Fires At Midnight

Fires At Midnight

Set in a “world where making love without being in love makes you spontaneously combust”, Fires At Midnight is an interactive visual novel that tells the story of two people trying to navigate their long-term relationship and regain intimacy. While the game doesn’t give any explanation on what causes people to burn while having intercourse without love apart from it being tagged as a recently emerged virus (“The Love Bug”), it’s safe to state that the whole narrative is centered around Yun and Chitra’s need to reaffirm their feelings toward each other.

The story is fairly linear and episodic, split in two major parts. In the first half of the game, you’ll get to experience Yun’s memories about various moments of their relationship from the past 4-5 years, each of these memories being triggered by clicking on specific icons on his computer or items on his PC desk. Some will require you to sit back, read the dialogues between him and Chitra and experience their adult and no-so-adult interactions, others will be presented as minigames in which you have to actively participate. We learn that Yun is an aspiring photographer who enjoys capturing real-life moments into pictures which he will ultimately want to use for a New Year’s gift for Chitra: a negative-photobook. Yun’s path ends with picking 3 out of 5 possible photos and in the second part of the story, you’ll be able to experience them from Chitra’s perspective, together with a few other events, in a similar mix of reading and minigames.

Fires At Midnight tackles problems that are often encountered in real life relationships. On the one hand we have Yun who is currently unemployed, struggling to find means to provide financial support to their relationship, thus bringing home girls for photoshoots with whom he interacts in a more or less flirty way, in order to spice up the sessions. He tries to find in himself the love for Chitra, while also being attracted to his photo subjects. On the other hand, we have Chitra who has to witness these sessions and who tries to fight off her jealousy. Like pretty much every other woman out there, she seeks confirmation of Yun’s love for her in all his actions and takes his every gesture as a test of love which he constantly fails, from her perspective. Chithra’s mind is full of inner demons, triggered either by thoughts of Yun’s unfaithfulness or by the fear of love, originating from a messed up childhood. You will get to experience them intimately, in their full disturbingness and horror.

On top of that, an extra layer is added to the story by a character-specific filter applied to the background which creates a very cool effect of seeing in the mind of the character (for example, mouseovering girls as Yun will see them partially undressed, while Cithra will see various monsters).

Fires At Midnight is a choice-heavy visual novel, yet none of the choices splits the narrative into different branches, apart from the final choice which triggers one of three main possible endings. Whatever you pick until then has an effect only on the subsequent visuals or reveals more details about the story, with the exception of one completely meaningless choice at the beginning of the game which will produce an alternate ending (a 4h one), regardless of what you pick otherwise. Therefore, in order to experience the game in its entirety, you will need 4 full playthroughs, with a minimum of two playthroughs if you want to experience from Chitra’s perspective all 5 of Yun’s stories. From the second playthrough on, skipping already seen scenes becomes possible by holding the spacebar, but because the visual novel is dense with interactions, this will not decrease the time needed for one playthrough by much. A full walkthrough and achievement guide can be consulted here.

Soon after I started my first playthrough I realized that no matter what I choose, the outcome will be a negative one. Yun keeps being inconsiderate of Chitra’s cheating-related incident from her childhood. Chitra’s small love gestures remain either unperceived by Yun and judging by the ending, they seem to not be born out of love, but perhaps out of routine? What appears to be a positive memory from Yun’s side is an episode of bottled up suffering from Chitra’s perspective. Regardless of the fact that their relationship began years ago, Yun and Chitra still keep a lot of intimate thoughts to each other: Yun’s collection of lewd pictures and his attraction to his models, Chitra always comparing Yun to his friend Richard and secretly thinking that she would be better off in a relationship with Richard. Therefore, don’t try to play this visual novel in order to find some answers to your own relationship questions. Its gripping and immersive story can easily make you identify with the couple, but if you take this piece of art as your own reality, it will only lead you into depression.

One of the main things I didn’t like about Fires At Midnight was the fact that the long-awaited happy ending never came. I kept hoping to get one even if it was obvious to me from the beginning that I wouldn’t, due to the dark nature of its storytelling. I craved for happy memories, seen from both Yun and Cithra’s perspectives, yet none came. I wanted to see not only their sadness and sorrow but also their bright and cheerful moments, yet none of this was shown, as if the developers specifically wanted to set the focus only to the negative aspects of Yun and Cithra’s relationship, portraying them from the start as being doomed.

The narrative is riveting, especially in Chitra’s part where things happen, but it also has some plot holes / inconsistencies if you play the game multiple times. The secondary characters don’t follow the same logic over multiple playthroughs, and there are several topics that remain unexplained. Regardless of that, Fires At Midnight remains a very good visual novel.

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