Ballads at Midnight | Game Review

Use your sharp wit and trusty lute to secure your freedom from the monstrous vampire that haunts local legend in ‘Ballads at Midnight’, Synstoria’s NaNoReNo jam entry for 2022…

After you get into trouble with the Queen, you find yourself stranded in a manor surrounded entirely by a lake with no conceivable way out. To survive, you must keep your captor appeased by singing him a ballad every night, at midnight, for one hundred nights.

Will you convince your new vampiric housemate to give you your freedom, or will you end up as his next meal? Or will you find a reason to stay with him? Perhaps even for eternity…

Game Name: Ballads at Midnight
Developer: Synstoria
Publisher: Abiding Bridge
Writers: Wudgeous (Lead Writer & Narrative Designer), notafish (Writer)
Platform: Steam,
Release Date: 15 July, 2022
More information: Twitter, Tumblr.
Age Rating: ‘Ballads at Midnight’ is rated T for suggestive material, strong language, alcohol use, and allusions to trauma, child abuse, and fantasy violence.


Sweet: 3/5 – The romance in BAM isn’t overly saccharine or fairy tale-esque, but it is intimate. Their natural chemistry gives their love a grounded, relatable tone, despite the fantasy setting.
Spicy: 1/5 – BAM never got particularly explicit, yet it felt distinctly mature in its handling of sexual themes. Their attraction to each other is described subtly and implicitly until the romantic climax.
CD: 3/5 – I loved the characters and overall aesthetic, but due to the scope of the game there is only one love interest and not as much time to indulge in their romance as I would have liked.
Story: 3/5 – I adore the writing style and love the Scheherazade-like premise, but felt that the limits of a NaNoReNo production prevented the team from exploring said premise in more depth.


“When a sarcastic bard is arrested and exiled to an abandoned castle, she expected to be at the mercy of a hungry, blood-thirsty vampire. She soon discovers that the vampire, Lucius, is not starving: he is gravely bored. She may just survive on borrowed time, one ballad each midnight.”

– Game Description (Steam)

When Synstoria contacted me about the upcoming release of ‘Ballads at Midnight’, I was over the moon. I loved their demo for ‘Imperial Grace’, so I couldn’t wait to play a new game from the same developers! Once I booted up the game and got stuck into the story, I immediately remembered why I became a fan of Synstoria in the first place.

The writing style in ‘Ballads at Midnight’ is a perfect balance of eloquence and clarity that’s exactly suited to my tastes, and the banter between MC and Lucius was a perfect blend of witty and endearing – lending itself well to a romantic chemistry that was both immediately apparent and consistently believable. They were clearly made for each other and sparks flew from the moment they met.

It took a little while for them to become comfortable with each other – given the tense situation in which they became acquainted – but even when they were enemies, it was clear that they were on the same wavelength in terms of intelligence and humour.

Since this is a shorter game made during the 2022 NaNoReNo jam, it makes sense to chisel down the concept to something that can be feasibly achieved within the given timeframe. Rather than weaving elaborate tales with multiple layers of complex storytelling, ‘Ballads of Midnight’ chooses to tell a simpler story, but tell it well.

Genres: medieval fantasy, supernatural, vampire, drama, comedy, romance

Essentially, ‘Ballads at Midnight’ is an excellently-written enemies-to-lovers tale about a defiant, quick-witted bard who captures the interest of a bored, lonely vampire who, in his own way, defies the legends surrounding his kind. The story takes you on a journey from adversarial banter, to affectionate banter, to a deep, eternal love that defies all odds.

Considering BAM is a free visual novel created over such a short time frame, I’m impressed at the quality of storytelling and smoothness of gameplay. I didn’t notice any typos or mistakes, and the overall experience was polished and professional.

One example of the creative attention to detail that gives ‘Ballads at Midnight’ its distinct charm is how the character names above the text box changed depending on the situation in the story. It’s an added flair that isn’t necessary, but still appreciated, as it shows the level of care and thought poured into the game.

I also thought it was a nice touch to have a canonical, original song included in the game, especially since – as you might expect – ‘Ballads at Midnight’ has some notable music-based themes. As someone who loves both visual novels and music, I’d love to see something similar in a bigger production, perhaps even with an original soundtrack (I know I’d buy that!).

All in all, ‘Ballads at Midnight’ is a short and sweet romantic visual novel about an endearingly eccentric pair of rebellious sweethearts finding each other in a cold and cruel world. It’s free, it’s entertaining, and it’s bound to tug at your heartstrings. What more could we ask for?

Game Trailer

Story & Gameplay

Since ‘Ballads at Midnight’ is a visual novel, it relies on the story, artwork, and music to keep it compelling. In this regard, it absolutely succeeds.

The relationship development between MC and Lucius gradually evolved at a satisfying pace without feeling unnaturally rushed or forcefully pushed into a slow burn. Since it’s an enemies-to-lovers tale, there were plenty of heated interactions, and I particularly loved how their banter transitioned from adversarial to affectionate over the course of the story.

I also enjoyed how little the player knows about both Lucius and MC at the beginning of the game. Without devolving into lengthy expositions and disruptive flashbacks, we get to learn more about the characters as they reveal themselves to each other through a series of mysterious, flirtatious encounters.

This dynamic, dialogue-heavy style of storytelling keeps it interesting for the player while also allowing us to become invested in their relationship. We can try to piece together the hints ourselves, as the two main characters duck and weave their way through their interactions, trying to learn as much about each other as they can while refraining from giving too much away. It’s a fun and endearing way to get to know the characters and watch the story unfold.

Content warnings: ‘Ballads at Midnight’ does contain discussion of some difficult themes. These themes aren’t shown visually, but the story does reference past trauma and tragic events. Please see the game’s mature content description or send us a DM on Twitter for more details.

All in all, the writers are clearly adept at crafting a compelling story, as well as forming intriguing concepts that fit within a realistic scope for the project. It wasn’t overstuffed or overcomplicated, nor was it lacking. Everything in the game had a purpose, and each plot thread was neatly wrapped up by the end.

If you’re looking for something short, sweet, and effective, then I recommend giving ‘Ballads at Midnight’ a go. It’s free, and the first playthrough is estimated at around 3-4 hours of gameplay, so there’s not a lot to lose and potentially a lot to gain!


‘Ballads at Midnight’ is a standard visual novel where you click the mouse or press enter to reveal the next line of text and occasionally make player choices that result in different character reactions, scenes, and endings.

You can save and reload the game at any point and there are plenty of save slots, so I recommend saving regularly to make it easier to replay the game for different endings. There are also ‘back’ and ‘skip’ features that allow players to quickly return to previous choices or fast forward to the next one.

My one critique for the gameplay experience is that there are no CGs – which is unfortunate, as I would have loved at least one romantic finale CG – but since the game is free I’m not going to be too fussy about this.

My favourite aspect of the gameplay experience is that there were several player choices I made that felt important to the final outcome, rather than being superficial to create the illusion of choice. These decisions became relevant long after I made my selection, and not in a way that just seemed like a throwaway line of dialogue.

I also liked the way the decisions appeared on-screen, with MC’s character sprite in full view. As I hovered over each selection, her facial expression would change to indicate the tone and emotional intent of each choice. This was hugely helpful to me, as I often struggle to work out exactly how each choice will be interpreted, and I’d love to see something similar in other visual novels.

Characters & Art

Since there are only two characters with sprites in ‘Ballads at Midnight’, it makes sense to splash out on a few variations, and it’s clear that Synstoria spared no expense in their design. Both MC and Lucius are aesthetically-stunning and have a variety of facial expressions. I particularly loved MC’s outfit, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want it for myself!

The art style in general is simple and effective. There aren’t too many different background images, but since the story takes place in one location it makes sense not to have an abundance of them. Plus, this is another example of how developers can effectively chisel down an idea to fit within budget and time constraints, without looking cheap or rushed.

It’s worth noting that ‘Ballads at Midnight’ only has one love interest. Personally, this didn’t bother me, even though I’m used to playing games with multiple love interests to choose from. There may be some otome fans who are bothered by the lack of alternate character routes, but in this case I think it was smart for the developers to stick to doing one story well.

Overstretching for the sake of it would ruin the quality and the story is perfectly suited to MC and Lucius, so in my opinion, there’s no need to introduce extraneous characters. Basically, if you’re looking for a big ol’ otome game with a bunch of choices, characters, and endings, then you’re looking in the wrong place. However, if you’re looking for a free, romantic visual novel with a compelling story, beautiful writing style, and two endearing, attractive characters, then you’re absolutely in the right place!

Main Character (MC)

Name: Customizable (Default: Abigail)
Pronouns: She/Her
Voice Actor: Megan Youmans (partial voice acting – including the original song!)

The protagonist was witty, rebellious, and proactive – all of which I adored. She had an endearing urge to be defiant and competitive that complemented her otherwise charming personality, and her behaviour always made sense within the given situation.

She felt grounded and realistic while also admirable and entertaining; in short – a satisfying balance between aspirational protagonist and relatable human being.

Lucius (The Vampire)

Name: Lucius (The Vampire)
Pronouns: He/Him
Voice Actor: Eric Navarro (such a good choice!)
Personality: Cool, calm, and collected – but with some dorky traits to balance it out.

Lucius is a very old, very bored vampire. I loved the departure from the archetypal bloodthirsty monster to the mature, educated immortal desperate for anything new and exciting to break up a monotonous eternity.

He holds most of the power in their dynamic – especially in the beginning – since he’s a powerful supernatural being who’s had a lot longer to learn about the world and how it works, but I never felt that he disrespected or demeaned MC in any way. He treated her well and listened when she spoke (or sang, usually), and their power dynamic shifted over time to become more balanced.

He’s a fascinating character and perfectly matched for MC. He’s also fairly mysterious and part of the appeal of the story is figuring out his secrets, so I won’t say anymore in case I spoil the fun!

Final Thoughts

‘Ballads at Midnight’ is a witty, mature, enemies-to-lovers visual novel with a poetic, sophisticated writing style that perfectly suits the medieval-fantasy setting. For such a quick, low-budget production it’s remarkably polished, and I’m floored that it’s available for free!

Where to play: You can play ‘Ballads at Midnight’ on Steam or after its release date of 15th July, 2022.

I’ve now played Synstoria’s ‘Ballads at Midnight’ and their demo for ‘Imperial Grace’ and it’s safe to say I’m a fan. I’m consistently impressed at how the characters in both of these games feel distinctly like real people – rather than cookie-cutter archetypes – and how the protagonists feel like actual protagonists, that is, the hero and focus of the story, rather than a window through which the player can view the love interest’s story.

I appreciate the way intimacy and relationships (even non-romantic ones) are depicted in both games, particularly the persistent sense of emotional maturity that makes these love stories feel less like whimsical fairy tales and more like the kind of love we can achieve in real life, despite being set in a fantasy world.

In ‘Ballads at Midnight’, there’s a satisfying balance between romantic fantasy and grounded, real people with grounded, real feelings. Furthermore, the protagonist is an excellent blend of the cool, wish-fulfilment heroine and the vulnerable, imperfect heroine that makes her just relatable enough that players can identify with her, while also being aspirational and exciting to play.

If you’ve ever wanted to be a defiant, cheeky bard who uses her wits and willpower to get out of sticky situations, but accidentally falls in love with her powerful, yet slightly eccentric vampire captor, then I highly recommend ‘Ballads at Midnight’. I certainly enjoyed it, and considering the price tag, I see no reason not to recommend it to anyone.

You’ll like ‘Ballads at Midnight’ if you like: enemies-to-lovers romances; relationships with lots of banter; proactive protagonists with defined personalities; visual novels with original music; and medieval-fantasy stories with an elegant style of writing…


Game Info

Game Name: Ballads at Midnight
Developer: Synstoria
Publisher: Abiding Bridge
Writers: Wudgeous (Lead Writer & Narrative Designer), notafish (Writer)
Platform: Steam,
Release Date: 15 July, 2022
More information: Twitter, Tumblr.
Age Rating: ‘Ballads at Midnight’ is rated T for suggestive material, strong language, alcohol use, and allusions to trauma, child abuse, and fantasy violence.

~ Thank you Synstoria for providing us with an early access review copy of Ballads at Midnight! ~

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