Note: When the Night Comes contains mature situations – while it’s no
more explicit than a Mass Effect game, it’s probably equivalent to an
ESRB M or a PEGI 16/18.
It’s uncommon that my partner and I both fall in love with the same
game. I usually prefer platformers and turn-based strategy while he can
sink hours into a 4X (games like Civilization, Stellaris,
Europa Universalis). However, both of us loved When the Night Comes, the
supernatural visual novel by Lunaris Games. The visual novel offers a
compelling story, solid art and music, and some of the most
queer-friendly romance options I’ve ever seen in a game. And it’s only
In the game, you play as a Hunter, someone tasked with suppressing
malicious supernatural creatures, in the small town of Lunaris. The town
has been plagued by a series of gruesome murders, and you’re dispatched
to investigate. Along the way you’ll meet colleagues in the region’s
anti-supernatural-problems organization, some townsfolk, and friendly
When the Night Comes (which I’ll be abbreviating as WTNC) is a linear
visual novel – while you’ll have dialog options, the overarching
supernatural murder storyline doesn’t change extensively based on your
choices. The core murder plot is fine, and the setting is quite good – I
actually wish we spent more time learning about the lore world, about
how the enforcers and hunters organization came into existence, how
magic in the world works (can anyone learn magic, or just a few people),
but what was there was handled well, and the developers have ample space
for a follow up game or story in the same setting.
But the biggest reason the story worked so well for me was the
characters. By the time I was done with the first chapter or two, I
wanted to help the people in this world. They were sympathetic, they had
their own stories, they had interpersonal relationships that existed
with other characters – while many of the characters are potential
romance options for the player, they felt like actual characters in the
story, not just targets for the player to romance.
On that topic, the game offers six of romance options, plus two
polyamorous relationships options within the six, plus the option to not
romance anyone. You can romance Omen (the demon), Alkar (the lycan),
Piper (the hunter), August (the enforcer), Ezra (the witch), or Finn
(the vampire). The game page on itch has a nice infographic with
everyone, including their genders
Depending on who you chose to pursue (or not pursue), you’ll have
content specific to that route that functions as a side story within the
larger plot. Completing one playthrough took about six hours for me.
As I mentioned, romances in WTNC are optional, so you can play through
the mystery of the town without romancing anyone. Additionally, none of
the romances are gender locked, so you can romance anyone regardless of
your player’s gender. This style of game romance is often referred to as
“player-sexual,” as the sexuality of a character is fluid and will
accommodate the player character.
Player-sexual characters can trigger debate, so I want to touch on this
here. There’s discussion that the practice can erase bisexual and
pansexual individuals, because if the character’s sexuality is only
defined in relation to the player, then that’s no longer a possible
identity for the character. Also, if done poorly, player-sexual
characters can, perhaps paradoxically, effectively quarantine queerness
in a world by erasing it unless the player opts-in. Todd Harper’s
for Vice on Fire Emblem: Three Houses explained it well:
Fire Emblem’s relegation of queerness to “a choice you can make, I
guess” while at the same time emphasizing the opposite-gender pairing
off of characters is a perfect example of heteronormativity in action.
If queerness exists in those worlds, it’s something you add as the
player, not something the game’s world provides for you to have a
meaningful experience with.
There’s also a common argument you’ll see online that, in real life,
most people aren’t gay and you may get rejected by people because you’re
the wrong gender, so romances in games should reflect that – but, given
this argument can be simplified down to ‘being queer in real life sucks,
so it should suck in games too,’ it’s often employed in bad faith.
All that said, as a gay guy who is used to games telling me I don’t get
a romance option (or I do, but only with this one side character who has
a fraction of the dialog of everyone else’s options), I’m personally
fine with player-sexual characters if they’re handled well, and WTNC
does handle them well. Some characters in WTNC do discuss past
relationships, and will sometimes pair off with other non-player
characters of the same gender if not romanced, so they do have a sexual
identity that is not purely linked to the player, and queerness exists
within the world without the player dragging it in themselves.
For games like this, where I suspect the majority of players will want
to pursue one of the romance options, giving the player more options can
help them feel more included in the story. WTNC offers male, female, and
non-binary romance options for your character to pursue, and both poly
and non-poly options – the game feels incredibly welcoming and
accessible as a result.
And, to WTNC’s credit, all the characters were compelling. While I
suspect the developers might have had their own favorites (*cough*
Finn *cough*), all the characters, and all the romance options, were
solid. After years of putting up with “you’re gay, so only this side
character is available for you,” the fact I had issues choosing whose
story to pursue because they were all available, and I was interested in
all their stories, felt amazing.
For the record – I ended up pursuing the romance with Omen and Alkar,
while my partner went with Finn and Ezra. While I understand my
partner’s choices, Alker has a moment mid-game which made me think, “I
will stand in front of a horde to defend you from [redacted] ever
happening again,” so… yeah, ended up with the lycan and the demon. But
the fact that I felt sympathy for the characters, and felt invested in
their injury, shows how strong the writing was.
WTNC is incredibly upfront about what dialog options mean – options that
cause your character to flirt with another character are marked as
flirting, and I found I enjoyed this. When I attended a panel on
narrative design in games at PAX, there was a line that stuck with me:
when presenting different options for the player, the impact of the
player’s choices can surprise them, but the action taken by their
character should not – the player’s decision should be respected.
To explain why this is important, we should talk about the game that’s
infamous for violating this rule: L.A. Noire. L.A. Noire gave the
player control over a detective, and the player would be offered options
about whether to believe the suspect or witness they were questioning,
or perhaps press them a bit more about their answers. And players were
surprised when “doubt” could mean anything from “are you sure” to
aggressive accusations of murder.
We can contrast this with a game like Monster Prom, which also has a
large degree of player choice. In Monster Prom, if player is offered
to “toss a tennis ball and hope the werewolf pack chases it and goes
away,” and the player chooses that action, then that is exactly what
the character will do. Now, is the result going to be that the werewolf
pack goes away? Maybe. But your character will throw the tennis ball.
You can see the difference – in L.A. Noire the action taken by the
player’s character is unpredictable, whereas in Monster Prom the
effect is unpredictable. The former is bad because the player ends up
feeling like they don’t have control over their in-game character, while
the latter provides that level of control while still enabling the
player to be surprised.
For a game like WTNC, where you’re playing yourself (vs controlling an
established character on their own story), that control is extremely
important, because it allows you to feel connected to the story and your
in-game avatar, and it’s why I liked that the game lets you know if
you’re about to flirt with someone. I was playing a gay character, and I
wanted to pursue a romance with a guy in-game. Having the game offer
clear indications of how your character would behave with the different
dialog choices ensures I didn’t end up on a romance route I didn’t want
to be on.
Though, on the topic of routes, the game is quite generous with saves
(there are 54 save slots, not counting automatic and quick saves), and
the game is very clear when you’re locking into a specific romance
route, so you’re able to save, and later go back and explore other
routes. Additionally, you’re always able to scroll up to rewind and jump
back to previous choices.
While I love the game, I did encounter a few minor issues related to
branching rejoin points; when the player is presented with a choice, and
the choice is played out, eventually that choice needs to rejoin the
main narrative – sometimes things that happened during the ‘choice’
scene aren’t accounted for in the rejoined narrative.
For example, there was a scene in which your character has the option to
lie to another, possibly evil, character. If you choose this option,
your character makes a gesture to one of your friends, and they indicate
they understand you’re lying. However, once that scene plays out, your
friend expresses confusion at your actions (how dare you say to this
person you were going to work with them), despite they acknowledged you
were lying earlier – it’s as though the main dialog had them being
surprised at your actions, and the game didn’t process that you just
went through the “lie, but make sure friend knows” option.
There are a couple of these hiccups throughout the game, but they’re all
small (and likely less noticeable if you’re not playing with ‘reviewer
brain’). And, I’m somewhat sympathetic to this, considering editing and
testing branching narratives is miserably difficult for small teams. More
choices are great, but each branch multiples the number of test cases.
I could also quibble ever so slightly on the game’s in media res style
of throwing terms and lore at you and explaining it later, but that’s
because I personally like knowing about the fantasy lore of world I’m
interacting with, so not having the term ‘enforcer’ clearly defined
irked me. That one is personal preference, not a defect.
All my complaints really are small compared to the overall product. The
game is exceptionally well made, has hours of content, the characters
are interesting, the romances are solid and inclusive, and the core
murder plot drew me in. It’s place on itch.io’s ‘Top Rated’ list is well
deserved, and it’s one of the best visual novels I’ve played in recent
memory. Buy it.