I tend to be a voracious consumer of visual novels and a sucker for anything with mystery and/or horror elements to it. So when Miniature Garden came in as a review copy, I was curious enough to take it. Let’s see how this game fared.
The story takes place in the eponymous Miniature Garden school, which holds a Miniature Festival every three years. It initially unfolds like a typical high school story, with the students excitedly preparing for the festival and gossiping about the rumors surrounding it and the school’s “seven mysteries”. One of those rumors involve students disappearing and dead bodies turning up after the festival. Naturally with rumors like those things are bound to take a different turn, and they do when a group of students become trapped in the school and unable to leave. A mysterious new student appears and informs them that if they do not escape from the school by midnight, they will all die.
There’s lots of twists along the way that keep the suspense going, and while the characters initially seem like high school anime stereotypes, there’s more to them (and the school) than it seems on the surface. Since the game takes place in the span of one day/night, the latter is accomplished by revealing backstories rather than showing development through present events (though some of that does also take place). For the most part this works fine within the timeline and context of the game, though the protagonist, Yasunari, is left underdeveloped. While he has a defined personality and face in official art, the latter is not shown much in-game. Still, the other characters take up more of the spotlight. There were some typos (e.g. “I use to have one”, “I came to in an empty scool bathed in the evening glow”, “At out own pace”, more than one instance of “burried” instead of “buried”). While these didn’t affect the readability of the text, they were still noticeable, and another round of proofreading might’ve caught these.
There’s a bit of horror, but they’re on the light side compared to the likes of Corpse Party (though arguably a lot of things are). Still, things do get intense at some points, and while there’s not that much blood (other than some splatters) and no outright gore shown, there are descriptions of death and suicide. The game is smaller in scope in comparison to other games featuring being trapped in a school and trying to find a way to escape like Dangan Ronpa and Corpse Party (and yes I’m aware the latter is not a straight visual novel), or if you’re including escape scenarios outside of a school setting, the Zero Escape series. So while you’re not getting as robust an experience with this game, it’s akin to a lighter snack if you want something with less of a time commitment.
In keeping with the seven mysteries theme, there are seven endings, including one for each heroine. You can basically play them in any order, though I’d suggest at least saving Rio’s ending for last. Some endings reveal different pieces of information. Some endings feel abrupt and made me think “wait, that’s it?” when the game revealed the name of the ending before putting me back on the title screen. As you can imagine, using a guide greatly increases the expediency in getting every ending since some of them differ by one choice, and there’s not a lot of clues as to what choices get you what ending (choices you previously picked are not marked). Even after getting all the endings, some things don’t quite feel adequately explained or fleshed out, though there is a sort of sense of closure (or at least an attempt at it) about the characters’ fates and the mysteries behind the school.
The art is nice to look at, though once I noticed the characters’ bangs cut off at their eyes (compare when their eyes are open and when they’re closed), I couldn’t stop seeing it. To be fair, that’s far from unique to this game, and it’s a small nitpick and doesn’t take away from the overall aesthetic of the art style. The background music fits the scenes they play in, but outside of the context of the game they’re bland enough that I can’t recall any one track off the top of my head after I stopped playing. The opening and ending vocal tracks are nice to listen to, and the opening animation accompanying the former complements the song well. There’s full voice acting for everyone except Yasunari, which didn’t surprise me given how prevalent an unvoiced protagonist seems to be in games.
The extras menu includes the standard CG gallery along with some unused voice clips (which are not translated). You can only listen to the opening and ending songs, not the BGMs that play throughout the game, which is an odd omission. The title screen even changes after you unlock all the endings, which was a nice little touch. There’s not much reason to go back to the game after unlocking all the endings, and the game is on the short side (it took me 8 hours to get all the endings, though I fast forwarded through text I’d already read after the first playthrough). It was enjoyable while it lasted, but this was a short one as far as visual novels go.
Short Attention Span Summary:
Miniature Garden is an enjoyable mystery (with light horror elements) visual novel. The art style is visually appealing, and the soundtrack is aurally pleasant, especially the opening and closing vocal tracks. There are seven endings, which provides a reason to read through more than once. However, it is still on the short side, so if you’re on the fence I’d recommend waiting for a sale.