Midnight Caravan is a visual novel and game of choices. While the overarching plot may be set in stone, you have agency in most of what you do. Your decisions are the deciding factor in the outcome of many encounters. As well as which doors might remain tightly shut, or wide open for you to enter.
Midnight Caravan has you play as a man who has been stripped of everything by a malignant and faceless figure known as Cassini. Years ago, your name and status came to ruin as you were framed for a crime that is never explicitly mentioned. Whatever it was, has forced you to go on the run. And you’ve been on the run for a long time. Long enough that you now find yourself as the master of the Midnight caravan, a traveling home to drinking, gambling, and harlotry to many patrons around Italy.
Make it Glorious
The caravan you run can be whatever you make it. Perhaps it will be a micro-dictatorship with you as its ruthless tyrant. Or you might create a safe haven for any in need of one. A home for outcasts and free thinkers, or a den of criminals and debauchery. You can prioritise the people who depend on you or keep coins at the forefront of your mind at all times.
The choices surrounding the caravan and your day to day life were easily the best part of the choice based gameplay. These choices mould the caravan and can hold all manner of possible benefits and pitfalls to your journey to find the man called Cassini. Some scenarios propose morals and honour and against making some money. Others might be strokes of misfortune that require you to weigh what resources you value more. Whether that be due to necessity or greed.
Whatever choice you make, should never be made lightly. It might affect a resource, add a useful item, or grant you a new trait. Each of these may prove invaluable as you progress through the story. However not every trait is welcome. For example, one of the first choices you make is where to set up the caravan. One option is to choose a secluded cave where you stashed some valuables while on the run. It increases your starting amount of coins. However it’s close vicinity to a malarial swamp means a decrease in health every turn.
However, not every choice has an immediate effect. At times you will encounter a scenario which bears unexpected fruit further down the line. Such as helping a group of beggars who in turn prove highly valuable to your hunt for Cassini. Sometimes what seems like the obvious choice can also lead to your downfall and the dreaded game over screen illustrating the one of three reasons you have failed to uncover the labyrinthian conspiracy surrounding you.
Health, Wealth, and Stealth
The three main reasons are your three vital stats. Your coins, your health and your suspicion level should all be monitored closely. Make the wrong choices and the story ends before you unveil the truth behind who Cassini is, and why they have ruined your life.
So clearly, the choices made through the campaign have far reaching benefits and consequences. They bleed into the main plot-line quite seamlessly. The people you befriend and items you amass can open up new dialogue options that progress the story in a manner most beneficial. The default route may see you lose a segment of health or put a dent into your coin purse. However, the alternate routes that are opened up through your many choices can create beneficial paths that are all reward and no punishment.
Though this does mean, that making the wrong choice way back when, can only send you to failure without fully understanding why. Such as one run where I was locked out of all options and promptly got killed. These moments can feel a tad unfair, and left me a little salty.
Let’s Try That Again
You’ll be replaying Midnight Caravan often if you’re anything like me. I couldn’t just let things go with me dead and the mystery unsolved. So of course, I dove straight back in. Doing so proved highly valuable. While the scenarios that crop up between the main plot are randomised, playing enough times means you’ll get a couple of familiar scenes. Knowing what benefits you can get out of each choice can be extremely useful to ensure a clean run. But it also showed me something I didn’t appreciate as much.
While those side scenarios affect the plot in many ways. The plot itself is really quite linear. Regardless of what choice you make, many times the outcome is the same. Often the only difference is what stat, if any, de- or increased. There were one or two occasions where an ally may be lost to me based on my choice. However, the main story often chugs along just fine without them.
Seeing as this is a visual novel, it’s understandable and acceptable. Yet, I couldn’t help but be disappointed by how linear it could be when I found myself playing through it so often. Especially when choices proved so important in the side stories.
Sights & Sounds
Midnight Caravan’s scenes and characters are illustrated quite well, and definitely add to the atmosphere and setting. It’s a story of intrigue, conspiracy and betrayal and the illustration oozes that fact. My only complaint was the amount of bare breasts littered throughout. Sure, its a caravan with sex workers on staff, but it still felt gratuitous. Every second woman you speak to is topless. Even when you’re having a private conversation where they ask for time off, or seek your help. Seeing as the caravan operates at night, don’t they get cold? A small complaint, but very noticeable.
Midnight Caravan also sports some great classical music to complement it. Strings, woodwinds and brass sections come together for a lovely symphony in its main and game menus. While the piano forms the backbone of the soundtrack when engaged in dialogue and choices. Overall the music fits really well with the kind of story you’re engaged in. And while there’s not a crazy amount of variety between the tracks. There’s enough complexity in each background song that it never felt repetitive. Even in my many playthroughs.
Excuse Me, There’s a Bug in My Game
Unfortunately the game has a few technical issues. I’ll recap the two I experienced. On one of my later playthroughs my suspicion level reached its limit and I was due to fail. But instead of the usual screen explaining why the game was over, it would just crash. This happened every time I tried, regardless of which choice I made.
The other bug was in the end of night recap screen. Here it summarises how much money, fame, health and suspicion you made or lost. If I decided to press the space bar instead of clicking my mouse, it would just add on to those amounts as if another night had passed. Essentially skipping a day each time. I could click this until I gained a certain amount of money. However, I would then not be able to progress the story, trapping me in an endless loop of pressing “continue”. I guess it’s what I get for trying to finesse some extra cash.
I also noticed a couple of grammatical errors here and there, such as using “him” where “he” would make more sense.
Midnight Caravan as a whole is an enjoyable visual novel that interweaves choices into a main plot that remains engaging all the way through. While not a perfect experience, you may just find yourself playing and replaying. It always keeps you coming back with its great dialogue and deep conspiracy.