Miniature Garden is a mystery visual novel from Muzintou. Even though there is an abundance of big exciting games releasing in 2017, this was one of my most anticipated titles for the year. Something about the visuals and premise really appealed to me. Furthermore, Fruitbat Factory has a history of putting plenty of effort into their localizations. In short, this certainly seemed like something I would enjoy.
Every few years, the school commonly known as Miniature Garden hosts a Miniature Festival. Rumor has it that someone always dies on the school’s grounds during the nights of these festivals. Naturally, the protagonist and his friends wake up in the empty school after the festival is over and find they can not open the exits.
Everyone claims that they felt like they were hit in the head before passing out, suggesting that there is an aggressor on the loose. Any one of them could be the culprit, and they all have unusual circumstance that make them suspcious. No one saw Rio prior to the day before the festival and she clearly knows more than she reveals. Ayana is missing her childhood memories and seems to have difficulty coping with current situation. Even the protagonist seems to hallucinate shortly after waking up, putting his credibility into question.
There are three main routes in this visual novel. One delves deeper into the seemingly unnatural events going on within the school. Another focuses on the unexpected truth behind everything. The third is more or less a rushed version of the truth-seeking one with more scenes featuring a different heroine. Each route still reveals the secrets behind the biggest mysteries, but aspects prominent in one seem inconsequential in others.
The biggest twist behind the situation feels somewhat brilliant when it is revealed. There are plenty of tricks in place to steer the reader’s predictions in the wrong direction, and the presence of these tricks even feeds into the narrative. However, in the routes where this secret matters, everything gets more and more absurd as the explanations go on.
While this story mostly focuses on it’s mysteries and horror, there are moments of levity as well. I never bursted out laughing, but the jokes all seemed to hit their mark. On the other hand, every character has some trauma in their backstory which inevitably comes up at some point. Being a horror mystery, a sense of impending doom is also important and the story does a great job of creating such an atmosphere. Furthermore, none of the endings in the game are entirely happy. As usual, this mixture of tones works well in this genre.
The translation is not entirely consistant. They included “senpai” in the text, which makes sense since its use comes up in conversation, but other honoriffics are not present. The nickname “Rio-chi” was changed to “Komi” which makes the decision to include “senpai” seem strange.
Many works of horror use Dutch angles to subtly give the impression that something is wrong. Many scenes in Miniature Garden are also askew, but here it feels as though this is just to show off how short the characters’ skirts are. These images come off as pandering rather than unsettling. Still, there is some blood visible, though the most gruesome scenes are not illustrated.
The cast in this visual novel have great facial expressions. You can always get a sense of everything you need to know about a character’s condition just by looking at them. The rest of their designs are not bad either, though there does not seem to be anything special about them.
The only special effect I noticed was screen shaking. This shaking was a bit unusual though. It ends just as abruptly as it beings, only lasting just long enough to be perceptible. This makes it exceptionally startling, which is a nice application of the effect.
At times, there is enough text in a statement to fill to the bottom line of the box. The UI bar gets in the way of these. Enough of the letters are still visible that I could read what the characters were saying without using the log, but it still looks sloppy.
One of Miniature Garden’s early tracks features a short repeating riff throughout the song. This is the only potentially annoying piece in the game and it only appears at the beginning of the story. Aside from this, the game has quite a few pleasant tracks with acoustic guitar, piano, and violin. Many of the rhythms and melodies create a sound that is catchier than it is atmospheric, suggesting that the music exists to entertain. Still, while these songs do not set the mood, they do at least fit within it. There are a few atmospheric tracks for the most suspenseful of scenes, but their appearances are surprisingly uncommon.
Every line from Itsuki and the three heroines are voiced in Japanese. However, the main protagonist’s lines do not have accompanying audio. Another character also shows up at the end of certain routes and her lines are silent as well. As for the voice acting itself, it is clear that the cast are professionals; every line sounds natural and conveys every nuance it should. However, this seems like a bit of waste. The script never sets up any scenes that benefit from great deliveries. Of course, quality work is hardly something to complain about. The story just does not rely on these performances.
Upon finishing the game, a bonus menu appears. This menu allows players to listen to unused voice data and the ending music as well as watch the opening video. However, the music did not play when I hit the button and I had the same problem with two of the lines.
As one would expect from a visual novel, most of the player’s time with Miniature Garden is spent reading while dialogue options occasionally pop up. These dialogue options lead to seven endings, though few actually affect which one you get.
The game also has the usual assortment of features such as auto-forward, text skip, and save anywhere systems. This auto-forward system lacks an option to wait for voices to finish, so I ended up manually advancing through text.
It is difficult to say whether or not I would recommend Miniature Garden. While I did enjoy it, I seem to have a complaint for nearly every aspect I would praise. The big reveal was great, but the truth behind everything became increasingly ridiculous as details emerged. The vocal cast put in quality performances, but the auto-forward function will not wait for them to finish. Every ending has some tragic consequences, but one of the routes was lackluster. Since I did enjoy my time with this visual novel, I would not try to persuade anyone not to buy it. On the other hand, it is not so great that I would recommend it to every fan of the genre. Overall, if it seems interesting to you, it is probably worth the purchase.