Ballads at Midnight is a dark fantasy romance visual novel developed by indie studio, Synstoria. Follow, Abigail, a sarcastic bard after she is exiled to the castle of a blood-thirsty vampire. Completely at his mercy you must decide whether Abigail will escape her handsome, yet dangerous warden or fall for his charms…
Originally developed for the annual game jam, NaNoRenO 2022, this new updated release comes with a host of brand new features and improvements. Thanks to the Synstoria team I was able to check out the game ahead of it’s re-release, so here are my thoughts on the game!
When a sarcastic bard is arrested and exiled to an abandoned castle, she expected to be at the mercy of a hungry, blood-thirsty vampire. She soon discovers that the vampire, Lucius, is not starving: he is gravely bored. She may just survive on borrowed time, one ballad each midnight.Official Synopsis
A well-traveled and gifted bard. Abigail is quick-witted and quick to act, though not necessarily in that order. Sarcasm coats her words like calluses, formed through years of undergoing difficult journeys and indulging difficult people. While she has a strong sense of insight and genuine interest in others, she has a dogged impulse of announcing her observations. This is seldom appreciated, and at worst has led to face grave consequences.
Still, no one can deny that she has a flair and talent for entertainment. Not even a centuries-old vampire.
One’s first impression of Lucius is that he’s menacing at worst, and witheringly unyielding at best. However, his coarse exterior is a thin veil for his impressively dry wit – which he’s more than happy to reveal if he thinks his sense of humor will be heard. It’s rather hard to share one’s wit when your guests generally scream and run at the sight of you though.
Ballads at Midnight Review
Synstoria is a new indie studio, but one that definitely knows how to leave an impression. With their gorgeous visuals, strong female lead stories, and descriptive writing this team is a stand out among the slew of indie VN developers cropping up in recent years. I first stumbled upon the demo for upcoming a medieval otome/resource management game, Imperial Graces and I was blown away by their masterful storytelling and nuanced characters. So when I saw their NaNoRenO 2022 release, Ballads at Midnight, I knew I was in for a treat and I was not disappointed. While not complete at the time Ballads at Midnight was an absolute delight–especially the gorgeous art. But, there is much more to this game than just pretty visuals.
This updated version comes with some changes from the original NaNoRenO release, including a few more hours of gameplay and most notably a new secret end that reveals more about the world and the characters.
Follow the game’s heroine, a plucky spitfire named Abigail after she is exiled to the castle of a seemingly bored vampire. Rather than taking her life, Lucius offers her a surprising bargain–if she sings him one song a night for 100 nights, he will set her free. Suspicious, she reluctantly takes him up on his offer and so begins their nightly routine. Not one to take to captivity, the relationship between Abigail and Lucius is rocky at best, most of their conversations consisting of clever quips and lots of bickering (mostly instigated by Abigail).
Sis is not afraid to speak her mind, when faced with a blood-thirsty vampire who could easily take her life. Lucius for his part is intrigued by her seeming lack of fear and generally takes her sassy comments in stride. Lucius is charming and surprisingly sweet in his own way, unaccustomed to interacting with many people he sometimes comes off a bit awkward in his interactions with Abigail (which is absolutely adorable). There is a bit of tension, but their banter feels more like foreplay, I mean there is nothing sexier than a battle of wits, amiright? So, if you’re a fan of enemies to lovers tropes, you’ll love the chemistry between Abigail and Lucius. The build up is well done and regardless of whether you choose to stay or flee, you’ll definitely be satisfied with where these two characters end up at the end of the game.
But, what really sold me on Ballads at Midnight is the voice acting! I have said this before, voice acting can either make or break a game, and Synstoria picked a wonderful cast! Eric Navarro who voices Lucius is deliciously seductive in his line delivery and I just couldn’t help but melt at every word. While, Megan Youmans adds just the right amount of fire to her lines to make Abigail’s snappy dialogue work and the singing! There are a few songs in the game that are sung by the VA and y’all they are BEAUTIFUL! My only “complaint” is that the game is only partially voiced, so we are denied hearing these amazing performances throughout. But, that said what we do get is absolutely *chef’s kiss*!
Of course, I cannot talk about Ballads at Midnight without talking about the visuals. This game is gorgeous. From the sprite works to the interface to everything in between, Ballads is a feast for the eyes. Though, I particularly loved how the choices are staged next to Abigail’s sprite. Instead of having to guess which of the choice is the “best”, Synstoria has Abigail’s expression change to reflect the “tone” of each option. And rather than punishing you for choosing more sassy options the game encourages you to as sassy as your heart desires! Also there are little things like having Lucius’s sprite in shadows during day time interactions, while Abigail is generally positioned in better lit areas. It’s the little details that really make a game shine and Synstoria definitely knocked it out of the park.
The Verdict – Is Ballads at Midnight Worth Playing?
Absolutely yes! Ballads at Midnight is an impressive story with beautiful art. Synstoria has more than proven they have the chops to tell inventive stories that will captivate gamers, and I cannot recommend playing this game enough. If you love deep stories, plucky heroines, and deliciously descriptive writing, you do not want to miss out on this game!
Thank you to Synstoria for sending me an advanced copy of Ballads at Midnight for this review!