Open letter to Lydia.
Contains spoilers about the entire game.
PS Sometimes during the review, we switched, and you could read some points in first person.
Let's hope everything's going well for development.
We are two partykillers who as players would like to review the first two chapters of this game.
We don't review Aria's Story (which has just 0 "story" - we're allowing ourselves to use such acidic tones because we've noticed that you want to do a reboot, and this would be a bad way to encourage you to work better on the script). There's a problem at the base: we don't understand how Lewin managed to write a story based on Aria's exploration, and especially to be there with her when Aria was behaving like a human being: in theory, according to logic, if Lewin doesn't write, Aria vanishes or she's standing still, no action has been written to her.
But leaving out Aria, let's talk about Midnight Train because we think this has more potential and that you own all the cards on the table to bring something fresh into the RPG Horror community.
We've had numerous changes in our expectations on this game.
At first the vibe suggests a more investigative title, with a quite narrow "field of action": focus on the events of a few characters and as the main place the train.
Ever read, for example, Murder on the Orient Express? We don't. Not yet.
But they made the film, the point is that in our opinion you could make much better use of a situation of perpetual suspense, claustrophobia and at the same time the idea of being trapped in a golden cage (we loved the train maps, indeed reminded us even titles like "Professor Layton and Pandora's Box", so congratulations on this ).
Instead we got nothing of this.
It has become a classic "adventure" plot with rather ragged maps, with the buildings to explore, many clichés of the case... I mean, some of the potential was already lost here.
In Rome it is said: "Mortacci tua", in these cases.
You made us think well to the end! The whole first cutscene in the train... Come on! :(
After that cutscene we immediately guessed and got most of the narrative dynamics:
-Meeting with co-protagonist (Neil) on the train
-The (false, at the end of the day) tension given by the limited time. We'll talk about this together with the interweaving-gameplay approach.
Diana's whole arc, from start to finish. Here, too, you will find an in-depth look when there are the various re-writing proposals.
It was the same for Apollo. Since his arc began, it's only been a little more to fall into the mundane.
Now let's do one thing: let's take a magnifying glass and look at some points up close.
Let's start with the characters.
Bland. Very bland, I'm sorry to be mean. I liked that she was a "beating", quite "violent", somewhat, very pretty peculiarity, if only she was not completely replaced by Apollo in the second chapter.
Otherwise she's a mute protagonist, but you could give her with details a personality that wasn't "foolishly good." For example, for some twist spree it would have been nice if she wrote things you didn't really think. She doesn't even have the limit of tone of voice: she doesn't speak, if she writes normally she can manipulate in his own way. I'm not saying she's supposed to be bad, but maybe do something where you have the best intentions in the world, but use the wrong means.
You could have used the notebook a lot: there could be many nice things!
For example, if you controlled it in some particular places, Luna would write updating the information as if it were a diary that she writes while exploring the buildings, maybe she would also make some drawings.
Another thing: since the notebook was Neil's, if you went far back with the pages you could see his notes on old cases that he tried to solve on his own.
Try to imagine it like this: why is she so protective?
It could have been that she had, in a bygone time, someone to protect, then that someone hurt themselves, maybe even died, and then in Neil she finds her need to protect, but never wanting to be more negligent, she begins to protect him even more morbid way compared to the one shown in the game; this would have been a "nice" defect.
We also have in mind her development between chapter two and chapter three, but there will be the whole part on the re-writing.
Pretty classic character. Boy with the dream in the drawer, but treated like a moron. And here we repeat: mortacci tua! We liked how it was shown on stage: he has a lot of doubts about his role in the world, actually, but that last CG in chapter two scared us.
He risks having a very obvious development: Apollo could teach him, in life and death, much more than the usual "I will free everyone".
He could mature in another way, but for this you will have to read the rewritten scenes.
He gave us a hard time. Was... Sorry to say, but misthought from the beginning.
Classic detached, difficult life, but it is motivated by the first two little guys who walk to him. But the thing that bothers us the most is that despite life in the street, he did not harden in the slightest negative: come on, the scene of self-defense was very forced on all fronts for a simple question related to realism: How did he just get up and fly that man across the gate?
This "sensitive heart" of the character is simply a cliché as old as the world, which for us never made sense and never will have. How is it possible that, for the life he has made, he always remains in him a pure and candid part that takes care of animals? We don't find it justified enough for the kind of life he has come to: how did he develop these principles so contrary to the context in which he found himself?
It could have been, perhaps, a little less "smug", presenting him less as the classic "cool" character and characterize it with more sincere extravagativeness. It would have made him a truly hateful character in the eyes of many players, and the suspicion of the protagonists would have been better justified.
Perhaps his development would have been better if treated more implicitly. He would keep his ideas, but he would have regained a shred of hope for Neil and Luna, since they proved strong, and he ends up estimating them, in a way, to consider them his peers and that minimum of hope leads him to death , as it was originally developed.
However, we would have preferred if this nascent hope had been more hidden, and not thrown out with a useless explanation.
Diana... No, we don't consider her at the moment. Also because for now we have not analyzed her enough nor did we have the necessary tools, but it seems a rather predictable character.
The problem is that it seems rather useless, as does the arc in which she appears.
We're sorry to say it so bluntly, but the gameplay it's not so new or revolutionary. Exploration and puzzles (including some quite random ones), with no mechanics or particular moment that wedges. Flat enough, we have to say.
The gameplay doesn't seem well related to the plot and context to which it belongs, but an accessory element, which is pretty serious, if you want to create a video game.
The last word was bolded because here comes a long enough speech: you think that RPG Maker is to create games, or an excuse to tell stories?
The audience, of course, is interested in a good storyline, but in a video game you also take care of the gameplay for a reason, which unfortunately in Midnight Train, Aria's Story and even other titles by other authors, seems very standardized, quite bare and little depths.
Since you've always taken Ib as a reference point, we tell you why in Ib this puzzle and exploration gameplay worked.
Everything was designed to give personality to the Gallery, almost to personify it in the figures of Mary and Guertena himself. Think of the painting of the ant, of the mouth, and of many works by the fictitious Spanish artist who remained in your heart, precisely because of the various puzzles connected to his works: you love the Gallery itself.
See the famous scene of the giant blue doll in the doll room, there is a construction of impressive suspense: the key is not found and you have to cut up rag dolls while one of them emerges from the light, accompanied by bells of death waiting only that the player fails. It was a random system among other things: where you had found the key once it was not said that you found it the second time.
In Midnight Train the whole gameplay could be concentrated on time.
Not on real time, it only gives the player unnecessary anxiety, but maybe you could have the interface of a clock, and the whole place was designed to waste time for those who found themselves in the various buildings.
For example you can decide, at a certain point, if you give yourself a tidy up in the mirror, and the curious player clicks "yes", but he is unaware that this will make him lose time, and therefore make him closer to the game over (which can also be a bad end, if desired). Obviously, to balance everything, even some main actions will waste time, and it will be more difficult to have it, therefore it is more difficult to continue the game, going ahead for the buildings, due to the increasingly high quantity of "ancillary actions", or by the fact that some useless actions can always masquerade more and more as main actions, making themselves almost unrecognizable.
The same relationship with Neil could have decided the player, talking more to him, but losing more time, or talking less to him for survival: if you do this second choice a whole friendship could have been sacrificed, and for this it would have been even more emphasized the bad situation in which the protagonists are.
PS: But the scene in which Neil and Luna find the watches is very beautiful, it made the atmosphere well and the music was apt. It is a pity that it is a dead tension on the spot as soon as the scene was over.
Main scenes and re-writing
Let's go back to the plot, the one you seem to focus on.
Starting already from the fact that I do not know how comfortable it can be for you to combine in a single plot is the "organization" factor (this reminds me a little of Detective Conan) and the supernatural factor. Above all the first is generally a very difficult element to manage, due to the semi-realism from which genre plots are surrounded (in general one always ends up talking about politics when there are). If you want advice from me: stop as long as you can, or better, develop only one of the two aspects better. If you are sure about what to do, it is not important. This counts as a recommendation, but if you should even have the slightest doubt and the meat put to cook should start to seem too much to manage, I advise you to give up one of the two roads.
Many of the aspects to comment on we have already done with the characters, so we will start with the proposals for re-writing the scenes. If we propose it is not that we think they are "better", we cannot have this presumption, but we consider them proposals to make the drama more alive.
It occurred to us as an alternative ending with Diana. If in the end he actually got on the train with Luna, a potential sequence of scenes filled with tension and discomfort would have been created, as a relationship to develop. Especially if Luna had on her conscience the abandonment or death of Neil.
The relationship between the two girls would have been a complex and interesting relationship.
“We have intelligence... Agility… And strength. If we combine our strengths, this will be very easy. Don't you want to show that train what we are capable of? I will accept this challenge with pleasure!"
"Sons of Gondor! Of Rohan! My brothers. I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of Men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day.
An hour of wolves and shattered shields when the Age of Men comes crashing down, but it is not this day!
This day we fight!”
-Quote from Aragorn... Sorry, Apollo. And we apologize to you too.
Was it needed? :C (You've already figured out the scene)
Please, it's very stupid! D:
Suggestions on how to make it, if it really had to be there: more discreet, meaningful phrases, Apollo spurred them on and it stopped there, in their exchanges of glances, continuing to work with the busts.
...However, another saying that is said in Italy is "volemose bene" (it means "useless" or "fake" love). Here, there is too much here, of useless love. The relationship between these three could be much more complicated, and developed as such. We had in mind a particular scene instead of Neil's Deduction, when he discovered the information about Apollo, so let's totally forgot this thing you created at this point, and let's go back a moment.
Here Apollo gets upset and begins to beat Neil (given the brute force that he so much boasted in the scene before), and at that point Neil has a collapse where he doesn't care about physical evil, but he keeps repeating "I'm sorry" until he shouts it to Apollo during an emotional breakdown.
Apollo takes Neil's tears like crocodile tears and causes him a hematoma. All three suffer in this scene.
Apollo: due to the frustration of being judged in that way, he could take it in feeling his life treated as a little game of logic.
Neil: both physically and psychologically, he is sincerely sorry for how he made Apollo feel.
Luna: while trying to separate them, desperate, also suffers on a psychological level.
In the end Apollo leaves, perhaps realizing he has exaggerated...
However his actions seemed justified to him: given also the past in the street, he thinks that violence is a good solution, and that his only mistake was just not having dosed it well.
Apollo dies as in the original screenplay, but Neil has a reason to become attached to him, and from there he decides not to take things lightly anymore, in an inner resolution.
Luna is much less sorry that Apollo died. She is still blinded by the suffering of when he had beaten Neil (considering the alternative version that we proposed to you of the character, it is also much more protective), and in fact for this a conflict is created between the two in chapter 3.
Neil, while putting himself in danger, always wants to follow his principles wanting to find more and more information about, perhaps, another person stuck in that structure that is even more dangerous than Apollo.
This is why Luna cannot take it any longer and writes to him, in anger, "All right, get yourself killed again" or something like that (from here we see that even Luna loses patience and has defects).
Throughout the chapter, therefore, the player goes between the points of view of the two, where Luna can no longer write anything in the notebook, and with her all the doors are open, so that she breaks them all, even to vent frustration.
Instead in Neil we see a real growth and awareness, and this can be seen through the deductions he can make to the survivor on duty: less spectacular, more sober, like a professional detective who has respect for the suffering of others.
END OF CHAPTER 3 (We have not investigated the actual plot, that's up to you to do it) - Return to the train
They both find themselves near the train and enter. Luna ignores him, and goes to the restaurant car. Neil joins her, wanting to clarify with her.
It is discovered that Luna harbored all this resentment because in reality she loved Neil too much to see him with the signs of the evil that Apollo had done to him (Here the hematoma occurs).
But in reality Neil had understood the message that Apollo wanted to give him, and soothes Luna saying that by now "that hematoma doesn't hurt", because that is exactly what made him open his eyes.
Luna, because of her past, even if with pain she accepts Neil's speech, remembering that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and that maybe she writes to you that thanks to him she remembered him again.
At the end of the clarification they embrace each other, CG with them out of focus and the page where Luna wrote that she remembered this concept, with the page moistened by her tear.
In all this, imagine scenes like this, or your favorite scenes if you don't like ours, with the sprite animations you can do.
Think of the characters as actors, to make the scenes memorable with all their movements, gestures, certain ways of doing that recall their characterization.
Indeed, use more sprites, so the bodies of the actors in space, compared to these goddamn CG as close-ups: a language excessively from anime that, we repeat, is to be banished according to our philosophy.
For us you are a very capable creator, Lydia, and with tidying up we think you could easily end up in the category of RPG games that we like to call "Masters", in fact.
Good luck with your next projects.