If there’s anything that Midnight School Walk achieves, it’s revealing the plight of the humble game translator. Thanks to Midnight School Walk, we wholly understand how difficult it must be to localise a game. That’s because Midnight School Walk isn’t actually localised. It’s been translated automatically through a conversion tool, and it’s something to behold.
We’re beginning to suspect that Microsoft doesn’t play games before they reach the Xbox store. Start up Midnight School Walk, and it is in Japanese as default. All the game options are in Kanji, as is the dialogue of this visual novel. You have to find the Game Options from the main menu (not the pause menu – it’s not there), and switch to English manually. Only then can you begin to see the mess you’ve purchased.
Dialogue in Midnight School Walk is almost impossible to parse. As you would expect from a horror story that’s been entirely Babelfished, it is possible to chain together ten dialogue boxes without a single one making a lick of sense. Here are a few examples for your delectation:
“There is a suspension bridge effect and the girl will be chilling at me.”
“It’s a gap moe.”
“Try to be a skeleton and talk like that.”
“We’re basically just throbbing.”
We can imagine a jobbing translator being given these lines as raw materials and constructing a fine dating sim-cum-horror novel out of it. But we’re being given this raw material without any finesse. This is an outright, utter mess, and Hautecouture Inc and Microsoft should take equal lumps of blame for thinking that this was worthy of release and £11.99 of your cash.
The result is that we stumbled, like a bewildered drunk, through the story of Midnight School Walk. We can make assumptions about what it’s about, in the same way that you can piece together what’s happening when watching a foreign horror movie with no subtitles on. People look scared, ghosts come and go, and youths look longingly in each other’s eyes.
We can say with confidence that this is the story of Haruko, a Media Studies student and aspiring director who is looking to bag some grades by filming a horror movie in an old, abandoned school. The problem is a lack of actors, but that problem soon becomes a non-problem, as four girls all inexplicably wander into his classroom, one at a time, each wanting to feature. Haruko gets his pick of who he brings to the school, and the ensuing haunting – the school has plenty of ghosts – is different depending on the girl that is chosen.
Beyond that, we have a bit of trouble. Roughly half of what’s said is a romance that’s been put through a blender. Haruko wonders whether he should hold girls’ hands, while the girls are varying degrees of coy and flirty. The other half of what’s said is ghost stories about what might be in the dark. Again, blended.
I’m still angry from my experience of playing Midnight School Walk. It’s the brazen laziness of dishing this up for western audiences that really rubs me up the wrong way. It’s not just reserved to the translation: we counted dozens of “<para = player>” tags left in the text, clearly a hangover from when you could choose the name of Haruko. But that capability isn’t here, so we’re left staring at the naked stump where a head should be.
Dialogue options don’t fit. You can be given a choice, but the text overflows and gets cut off, so you can’t actually decipher what you’re choosing. Character names eventually give up the ghost (hur hur) and revert to their Kanji, regardless of what language you chose. The main character’s name, at the top of his dialogue box, is ‘I’, as someone couldn’t even be bothered to find-replace for Hariko.
The lack of a translation, the code strings left in dialogue and – oh yes, we should mention – the continued typos and half-sentences, aren’t even the worst of it. Because Midnight School Walk is fundamentally broken.
You cannot save in Midnight School Walk. There’s a save screen, accessible by pressing Y on the gamepad, but you can’t actually do anything there. You can’t highlight a save file and dump your garbled playthrough within it. So, you’re left playing (and replaying) Midnight School Walk in one go.
A small redemption is that Midnight School Walk has Quick Resume functionality, so you can turn off your Xbox and pick up from where you left off. But let’s remember the game genre here: this is a visual novel, and its structure is built around dying and replaying to find the ‘true’ endings. In a game of this type, the pattern of play is to save before major decisions, so that you can return to the fork via a save file, and take a different path.
But nuh-uh, not here. You can’t play this way, as there’s no save file to return to. After every death, and there will be many (for the most mundane and innocuous things), you will have to play from the beginning. An RB skip function does help (in yet another feat of laziness, the controls aren’t featured anywhere, so you have to find this out for yourself), but you’re still spending valuable minutes returning to some of the game’s latter moments. That’s because there are umpteen choices that act as bumps in the skipping road: you have to activate your brain and make the choices that led you to your previous death.
It’s almost impossible to tell whether there’s a good game underneath Midnight School Walk. Our guess is that there probably isn’t. Its love of constant dead-ends would be slightly less frustrating in a game we understood, but they would still be frustrating. There’s enough misogyny bleeding through the dialogue to know that we’d also want to throttle Haruko, the main character. It seems he’s on the hunt for a wife who will look after him, give him some kids and take over the home, which is a culture shock on one hand, but also retrograde on the other.
The final nail in the coffin?: its Xbox achievements are all 6G and 8G. Unforgivable.
We’re still in shock, having finished Midnight School Walk more times than we’d care for. That’s not because it’s scary: oh no, this is about as horrific as watching scenes from Ringu out of order. We’re in shock because this is possibly the most insulting purchase we’ve made on the Xbox Store. This is a visual novel that’s untranslated as default, and is auto-converted into mangled English if you can find the option. It’s got no save function, and placeholder developer-code stares at you from the dialogue boxes.
Midnight School Walk is refund-worthy. We can’t underline it enough: this is a visual novel that should be avoided at all costs. Everyone involved can do better.
You can buy Midnight School Walk from the Xbox Store