Miniature Garden is a Visual Novel centered around 5 students and their struggles against the school’s festival, that has long been the birth point of many a gruesome rumor. We play as Yasunari, a serious and slightly cynical teenager whom is also the only main character without a voice actor. Not one to believe in the supernatural he one day spots a silver haired girl who seems to be absentmindedly staring at nothing in particular. Before he knows it, she is gone and despite himself goes through quite a bit of effort to ask if anyone knows her. On the day of the dreaded festival, a friend calls him out to a rather desolate place and what happens next kicks off the whole story.
It all sounds like your rather typical plot so far but after having suddenly awakened in the school which is now empty besides the presence of his childhood friend Ayana and a younger student that goes by Sumika, things quickly get far beyond our understanding. They soon realize that there is no escape from the school that they had known for so long and try to find any way possible to leave it. If you’ve ever played Corpse Party, this may be ringing a few bells though that is where the similarities end. This is not a horror game but a mystery one. Most of your time will be spent just as confused as your character trying to piece the plot together with little clue as to who or what is your enemy, though that is not to say this title doesn’t have its fair share of disturbing scenes.
As the story progresses, you will have multiple occasions where you must make a choice and even a seemingly mundane conversation can have far greater influence than you may realize. There are 7 endings overall and even if you get murdered, Miniature Garden is a title meant to be played various times to get the complete picture of what in the world is happening in that school. Most characters, on the other hand, you can tell what they are up to as soon as they open their mouth. They are not necessarily bad but they are either pretty generic like the innocent childhood friend or easy to read like your best friend Itsuki. That’s not to say they are incapable of surprising you, you can clearly see their intentions but the “why” remains a mystery.
While you do play for the majority of the time as the protagonist Yasunari, we will at times witness events from the perspective of another character to bring more clarity to the situation. I will not spoil what that is though I will say it is very interesting and something I am still thinking about. It is all rooted in reality but when Miniature Garden pulls off something supernatural it feels quite out of place. Again, this would lead to spoilers if I mention the event but I feel the game would have been better off without the supernatural aspect needlessly muddling up an otherwise great story. Overall it lasted me a bit over 7 hours my first time through and I clocked in a tad under 10 hours going through all the endings.
There is no one true ending, instead, each of them branches off into completely different outcomes whether it ends in you dying or something more sinister. This is a pretty grim visual novel and while it does lack gore, it nonetheless is pretty effective at creeping you the heck out. Your character is no fighter, if you get yourself in a situation you can’t talk your way out of, something bad is likely to happen. The environments you’ll be exploring are perfectly normal school classrooms and hallways, there is not much to say about them as the focus is on the characters as well as the overarching plot. As previously mentioned, this is not a horror game nor will it scare you in any way but it does delve into rather dark themes and can get disturbing as all sin.
Miniature Garden runs at a 1280x720p resolution which is a 16:9 format so no letterboxing here. There is one odd issue where random dialogue letters blend into the background. It happens very rarely and is by no means a great issue though it is worth mentioning. Other than that, it ran perfectly well and the translation was great. Music was good across the board, fitting the situation perfectly without being intrusive. Finishing the game to 100% unlocks an “extras” menu where you can listen to unused voiced dialogue, watch the opening theme and listen to the ending song at any time. With all said and done, Miniature Garden is a good visual novel to consider for fans of the genre and one that explores an interesting moral dilemma that really gets one thinking if it is worth the payoff.
[Review copy was provided]