The Stroke of Midnight starts with an impromptu arrival at a mysterious castle. It’s dark, and the graphics are good, but the purpose of your being there is far from spelled out.
If you’re like me you’ll find yourself wanting to enter the castle door, but when knocks reveal nothing more than a line of text saying that the door is locked, you’ll finally give up and try something else. This is the overall pace of The Stroke of Midnight, and any progress you make is largely the result of trial and error exploration.
In this way, Namco‘s The Stroke of Midnight is somewhat like an RPG game. Mostly you’re left to your own devices to reveal clues, but as you progress the makings of a mystery are revealed in all their dramatic glory.
In the game you’re a struggling romance writer who stumbles onto a Victorian era love story. In order to uncover the details you must first venture into the garden where it’s your task to find a collection of items listed on the screen. Tapping on the actual item causes them to evaporate with a magic purple powder dust, but if you have trouble locating anything you can make it glow with a golden orb just by tapping on the name in the text list.
Before long you end up uncovering an etching with a found scarf, but initially figuring out exactly how anything works is actually quite difficult. There’s a zoom in/zoom out type pacing that lets you pick up items that have been outlined in gold, but beyond that you’re given little control over how things work. If you’re willing to deal with this initially though, over time you become accustomed to how the game is structured in the discovery process.
After you’ve revealed an etching you head back to the castle, match the engraving you found with an engraving on the door, and then enter the old castle. There you are presented with another challenge, and there’s no way around it. In a sense, this is the only problem with Stroke of Midnight. Lines of text cycle through if you can’t figure out what the game wants, and there’s little assistance for helping you through (except some puzzles have skip options).
If you’re patient and okay with getting lost in the experience as opposed to the how the game actually operates, you’re in for a treat. Instead of watching a character move through the space like most games, you see the setting as if you were looking through your own eyes. The graphics are absolutely beautiful, and the ratio of time you spend absorbing the scene is perfectly proportional to the amount of time you spend solving puzzles to progress.
You get about 20 minutes of solid gameplay before the game is locked by a purchase screen. After that it costs $4.99 to move forward, but the first dose of The Stroke of midnight is just telling enough to reveal whether or not the game is a must buy without revealing answers to the mystery itself.
Bottom Line: The Stroke of Midnight is an exploratory romance mystery meets ghost story, and the free 20 minute demo is worth trying out just to see whether you’ll get hooked.