Yomawari: Night Alone
Halloween, it is a time for appeasing the spirits, flirting with ghouls, cramming in candy, and scaring the wits out of each other. Whether it is Halloween, Day of the Dead, Samhain, or the Bon Festival, cultures across the globe all have their own particular perception of the supernatural. Yomawari: Night Alone is the latest title from Japan’s Nippon Ichi studio and published by NIS. Set in a quaint Japanese town, it follows the journey of a small girl as she searches for her lost sister and is a refreshingly different Halloween accompaniment.
Horror games are often full of grunge and subdued tones but, despite a darkness that creeps across the screen, Yamowari: Night Alone is a visual treat. Artistic lead Yu Mizokami finds a great balance of cute and creepy with environmental work that reminded me of titles like My Neighbour Totoro, and character design that pays homage to an innumerable number of Japanese RPGs. The depiction of the central protagonist as a cute, colourful chibi is intentionally deceptive, and draws players into a child’s world.
This innocence is swiftly shattered through a series of tragic events which kick off a story that is just as unsettling as it is frightening. After setting out to find her missing sister, the central character finds herself wandering the deserted streets of a small Japanese town. The game then begins to unveil a series of mechanics designed to really ratchet up the tension.
The town’s back alleys and empty streets are a series of narrow corridors, interspersed with an occasional street light. While the game’s early acts furnish players with an invaluable flash-light, the hum of a nearby vending machine or glow of a street lamp still signal a possible moment of respite from the unseen threats that creep around in the dark.
The cloak of silence that envelops these little islands of light is effectively oppressive. It reminds players of how alone they really are at night and makes every sound significant as the tortured groans of yokai float down the street after players. The central character’s heartbeat thuds in your ears as giant eyeballs, skinned men, transparent phantoms, floating teeth, sewer monsters, and a variety of fantastical spirits close in. Some attempt to creep up on you, some will not react until they hear your footsteps, while others will unrelentingly chase down players until they find somewhere to hide.
Avoiding monsters is far from trivial in the narrow streets of Yomawari: Night Alone. Limited line of sight, an isometric view, and the various behaviours of malevolent spirits means death is certain. There are no weapons to defend yourself against the wandering Yokai, and no health bar. Get caught and you are dead. Several sections of the game involve long periods of trial and error, as you work out how to avoid an array of adversaries, making the whole experience both infuriating and incredibly satisfying to beat.
While the game is not easy is is fairly forgiving of mistakes. Players that are caught by spirits can return to one of the town’s re-spawn points without losing progress. Collected items are still available and the game can be saved by returning to your character’s home. As the only hard save point available, this proves fairly frustrating when saving requires a cross town trek for no discernible reason. This coupled with the scarcity of re-spawn points, is a little inconvenient for a game centred around exploration and survival.
Narratively, Yomawari: Night Alone is fairly short but very well put together. It has to be, there are no set quests to drive you through the game. Instead, players are left to hunt down clues and explore the narrative around town. The game is steeped in the lore of its environment and finds players uncovering the darker side of its residents as they deviate from the central story. The main arc can be completed in anywhere as little as a few hours, but take a look around and, provided you do not wake the spirits, there is plenty to uncover.
Ultimately Yomawari: Night Alone does have its own share of other issues. It is billed as a horror game, but I found it deeply tragic, unsettling, and creepy. Players looking for jump scares and zombie hordes might find this unsatisfying, yet the game does not lack emotional impact. Gathering also feels a little like it could have been developed further, and some players may even leave the game a little confused about its message.
Despite its flaws I loved my time with this title. After years of being desensitised to western horror’s distortion of the human form, the indescribable creatures and unnerving atmosphere were a refreshing change. The emphasis on Japanese henge and yurei make this no Yo-Kai Watch. Do not be fooled by its cute exterior, this creepy tale will definitely raise your heart rate. Yomawari: Night Alone is out now on PS Vita and is also available on Steam.
About the Author
Edward "Screenager" Orr