It’s been a long time since I played a game that’s left me a bit shaken. Yet somehow Yomawari: Night Alone managed to do just that. This small survival horror title, created by Nippon Ichi Software of Disgaea fame, reminded me of classic survival horror games such as Clock Tower and Haunting Ground.
Yomawari tells the story of a young girl who is forced into an impossible situation. During a walk about the town, the young girl’s dog Poro goes missing and her sister goes looking for it. When she in turn disappears the young girl goes out to look for them. What follows is a trip that would lead any normal person into a mental breakdown.
As night approaches the little girl begins to see all kinds of manifestations from humanoid shadows to monsters that I can’t even describe to you simply because I couldn’t tell exactly what I was looking it. The story itself leads to some pretty messed up locations where you discover the dark secrets that the town hides but when it comes to the main story it really doesn’t lead anywhere exciting. After I actually finished the game I was even more confused by it’s ending. Maybe I just didn’t quite catch on to what it was trying to tell me, or I just don’t understand Japanese horror very well.
Yomawari is a simple game at heart. As the little girl you explore a large open town looking for clues to your sister’s whereabouts. As you explore the surroundings, ghostly creatures roam the streets — most are out for blood while others are just simply stuck in the afterlife. Most of the creatures you encounter will be invisible in the dark and you must rely on your trusty flashlight to see most of them. Because you don’t have anything to defend yourself, your only chance to survive is to run away or around whatever it is that’s chasing you. The town is also full of bushes that you can hide in to wait out the danger. You do get some stones and torches to use but they are mostly for distracting the creatures to allow you to sneak by them.
Most of the creatures in the game are slow and it’s easy to move around them as long as you have enough stamina to keep running. While being chased your stamina drops pretty fast and you have to constantly pay attention to it. This lead to a lot of deaths as I was constantly running around the town looking for collectibles and just simply not paying attention to my surroundings and draining my stamina leaving me with nothing to runaway with.
Yomawari’s story doesn’t take long to finish. I clocked my clear time in around four and a half hours, but that’s just for the main story. Yomawari features plenty of collectibles to find around the town and some awesome sidequests to get through. The side quests themselves don’t act like normal side quests, where you would go and undertake it from a quest marker. Yomawari’s side quests are more like those found in Dark Souls where you find an item or encounter a creature you haven’t seen before and have to figure out what to do from there.
These quests were great and very well executed. Some of them even feature powerful and tragic tales that sent chills up and down my arms. It’s also very impressive that these emotions are produced without any dialogue, most of it’s done through the descriptions of items, creature designs, the environment, and the situation you’re in. I should also note that you don’t need to complete these quests when they become available, you can save them for after you finish the game and unlock the free roam mode, allowing you to go out and do sidequests as well as find collectibles.
One of the glaring issues I encountered were moments where I was pretty much forced to die. Yomawari: Night Alone would sometimes put you into impossible situations that leads to your death. There were a lot of times where I would encounter event scenarios where I would be chased by a boss-like creature with multiple paths to run to, but some of which will lead to dead ends ending in death. It wouldn’t be so bad if a lot of the checkpoints didn’t send you back so far. The checkpoint system is also a bit troublesome.
There are shrines spread around the town that allow you to fast travel around the town but also act as quicksaves if you have enough coins to offer it. This is all fine and dandy as long as you don’t quit the game or run out of battery life on your Vita. The quicksaves are not real save points but a mere checkpoint, letting you restart at the shrine after you die, but if you quit the game you would have to restart at the beginning of the chapter.
Unlike most horror games Yomawari’s camera angle is an isometric one. At first glance I said to myself there is no way this type of game can be scary, and although its light on jump scares, it relies heavily on its incredible atmosphere and sound design. The game is downright creepy and its creep factor is amplified some phenomenal sound design. Yomawari doesn’t feature much of a soundtrack but it doesn’t need it. There is just something creepy about hearing your own footsteps while slowly moving around your environments and hearing the creepy and disturbing sounds the creatures make. The sounds the creatures give off is also important as it indicates that they are close by, even though you can’t see them unless your flashlight is illuminating them.
I also really enjoyed Yomawari’s art style. The little girl stands out with her innocent design, sporting a pink bow and small bunny backpack. Her design contradicts the look of the world she inhabits but I think it’s a perfect fit simply because it demonstrates just how innocent she is. Like I mentioned before, the creature designs are just insane. They start off simple enough with simple shadow creatures chasing you around but evolve pretty damn fast from your typical long black hair woman to dogs with human faces. The variety of creatures you encounter are plentiful and each one requires a different strategy to survive against.
At one point I was simply walking down the road and noticed something moving up fast behind me, as I turned around I saw a skinned man running right at me. It scared the crap out of me. It was one of the few times that the game actually scared me and creeped me out at the same time. Another example are creatures that look like children’s drawings of a child. These creatures would simply stay in place, or so I thought. As I walked by one I thought nothing of it until there was another one and another. After walking by three of them I started to hear the laughter of children. This was enough to get my heart racing but it wasn’t until I turned around and the three of them were literally breathing down my neck with their evil sharp fangs coming out of their mouth. It was very hard for me to continue after this point and I just had to take a break.
It’s hard to find a horror game these days that doesn’t rely on the constant jump scare and instead uses atmosphere and sound to really put you on edge. Yomawari: Night Out left me on edge quite a bit and is a game that needs to played with headphones for the best experience. It may be a simple game, but simple doesn’t mean bad. I just wish it could have lasted a bit longer and didn’t force me die whenever it wanted me to.