The English release of Witch on the Holy Night is possibly one of the most interesting products Type-Moon has ever released. If you are somehow not familiar with Type-Moon, you may know them for their wildly successful Fate franchise. Fate/Grand Order is among the most successful mobile games ever made and understandably has an official English translation. However, their most iconic visual novel, Fate/stay night, lacks one. Of course, there are unofficial ways to read it in English, but an easily accessible official translation would be nice. Unfortunately, this also applies to most Type-Moon visual novels.
This is what makes Witch on the Holy Night‘s official translation so special. It is the first Type-Moon visual novel to be officially translated into English. Not even Tsukihime -A piece of blue glass moon- (a remake of the first two story routes of the original Tsukihime) got an English translation, despite it releasing somewhat recently in August of 2021. Considering that Tsukihime isn’t as popular as Fate/stay night, it would be reasonable to expect it to not have a translation as well. However, Witch on the Holy Night is even less well-known than Tsukihime when it comes to overseas audiences, which makes the existence of its translation fascinating. With that being said, was this visual novel worth the effort of translating?
What Even is Witch on the Holy Night?
Known in Japan as Mahoutsukai no Yoru (which directly translates to “Magician’s Night“), Witch on the Holy Night is a visual novel adaptation of an unpublished book from 1996. Being based on one of Kinoko Nasu’s earliest works, it serves as something of an introduction to the mechanics and world-building of the Nasuverse. If you have no clue as to what magecraft is or just find yourself confused by other Nasuverse stories, Witch on the Holy Night is a great place to start.
Unlike some other stories written by Nasu, this one is comparatively lighthearted. The tone isn’t as dark as something like Kara no Kyoukai and the subject matter never gets as heavy either. Instead, this Visual Novel contains more slice-of-life aspects than you may expect. There definitely is some action and lore here, but I would say that the story primarily focuses on the dynamics between its characters.
If you were hoping for a choose-your-own-adventure style visual novel with branching routes and fail states, there is none of that here. Witch on the Holy Night is a visual novel in the truest sense of the term. This is a completely linear story with pictures and sound. Even save files are referred to as “bookmarks”. This isn’t a complaint by any means, but I do believe it is worth noting.
An Endearing Cast of Characters
One of the most important aspects of Witch on the Holy Night is its characters. Primarily following Soujyuro Sizuki and Aoko Aozaki (who you may recognize from Tsukihime and Melty Blood), the story features a small but memorable cast of characters. Both protagonists feel fleshed out and develop throughout the story in a satisfying way.
Soujyuro is possibly one of the most likable Type-Moon protagonists I have encountered. His upbringing in a remote mountain village cut off from the rest of society makes him instantly intriguing. He doesn’t understand a lot of basic social cues and has no clue about how 1980s Japan functions. This makes for a lot of entertaining interactions between other characters and makes him an ideal protagonist to follow throughout the story. It allows for a more natural explanation of the lore and mechanics of the Nasuverse as you progress.
Aoko is also a delightful character in her own way. She may come off as a bit of a “tsundere” archetype, but she’s also much more than that. Her relationships with Soujyuro and her housemate Alice Kuonji get a lot of focus, and for good reason. She may not be as instantly endearing as Soujyuro, but you’ll likely end up sympathizing with her. Her development is a key aspect of the story, and by the end, it’s hard not to like her.
Like a Painting
I have to gush a bit about the artwork in Witch on the Holy Night. Even on my original Switch model with a mediocre LCD, the artwork still feels like it pops out of the screen. However, I can’t help but almost feel like I’m doing the visuals a disservice by playing it on an IPS panel. If there’s anything that could convince me to upgrade to a Switch OLED, it’s this visual novel.
Thanks to illustrator Hirokazu Koyama, every character is immaculately detailed and very expressive. Even though there is no animation in the typical sense, every character seems full of life. Clever editing and layering are used to great effect to make every scene feel more lively. Characters can express a wide range of visible emotions that fit the dialogue well. It might not be an anime, but the high-quality presentation almost makes it feel like you’re watching one.
The background art is also of equally high quality. I can’t think of a moment where there was any confusion as to where a scene was taking place. Each environment presents a thick atmosphere that sucks me right into the story. Whether the characters are relaxing at the Kuonji mansion or are wandering the streets of Misaki Town, every location seems well-realized and nearly tangible. The image quality is so impeccable that it really does feel like there’s a painting directly in front of you.
The Technical Side of Things
While you may not think there’s much to talk about when it comes to the technical aspects of a visual novel, there are some noteworthy things there. One thing I forgot to mention is that this English release is an HD remaster of the original Witch on the Holy Night release from 2012. With this in mind, the increase in image quality is enough to make it feel like it was made yesterday. However, there is more to this remaster than higher-resolution images.
Voice acting was completely absent from the original release. The remaster addresses this by giving every speaking character voiced lines. As you can imagine, this breathes new life into a visual novel that is already over 10 years of age. However, it is worth mentioning that there are only Japanese voices here. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, since a genre as niche as visual novels rarely get English voice-overs. Despite this, it should be easy to at least understand the emotional intent behind the Japanese voices.
I found myself impressed by the extensive amount of options available when it comes to audio. Besides some standard volume sliders, you can also change the volume of each character’s voice. I imagine this would be helpful if you find a character’s voice to be too loud or too irritating. I believe the voice acting is of a satisfactory quality (an example here), so I never felt the urge to change these settings. However, it is greatly appreciated that these settings exist.
It’s Not All Perfect
As much as I have enjoyed my time with Witch on the Holy Night, I do have a few complaints. While I would say the translation makes for smooth reading throughout the majority of the story, there are some errors. On occasion, I was caught off-guard by a few typos and questionably structured sentences. It was nowhere near enough to ruin the experience, but it was enough to be noticeable. I don’t know if these errors will get patched out in the future, but it still needs to be addressed.
Perhaps my biggest gripe with Witch on the Holy Night is the pacing. First of all, I don’t think the entire story suffers from pacing issues. In fact, I think some sections are paced quite well. However, some sections did test my patience. While I do appreciate that the lore and mechanics of the story are explained pretty thoroughly, this turns out to be a bit of a double-edged sword. I find that Nasu can sometimes get so lost in the mechanics of everything that it can drag the storytelling to a halt.
Without getting too heavy with the spoilers, I will describe an example of this. Earlier on in the story, there is a fairly lengthy sequence of action scenes. At first, I thought there was a good build-up of tension that kept me on my toes. However, as the action continued, the tension began to lose its grip on me. I grew tired of the exposition surrounding magecraft and just wanted the story to continue. I’m sure this sequence will look fantastic in the upcoming ufotable adaptation, but I found it to be fatiguing in a visual novel format.
You Should Support Witch on the Holy Night
Despite the issues I just described, I believe that Witch on the Holy Night is well worth your time. Clocking in at about 20 hours or so, the overall package doesn’t overstay its welcome. By the end, I just wanted more. There are two sequels planned, but chances are slim that we’ll see them any time soon. With three more routes of Tsukihime that are yet to be remade, Nasu is probably not in any rush to get to these sequels.
However, considering that Witch on the Holy Night has sold over 110,000 copies within four days of its release, there might be some hope for future Type-Moon visual novel translations. It might not sound like much at all compared to a big game release, but these numbers should be impressive for a niche product like this. Currently, you can only purchase this digitally on PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch, but a physical limited edition will be available on January 27, 2023. Whichever you decide to go with, it is very much worth your money if it strikes your interest.
Witch on the Holy Night was a wonderful experience with interesting themes surrounding the value of life. If you have not experienced a story by Kinoko Nasu yet, I recommend that you start here. It works great as a standalone story and doesn’t require any previous Nasuverse knowledge to understand. Despite the “M” rating, it never gets quite as angsty as some other Nasuverse works, making it easier to appeal to a wider audience. While I do believe that it can get too caught up in the mechanics of everything sometimes, there is a memorable story here. Witch on the Holy Night is an easy recommendation for old Type-Moon fans and newcomers alike.