Kismet's Review of Ballads at Midnight


Opening scene of Ballads at Midnight

Images are from Ballads at Midnight by Synstoria


The main character of Ballads at Midnight is Abigail, a lovely sarcastic bard facing a dire predicament. Now I know some of you might be thinking: "Ugh, another bard cracking corny jokes?" But she's written believably as a fantasy character trying to make the best of a bad situation, and her humor is rooted in sarcasm, not bad puns. But it's also fair to say that I love bards in general, especially after playing my own bard, Daelric.

When the story opens, Abigail is being exiled on an island that's the territory of a vicious vampire. Apparently, this is how the kingdom deals with special cases, and as far as anyone knows, it's a one-way trip. Because there really is a vampire, and he'll kill you if he has to. But it turns out that he'd rather not. He has so few guests on his island, after all. He's tall, dark, and handsome, and in case I haven't made it clear before, I'm a fan of vampires. (My first tabletop RPG was Vampire: the Masquerade.) And he hasn't lost his own sense of humor yet, which means you have a real chance of surviving for a while.

Abigail and the vampire, Lucius, enter into a One Thousand and One Nights-style agreement: she'll entertain him, and he won't eat her. But of course that leads to more than just stories and songs because they have no one else to turn to except each other.

I found Ballads at Midnight to be delightfully charming. I chuckled more than once and wanted to see what the bard and the vampire would reveal next about themselves and each other. Their banter didn't feel forced and their choices made sense. I enjoyed getting to know them, and they both have layers which keep them from being caricatures. It was interesting to watch their relationship develop, and it did feel like watching a new relationship form. And just when you start to get used to the rhythm their lives take, something else is revealed. The climax of revelations makes everything more intriguing and plays into the ending you choose. All in all, I was left feeling satisfied.

This visual novel was created in just a month's time, during the NaNoReNo 2022 jam by Synstoria, an independent studio. That should be kept in mind when playing and judging it. Things were kept relatively simple because of time constraints, but also due to the nature of the story: two people trapped together in a moldering old estate while the rest of the world goes on without them.


I liked the art style, with the rough backgrounds and more detailed character sprites. Everything is rather dark because you mostly see Abigail with Lucius at night. Even though they're usually inside the estate's main house, there are a number of locations shown throughout the tale. The sprites have a few different poses, but not very many. There's limited animation: their expressions change, the sprites move, and some background elements change.

I'm still not sure how I feel about the decorative frame superimposed on everything. No other visual novel I've played has done that, and it kind of breaks the immersion at times, but it isn't that bad.

The bood moon in Ballads at Midnight


Ballads at Midnight has original music that's in keeping with the tale and tone. I don't recall sound effects; if there are any, they aren't intrusive. There's partial voice acting and while the performances aren't the strongest, they didn't detract from the experience for me. There are also two original bard songs.

Cost & Requirements

This is a free game on Steam and I had a good experience playing it on Steam, with easy access to achievements and screenshots and no bugs. Yes, I played until I got all of the achievements, but I tend to be a completionist and I was hooked; it took just under 3 hours.

Another bonus is that it's a complete story, not just a chapter or scenario offered as a taste of a longer work. All it costs you is time, and it isn't so long and complicated that you'll regret the time you spend. If it's not your bag, you'll probably figure that out quickly and bow out. If you save before you make choices, you can easily go back and try other options.



The game offers a font for dyslexic users.

Characters & Relationships

This is an otome game. While Lucius is a strong presence, Abigail is the protagonist whose choices make all the difference. The story is couched in the feminine/masculine binary: Abigail is visibly and audibly feminine, while Lucius is visibly and audibly masculine. But Abigail's grit and determination let you know that she's no delicate flower, and Lucius's efforts to make peace reveal that he's no bloodthirsty monster. Abigail starts out at a clear disadvantage, but Lucius's advantages aren't all they seem to be. She may not have much at her disposal, but she uses everything she can and like all the best bards, Abigail's greatest asset is her heart.

This is an enemies to lovers story, but if you don't like the sound of that, consider this: Instead of starting as enemies who are truly ugly to each other, Abigail and Lucius begin as opponents by circumstance. They're set up to be at odds, and Lucius definitely could pose a major threat, given his powers and knowledge of the island. But they don't do the kinds of messed up things to each other that would make you wonder why they would ever get along.

The key romance in the game is heterosexual, but there's a brief hint in the story that one of them has had a homosexual relationship in the past.

The vampire's threat in Ballads at Midnight

Choices & Endings

There are choices to make at intervals, but not a ton. Most are for flavor or to reveal background information; ultimately, there's only one choice you make to get to one of the three endings.

The responses you can pick for Abigail tend to come in two flavors: flirty and biting. You don't get punished for the tone you choose, which means you can indulge at whim, sticking to one type or mixing and matching. If you don't enjoy flirty or bratty characters, you might have a real problem appreciating Abigail, but you can try alternating approaches to see if that works better for you.

Content Warnings

While there's a vampire in the story and you get to hear tales of violence, nothing is graphic and there's no gore shown. While the description page warns of "strong language," there isn't much in the way of cursing.


You can change Abigail's name to something else, if you wish; that's the only way you can customize her, but again, given the time constraints, this makes sense.


The description page says the game is a "dark fantasy romance," and that works. The setting seems to be historic, but the backgrounds suggest something around the 1700s rather than medieval times. It's fantasy, in that there's a vampire and that implies magic, but you don't hear about many different species and kingdoms, nor do you see magic being used; most of the world seems to be inhabited by ordinary humans. It's meant to be a romance, but one of the endings allows you to forego it.

I think "Gothic fantasy romance" fits a little better, since Ballads at Midnight has all the major tropes: the gloomy atmosphere, the creepy manor house, the menaced heroine, and the dark, brooding love interest. It has the Gothic flavor of darkness, which is likely part of why I enjoyed it so much.

The agreement made in Ballads at Midnight

Unique Systems

There are no unique mechanics for this novel, but I didn't miss them.

Words & Length

The novel is more than 42,000 words long. It claims to last around 3 - 4 hours per playthrough, but with the right saves and the use of the skip function, I was able to go through just about all of the options in 3 hours. Go into it expecting a few hours of entertainment and you probably won't feel cheated.

In the End

I discovered this little gem during the Imperial Grace Kickstarter. Someone mentioned Ballads at Midnight in the comments because it's made by the same studio and Ayael, the same director, so I hunted it down. Ballads made me want to see what Ayael can do with support and more time for development, so I backed Imperial Grace; take that as the endorsement it is.


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