Demo Review: Midheaven: Winds of Ambition

Demo Review: Midheaven: Winds of Ambition

Midheaven: Winds of Ambition is a highly ambitious and well-polished stat-raising visual novel about royal intrigue in a fantasy land. Build your knowledge, magic, charm, and a plethora of other attributes as you navigate the intricacies of palace life with your fellow attendants. Catch the eye of a Regal and follow your dreams without meeting your ultimate demise.

This game is currently in an early demo state. A review was requested through the VN Game Den review request form.

A Beautiful Game

The game has a gorgeous gold-leafed aesthetic borrowing heavily from East Asian influences. The backgrounds speak to ancient Chinese architecture. The costuming for the sprites, however, vaguely touches on a few different regions without having to bear the burden of historical accuracy. While this might in other games read like lumping Asians into a monolith, the use of varied traditional garb plays into the implied cultural and regional diversity of the characters as presented. The varied character designs create a fun, multilayered aesthetic.

All the art is highly polished and intricate. The eye is drawn to a lovely number of details and always has something interesting to look at. The UI visuals are also smooth and well-constructed with a lot of thought put into how a player interacts with the game. The text boxes that follow the characters are a nice touch and create a pleasant conversational feel.

Passable Stat-Based Gameplay

The core gameplay, the stat raising, isn’t bad, but it feels a little underwhelming and occasionally poorly balanced. I like that not only are there a lot of “activities” for each day and a lot to unlock through the game, the game also shows you what things are unlockable in the future. It’s a nice little teaser and gives you something to shoot for. The stats don’t always feel like they do anything, however. I emphasize “feel” because when you’re gated by a stat, it’s obvious that your stat is affecting the story. But day to day, there’re very few satisfying story responses that seem to be directly connected to the stats I’m spending all this time working on.

The game instead seems to rely more on lore reveals and backstory as its “rewards” for the stat rounds. This works well in the early game because there really is a lot of deep lore. While some of the conversations feel a little heavy-handed in their exposition, generally speaking, you get a pretty nice gradual reveal on the nature of these naga-like creatures and how they view the other species they share a world with. It just takes a fair amount of playtime for any hints of whatever the actual central drama is to start unfolding, so you spend a not-insignificant amount of time waiting for stuff to happen.

Difficult to Engage With

That altogether leads into what ends up being my primary problem with the game so far: it’s not all that fun to play, even when you take the slightly more tedious playstyle of stat-raisers into account. It starts strong with the idea that you’re going after a Regal to marry with these grand ambitions. Then you’re thrown in with this large group of attendants (and there’s a lot of them to keep track of, which is another tricky thing), introduced to some general concepts, and then you’re in the stat-activity-story cycle. The loop falls apart at the story segments, though. They’re just not that interesting. They basically amount to a few prattling conversational lines about some palace goings-on or another that really struggle to create intrigue and connect to a bigger story. I get the impression that at least some of them are meant to create a sense of soft domesticity or character building, but they don’t really do that well, either. In my playthroughs, I managed to snag two CGs involving Regals, but I had only had a small number of interactions with them previous to that. So the usual “reward” aspect of “earning it” doesn’t quite hit. The game starts at the beginning of spring and it was mid-winter before something I genuinely thought was interesting happened (which is a lot of stat-raising cycles). Then it just flashed by and was never brought up again despite being a possibly life-changing event. The demo ends at year one with finally some kind of hint at a larger, more dramatic story, but it took a very long time to get there.

So despite this being a very beautiful game that was easy to interact with, it was hard to appreciate all the good stuff in there because, very simply, I was bored by it. I found it grindy, tedious, and from what I can tell, not very strategically difficult. There’s a promise of court intrigue and choices that matter and even the possibility of death, and it doesn’t really deliver on those things at this stage. There’s no specter of tension or danger. There’s no in-game reason to just not be nice and help out all your fellow attendants, and when you do face a non-obvious choice, the stakes for getting it wrong have so far proven to be very low.

Midheaven is still in a demo state. From the game page, it seems that what’s available is somewhere between 1/4 and 1/3 of what the final game will be. If the template this demo sets, though, speaks truthfully to the full game, we might be looking at a bit of a mixed bag. It will most assuredly be an amazing-looking game with a lot under the surface as far as narrative and world. I think, in the end, though, it’s going to really have to address its ability to hold interest long-term.

Play it yourself by downloading the demo from itch.io.

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