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Miniature Garden (PC) artwork

Miniature Garden (PC) review

"Murder and mystery await players of this visual novel. Can you escape the school with your life?"

Miniature Garden is a visual novel with horror and mystery elements. The player controls a young man named Yasunari Igusa who, along with his friends, tries to figure out why the lot of them are trapped in their school building. Something has clearly gone wrong, and the students are anxious to escape and find out why they were put in such a position. Seven endings are available, and each one reveals more of the full picture. A solid voice cast, an intriguing tale and lovely artwork ensured that even though I'm not the biggest fan of horror games, I was able to enjoy this particular title. I believe fans of the genre will, as well.

The school where the story takes place is called Miniature Garden. It's located in a secluded forest, far removed from the hustle and bustle of the nearby city. Perhaps that's why the school is the subject of numerous local rumors, collectively known as the "seven mysteries." Most of those rumors deal with death or disappearances. Yasunari doesn't believe in such things until he finds himself trapped on the property on the day of the Miniature Festival. Now he must confront those mysteries head-on in order to escape.

There is more to the story, of course, but further explanation would only spoil things. I will say, however, that the story didn't seem to know what it wanted to accomplish. Is it a high school murder mystery? Is it a ghost story? Is it the tale of a struggle against an evil corporation? In the end, it's all of those things at once, which leads to a rather muddled result. If you want to fully understand what's happening, you need to access all seven endings. Even then, some plot holes remain.

Miniature Garden (PC) image

Several characters recur throughout the story, and each one warrants a description of their own.

Yasunari is the main character, as mentioned above. At first, I worried he would be boring, due to his generally nonchalant attitude. Events do occur to explain that demeanor, though, and I never actually found him dull. He's a little quick to dismiss occult stuff, but he also functions nicely as the voice of reason who attempts to keep his friends from losing touch with their sanity.

Ayana is Yasunari's childhood friend, a familiar trope that in this case isn't annoying. The two characters share a tragic past that neither one of them can remember. Each relies on the other a great deal. Their relationship seems platonic, but one gets the sense that Ayana would date Yasunari, if given the chance. She doesn't display any jealousy or clinginess, thankfully. Her past unfolds over the course of the story, and the more she remembers, the more she starts to lose touch with reality.

Rio, a character with silver twin tails and red eyes that appears on the game's main menu screen, is special. She is surrounded by mystery, and seems to know a lot about the school, the Miniature Festival and pretty much everything else. Her tone is usually deadpan, and she seems emotionless in general. However, she actually is a kind person who acts as the group's voice of reason. She does keep everyone in the dark a bit, though, not wanting to share everything she knows out of fear the group will stop trusting her. When you get her ending, it wraps up a lot of mysteries. It is a sort of "true ending," but it was also my least favorite. There was a romantic element to it that felt inappropriate, given the nature of the story up to that point.

Miniature Garden (PC) image

Sumika is the comic relief character, and all-around genki girl. She's a first-year student, while everyone else is second-year, so she automatically looks up to them. She's funny, sweet, kind and also not very bright. A number of mysteries surround her, despite her apparent innocence, but I'll leave those for you to find on your own. Though I liked Sumika as a character, I wasn't too taken with her story.

As the other male in the group, Itsuki is a bit sarcastic. He's also clearly very smart, and helps to shine light on the school's seven mysteries. They seem to interest him more than they do the other characters. Itsuki wears a perpetual smile and remains unusually calm throughout the strange events. Though I liked his character and his role in the story, I also felt he was overly predictable. I could tell from just the first few scenes what sort of character he would be.

Miniature Garden takes place in Japan, but the localization occasionally includes Americanized dialogue that pulled me out of the experience. For instance, there is a reference to the American comedian, George Carlin. I imagine the original lines mentioned people or cultural traditions that wouldn't mean anything to western audiences, but such instances ruined the moment for me more than if I had simply been confused. Honorifics produce similar issues. Sumiki refers to everyone as "senpai," but the game doesn't handle that consistently. At one point, she called Rio "Komiya-senpai," but the voice actress clearly is saying "Rio-senpai," so I wasn't sure why the text and voice didn't match. Thankfully, such cases are uncommon, and I didn't notice many typos.

Miniature Garden (PC) image

On the subject of voice acting, I have to say I really loved the vocal work in this game. The actors had to communicate a range of emotions, from happiness to sadness and of course bouts with insanity. The talent really had to know what it was doing to portray some of the game's themes realistically, and to keep players locked into their seats. The actors who contributed to this project managed precisely that, and I found out after the fact that some of them have active careers in anime. Unfortunately, the background music doesn't fare quite as well as the voice work. It's not bad, but it's not memorable and sometimes is a bit repetitive. I spent a lot of time with its volume turned down from the default, so I could hear the voice actors more easily. However, I did enjoy the catchy opening and closing themes.

As far as the artwork goes, the game has nice presentation. Character models could be a bit better, but the CG scenes are lovely. Backgrounds are alright, though they often have a blur effect. There is no animation, but character portrait expressions and positions do change, depending on the dialogue and situation.

The gameplay itself is quite simple. You point and click with your mouse, or use the space bar to advance dialogue. If you prefer, you can instead set it to autoplay. Along the way, you'll have to make dialogue choices to push things toward the ending you're looking to achieve, but there aren't a lot of prompts and a lot of routes through the game share many of the same choices. There are three "good" endings for Ayana, Rio and Sumika, and four "bad" endings. A Skip feature lets you breeze through any text you've already seen, and a Backlog feature lets you revisit dialogue if you missed anything. There's also a Return feature. They're all options I consider a vital part of the genre. On top of that, you can use the Extra option after obtaining all seven endings, which lets you listen to the ending song at will, view the opening movie and listen to a few unused voice clips.

Overall, I don't regret playing through Miniature Garden. The story could have been a bit better, but I was okay with how it was presented. The artwork and voice acting helped make up for the holes in the plot, but I still don't like that some questions were left unanswered. Though the story features horror elements, I wasn't scared while playing, or creeped out or even particularly worried about the fate of the characters. I knew bad stuff would happen, I had a sense of the potential cause and I didn't feel a sense of dread. There were moments that did surprise me, but considering the price tag, I think the game could have done more. I do still recommend buying it, but you may want to wait until it goes on sale.


Usagi's avatar
Freelance review by Usagi Tsukino (April 25, 2017)

Read my reviews here or via Lunar Productions

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