Category: Mystery, Horror, Supernatural, Romance
Official Site: http://darknights-time.weebly.com/
Available at: Itch.io
What it is (from the official site)
You live in a small, peaceful village. Every day is the same as any other; boring. Right when you wish for something exciting to happen, strange things start to occur, stemming from the nearby forest. If that isn’t enough, the locals have begun disappearing. At the same time you meet four mysterious guys. Will you discover the truth before becoming the next target?
The developer, Pinlin, reached out to me last year about their new game. Dark Nights is a passion project that took a whopping six years in development with Pinlin as the only one who worked on this in all those years. Talk about dedication!
Dark Nights is a name-your-price indie game that you can get on their Itch.io website. It is a medium-length game with each route spanning over 5-7 hours. I thought it’s an interesting game based on the visuals and its premise so I thought why not give it a try.
May contain spoilers so proceed with caution!
Why I love it ♡(｡- ω -)
The art is, hands down, the best part of the game. It is glorious. The character design, backgrounds, CGs — everything looks amazing. No one would have guessed that it is from a one-person dev.
Dark Nights is about a girl who tries to investigate the mysteries surrounding her village. I liked the idea of mixing supernatural and sci-fi (sort of) to understand the happenings in the game. It is interesting, what’s with the mysterious killings, sudden disappearances, and the arrival of mysterious people in such a small town. All of these will be answered as you go along the routes.
There are three endings available — Romance, Normal, and Death. While the Death end is pretty explanatory, there are different plot lines for normal and romance routes. But my favorite, or at least the route that I always end up liking, are normal ends. Especially Sachiro’s and Zeikun’s. I’m surprised how I liked the normal routes better than the romance ones. These ends/routes have nicer pacing and character change. Miyoko grows and learns from her mistakes which makes her succeeding actions believable as it is in line with her maturity. The events forced her to change her mindset and view on things, as well as improving her relationships with the people around her.
Having said that, I feel like the normal ends have better build up in terms of romance. The chemistry is set up nicely. This may also be because of the emotional growth that the characters have to go through here that I didn’t really see in the romance routes.
Also, there are some scenes that feel so off in the romance route but makes more sense in the normal and, sometimes, in death end too. For instance, the hot spring scene in Zeikun’s romance route. The hunters find Zeikun’s lair, and Miyoko goes to find and warn him, only to find him taking a bath. It is a tense and urgent moment because they are at the risk of being caught. But when Miyoko finds Zeikun, the scene turns into a romantic scene that left me disappointed instead. After that kind of build-up, the story just transitioned to a lovey-dovey scene? The same thing happened in one scene where the zombies manage to get inside the house. Miyoko runs outside, only to come back and get an umbrella to protect herself THEN run for reals. 😫 I understand the sentiment. Of course, you’d need something to protect yourself. But isn’t the first instinct is to just run? Maybe find a weapon on the way? Both examples work out just fine in the normal and death ends which is why normal routes seem fuller in both stories and characters.
Just when I thought that no guy would appeal to me, Junoru’s route happened, specifically the romance one. There are still some clunky pacing, but unlike the other romance ends, Miyoko seems a lot nicer here. Despite retaining her usual curiosity, she isn’t trying to be the spunky heroine she’s been pushing in the other routes. She’s pretty much as mild-mannered as Junoru.
The gameplay is just like any other VNs, but on some parts, the game used timed-choices. I have a deep hatred of timed-choices so I groaned when I first encountered one. While I never really tried what happens when you let the time run out — I’m guessing it’s a bad end, but I liked how the choices increase the urgency of the scene.
Surprisingly, none of the main characters appeal to me. I blame the writing for that. But I liked the side characters, especially the ones that are heavily involved in the plot. They have something that the main characters lack (or not enough) – goal and fundamental change in character. They work hard in getting what they want even if it’s just maintaining the status quo which proves to be a hard thing to do in these times. And even in their short screen time, they manage to show their growth, whether positive or negative. Take Roya for example, he starts off as the pampered rich kid. Through the experiences he has, he becomes vengeful but he turns out to be someone who protects those important to him. There’s also Kaichi and Blace who have intriguing character arcs too. It’s such a shame that these side characters don’t have their own routes.
The music is just as lovely as the art. Like the rest of the game, it’s not perfect as there are times when the bgms are placed on some awkward scenes. But these pieces are good and fit the atmosphere of the game, most of the time.
What didn’t work (¯ . ¯٥)
Dark Nights is a hit or miss. Sadly, it’s a miss for me. I want to like this so bad. Believe me, I’ve tried. I think completing the game, finishing all ends, and getting all achievements are enough proof of me trying. But not even great art can save a game with this writing. As I’ve mentioned above, the idea is interesting. It’s just that the execution, the way it is written, falls flat. This is the biggest reason why I’m not raving about the game. I see visual novels as part visuals and part writing. Even with the visuals, there are some things that you can’t show through sprites and CGs. That’s where the writing takes place. This completes the entire picture, the whole scene. It shows the internal turmoil the characters are going through, that way the players empathize with them.
But the game is composed of short sentences. I get it, most players these days don’t like walls and walls of text. I don’t either. These short sentences only work on the action scenes, the parts where you need to keep the momentum going. And it works well on those events. For the most part, though, it doesn’t. Some scenes, big scenes, need fuller descriptions. Big scenes as in the scenes where there is emotional maturity between the characters involved. For instance, the scenes where the guys tell about their deep secrets or pasts to Miyoko. These are big scenes because it shows that they have already built trust with each other. That there is progress in their relationship. This is probably the reason why I didn’t really feel anything about the supposed romance scenes (and lol, I don’t mean that in r18 way). The guy spilled his deep dark secret, and then I am told of her feelings. Then the story moves on.
The fast-pacing sacrificed the immersion in the story. I don’t want to just be told of the story. I want to empathize with the characters, feel their grief, and celebrate with them. I want to see how they’re feeling or processing things. With short sentences, I’m not able to get that. There is a difference between saying “I’m sad” and “It was as if my heart shattered hearing the news, but here I am, scrambling to keep it together.” Lol, okay lousy example, but I hope you get my point.
The prologue is weak. In retrospect, it’s good to have a short common route. It tries to set up the story and characters, but it’s too short. I forgot it even existed. It isn’t that important to me, but I imagine that it is for others. I mean, why would someone sit through a long game such as this if the prologue doesn’t capture their interest when there’s a lot of series out there competing for their time?
While playing, I was wondering if the prologue could have been about Miyoko getting attacked by the zombies. It would establish quite a bit of story, like the mood (there’s already tension, action, and mystery right there) and the external and internal goal of the MC. External being satisfying her curiosity and helping the village (<– I didn’t really buy this reason of hers in the story), while the internal goal could be not wanting anyone, her friends for example, to experience what she has experienced.
The first thing that I noticed is the time and place. There isn’t an exact date noted at the beginning so I just assumed that the story is set in the modern times, judging from the house and clothing design. But I was thrown off when the MC read the newspaper. There is nothing wrong with teens reading newspapers, mind you. It’s just that I thought smartphones would be preferred over that. Then I read somewhere that it’s the 90s or before and got even more confused. I’m not sure if cellphones are a thing back then (I’m pretty sure pagers and letters are) or even equal rights between men and women. So I just categorized this as alternate universe lol.
With the given premise and that kind of summary, I expected something fast-paced with an eerie atmosphere. Well, I got the fast-paced part and not so much of the eerie atmosphere. I almost forgot the mystery part because the characters lack the urgency needed. They’re too lax, as though there is nothing ominous happening in their area. The setting actually reminds me of Persona 4 — a small town with mysterious happenings. But in P4, while the people continue their lives, you can feel that they are wary of their surroundings. Not here. Heck, Miyoko doesn’t even seem alarmed and vigilant. The vibe the story gives off resembles more of a slice of life than an action/mystery.
Interesting lore and intriguing mysteries all go to waste because the MC tries hard to be the cool and spunky girl. Sometimes even rude like when she’s talking to her seniors. (I swear, I rolled my eyes every time she kabedon someone, and it happens in every route except Junoru. In some parts, she comes off as a bully, like pushing a shota Kaichi to the floor, because she is towering over someone weak at the moment.) Maybe that’s not the idea when she is conceptualized. But she comes off like that. And I’ll never know more about her because I can barely read her thoughts and feelings or even fears. Despite spending hours with her, I don’t know her — her needs, wants, quirks, motivation etc. She just sort of fades in the background as the plot takes over. It’s as if nothing can faze her. And we both know that that is just not possible.
It is even harder to sympathize with her because I don’t see the effects of the events on her. I mentioned that I liked the normal routes because she changes from reactive to active character. You can see how much she changed, like that change in goal in Sachiro’s route.
Her friend said that she isn’t taking the happenings seriously. And that’s true. But instead of making her a great character, that only shows how smug and complacent she is. There are also some choices she made that made me 🤔, but I’ve already mentioned that above. In Junoru’s route, she also gets mad for people breaking her house (that’s actually trespassing even if they are in the police force) but does the same in Junoru’s house.
But I guess, the biggest thing the irked me is when she tried to blackmail Kurato with his secrets. Girl, that’s a betrayal of trust! He bared his dark past, and she used it against him to get what she wanted. No. Just no.
As the main character, it is important for me to like her. I don’t mean to self-insert because I’m too old for that. But liking her enough to join her in her adventure and the rollercoaster of emotions that she would go through. With her personality for the most part of the story, I just can’t like her. Quoting a friend of mine about strong heroines in the media, “The trend of spitfire “strong” heroines seriously needs to go. You can be strong without being rude.”
This won’t come off as a surprise but none of the guys really appealed to me as I’m more interested in knowing more about the side-characters. Zeikun, though, is missing for like half of his route. If the side characters are more interesting than the main ones, then we have a problem.
Other side characters
Namely, Rasumi. Given the rich background of just about everyone, I expected something profound about her. But I got none. It’s like she is evil just to create a contrast to the stereotypical supernatural being. I often wonder what she hoped to get after everything.
This is for… (✯◡✯)
Beginner to VN/People who like picking up pieces of information throughout the gameplay
While I didn’t like Dark Nights as much as I wanted to, I would be lenient to this because this is a solo project. The game isn’t so bad all things considered, but the writing could use some more work as it is the main reason why I would stick to anything.
I played this in the following order: Sachiro -> Zeikun -> Kurato -> Junoru, and this is a good order.
Or if you want to follow the recommended route: (from itch.io page)
There isn’t an official order, because each route is puzzle piece of the whole. Although, some routes are more connected than others. Like Zeikun and Sachiro. If you are going to play all routes anyway, I suggest to start off with Zeikun or Sachiro as an introduction to the story. Kurato and Junoru routes are more plot heavy so I’d do them as last.
If you enjoy keeping hooked on mysteries I suggest this order: Sachiro> Zeikun> Kurato > Junoru. To understand hints given in other routes I suggest this order: Kurato > Zeikun > Sachiro or Junoru. After reaching any normal/romantic ending of other characters, it unlocks an extra scene at the ending of Kurato.