By Tyler Trosper / May 19th, 2017
|Release Date||March 30th, 2017|
Beginning Miniature Garden, the plot felt very familiar to other visual novels I’ve read. Every three years at the school of Miniature Garden, the Miniature Festival is held. Rumors spread of deaths and mysterious incidents around this time. The main character, Igusa Yasunari, and three other students suddenly get trapped in the school on the day of the festival. Nobody is around to help them, all doors are locked, and they can’t remember how they came to be in this predicament. The setting sun is their only guide in an empty, locked school.
If anything, the premise reminded me of Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni mixed with the ominous isolation of Cross Channel. Miniature Garden offers up a variety of mysteries that keep the player guessing what exactly is going on. Depending on the route you take, though, different mysteries will be answered. Multiple playthroughs are a must, and since the game can be beaten in less than 15 hours, completing multiple routes isn’t too time-consuming. Upon learning the game only has seven endings, I immediately wondered if that would tie-in with the school’s seven mysteries, but some of the endings can be as short as being killed in a game over, so the number seems more of a coincidence than anything.
The mystery in Miniature Garden is complimented by several layers. Many elements are mixed together, such as the supernatural and conspiracy theories. Throw in psychological twists and turns, and you have a lot going on in such a short game. Depending on the decisions you’ve made, Miniature Garden’s story can come across more supernatural, psychological, or more based in reality, and I really enjoyed it for such variety. Some of the answers to the secrets feel a bit too ludicrous, but the story overall is very engaging.
The cast of Miniature Garden is incredibly small, consisting of only four characters, but it works for the game’s length. The main character, Yasunari, is likable as a protagonist, leaning more towards being a sarcastic and snarky kind of guy. The other characters fall into the typical anime tropes, such as the childhood friend, Sakura Ayana, or the bubbly airhead, Shibaya Sumika. However, as you pursue each of their routes, details about their pasts help elevate them beyond their stereotypical roots. You also have characters like Orimoto Itsuki, the only other male character in the game, who comes across as a friendly guy but grows more and more mysterious as the story goes on. Thankfully, with a game containing such a small cast, each character gets their fair share of the spotlight.
As mentioned earlier, Miniature Garden feels like a completely different story depending on your choices, and that actually reflects the characters in the game. For example, Komiya Rio, the quiet and mysterious transfer student, is a very logical person. Pursuing her route leads to a more grounded story. Sumika is a fan of the school’s seven mysteries, so her story comes across as more supernatural. I really enjoyed this dynamic, though it can be more subtle for the other characters.
The translation of Miniature Garden is actually quite good. Fruitbat Factory crafted a very smooth and charismatic script for the game. Typos and grammar issues are very rare, which would have stood out like a sore thumb in such a short game. However, my only real complaint against the translation is some of the references thrown about. Of course, mentioning the manga GTO: Great Teacher Onizuka in one scene seems okay, but Ayana asking Yasunori about whether he prefers George Carlin or Eddie Izzard broke me from the game’s story. These kinds of moments happen more than once, ranging from referencing Kill Bill to Jason Voorhees of Friday the 13th fame. With the George Carlin and Eddie Izzard scene, you can obviously tell that Ayana was referencing something else since it was voiced, but the other scenes were not. However, that doesn’t make the references any less awkward. As a localization, I understand some things probably need to be changed for a Western audience to understand, such as references to literature and movies. However, I still felt jarred or even laughed unintentionally whenever these references were made. It almost felt like I was playing an old Working Designs game.
The artwork in Miniature Garden is a mixed bag. The sprites and CG scenes are detailed and well done. However, the main issue comes from the game’s backgrounds. Many scenes within the school of Miniature Garden are detailed, bathed in a beautiful orange of the setting sun. However, some classrooms and other backgrounds near the end lose this level of detail. The lack of quality is jarring, and it looks like a completely different artist took over. For a visual novel, this lack of visual cohesion is truly disappointing.
The majority of Miniature Garden’s soundtrack focuses on the use of piano, which fits the game very well. With a change in tempo, the piano pieces easily shift the mood from nostalgia to creepy unease. Other tracks not using piano were usually pretty tranquil.With a small cast of characters, I almost didn’t expect the game to have voice acting, but each of the main four students is voiced in Japanese. The acting is very good, matching each of the character’s personalities. However, without going into details, some routes introduce minor characters outside the four students, and these characters are not voiced at all. These moments are very few, but it was still disappointing to not have the entire game voiced.
For the price of $19.99 on Steam, buying Miniature Garden might seem steep since the game can be beaten in less than 15 hours. However, factoring in multiple playthroughs, the price ultimately justifies itself. Miniature Garden starts off as a cross between Higurashi and Cross Channel but evolves into its own identity. At times, developer Muzintou seemed to be running out of a budget with the low-quality background artwork and lack of voice acting outside the four main characters, but those instances are thankfully very few. The translation is popping with character, even if the references to American pop culture feel awkward and unnecessary. In the end, if you are interested in investing in a mystery full of conspiracy, psychological, and supernatural elements, Miniature Garden is the visual novel for you.
A copy of the game was provided by the publisher.
All AgesFruitbat FactoryMiniature GardenMysteryPCSteamvisual novel