is not a single, not a single original idea to be found in Midnight’s Blessing 2. Everything about it… is brazenly generic, as if the entire game is a declaration of open revolt against the very concept of having thoughts of one’s own.”
But boring combat I can handle. Hell, I love the first Mass Effect. It’s more that combat is a microcosm of everything wrong with Midnight’s Blessing 2. The first thing you’ll notice on your first encounter is the distinct lack of fanfare in animations. When your characters attack the enemy, they only make the most cursory of movements, with melee attacks usually indicated by your character approaching the enemy, a slashy animation appearing above its head, and then walking back. Upon victory, a rousing tune is heard as your party just… turns towards the camera. No, really. No fist in the air, no swinging one’s sword about, not even a single movement. One moment they all face left, the other they face you as if to ask, in their gibbering stupidity: was that good? Did you like that? Are you having fun?
I was not.
Another thing you’ll notice is the sound design. The music itself is actually not terrible, and some of the recordings are impressively professional in both performance and recording quality. What ruins even the best tunes, though, is the awkward way in which they loop. Like all game music, at some point parts will repeat if, say, a fight goes on for a long time; that’s unavoidable, and a lot of game soundtracks are designed to be listenable even through repetition. In Midnight’s Blessing 2, however, loops are incredibly obvious, shuffling haphazardly from a later section to an earlier one with nary a transition, sometimes seemingly mid-beat, if not mid-note. Often the looping is so bad that there will be a split second of silence between loops, making the seams even more visible.
Where combat makes the most precise statement about the game at large, though, is monster design, or rather, the distinct lack of it. I mentioned already that MB2 feels like a game designed by children, but here’s the thing about children: they have an imagination. My nephews make more interesting things casually playing with some Lego than anything I’ve seen in this game. Monsters are either animals, creatures from mythology and folklore, or JRPG clichés like predatory flowers. Even in the realm of stock monster galleries, Midnight’s Blessing 2 manages to distinguish itself with its simplistic, boring art design, to the point where on some screens, it’s hard to even tell the monsters from the background elements.
It’s amazing how there is not a single, not a single original idea to be found in Midnight’s Blessing 2. Everything about it, from its gameplay to the plot, complete with the young person discovering that they are meant for greatness and a mealy-mouthed, hand-wringing commentary on racism – which sees Sidni both telling humans that it is wrong to be racist against all monsters as well as lecturing “monster extremists” about how they’re just as bad as the racists – is brazenly generic, as if the entire game is a declaration of open revolt against the very concept of having thoughts of one’s own.
There are even things called Chickaboos and Cactuars in this game, for fuck’s sake. There’s a sidequest called The Wild Hunt!
This is a series where one of the main antagonists is god-damn Dracula!
I mean, we all know Dracula was invented by Koji Igarashi, right? [Jeditor’s Note: Dank meme alert!]
Not content with offending just your eyes and brain, Midnight’s Blessing 2 then proceeds to assault your sense of humor with a never-ending string of the most awful, cringe-worthy, dad-tier jokes. A feeling of dread immediately came over me in the very first minute of the game, where Sidni is asked about another character and then off-handedly mentions how we are considering giving him a spin-off where he fights “low-lifes”, with a second joke immediately delivered by asking if that’s the correct plural of “low-life”. (it’s low-lives. I know this and English is my second language.) It is then you realize that this game will never just stop, and indeed, it never does.
You can read a joke about a flavour text writers’ strike (a joke that Family Guy did better in 2005), a joke about the pointlessness of collecting Assyrian literature because no one speaks that language anymore (there are currently 3.3 million Assyrians living worldwide, and they have faced campaigns of persecution as recently as Al-Anfal in the late 80s), and of course, the last refuge of the terrible developer – self-referential humor about how certain things in the game are stupid or lazy. At one point a character explains not falling down by saying that making a laying down sprite is “a huge pain”.
Remember, this game costs 8$.
That’s almost three copies of Downwell.
Thing is, if the game didn’t constantly try to be obnoxiously quirky-funny, its writing could have had some impact. One of the game’s subplots deals with the trauma Sidni’s suffered from the events of the last game, the mental and emotional scar left on a teenager whose world one day falls apart and who then must fight an irredeemable evil that could consume everything they love. It’s a really interesting angle for an RPG sequel, one that I don’t remember having ever been sufficiently explored before.
There are conversations between characters that show how close these friends have become due to their shared experiences, how, even after years apart, they can still confide in one another. The best part of the game is a dream sequence which, unlike the rest of the game, features full – and good! – voice acting, where we realize just how much pain and self-doubt still linger in Sidni’s mind. It makes the point that hardship does not end the moment a hero emerges victorious, that the scars of past struggles are real and enduring.
And then someone makes a joke about catgirls, and all the potential that was built up is squandered.
There are side quests in this game, and boy did I avoid them like the plague. There’s one fetch quest – no, literally, one guy asks if you want a fetch quest and then gives you a fetch quest – where you have to collect 37 coins from all over the world, and it was immediately clear to me that I was going to do exactly none of that. Luckily, I couldn’t do it, either, because whenever you try to hand the quest-giver the first coin that’s found right next to him, the game freezes.
There’s also a sidequest where you have to solve five riddles. In one of them the answer is the letter M, but instead of giving you choices, the game has you input the full answer yourself. Here are answers the game did not accept: “m”, “M”, “The letter M”, “The letter m”, “The Letter M”, “The Letter m”. The answer it did accept: “letter M”.
Also, I’m pretty sure one of the side-characters is supposed to be Madea. So that’s good.
Midnight’s Blessing 2 is a puzzlingly bad game. Whenever I played it, my face was fixed with a bewildered stare that refused to go away for hours after shutting the game down. It’s so superficially similar to so many great games that it really makes you think about all the elements that go into making a collection of mechanics and surface-level ideas into something great, and it’s almost fascinating how people could be so obviously familiar with those games, and yet so incapable of absorbing any of their deeper elements, even through sheer osmosis.
If you’re tempted to get Midnight’s Blessing 2 because you really want to play a JRPG, I would recommend that you go play literally any SNES or Genesis JRPG, even if you’ve played them all dozens of times. Hell, just play Breath of Fire, no one’s ever played that one.
If you’re tempted to get Midnight’s Blessing 2 because you think it’ll be fun to laugh at how bad it is, don’t. It’s dire. There’s no entertainment to be had from its failings.
And if you’re tempted to get Midnight’s Blessing 2 because you just have to spend some money… just buy Downwell instead.
Ojiro Fumoto deserves that money.