|Platforms||PC, PSV (reviewed)|
|Developer||Nippon Ichi Software|
|Release Date||October 25, 2016|
Review code provided
Few games I can recall have so thoroughly and completely grabbed my attention in the opening moments as Yomawari: Night Alone, a game I played through almost exclusively on long train commutes thanks to its appearance on Playstation Vita. Usually when I play a game under such conditions, I’m really only half-playing, as the general hubbub surrounding me proves some sort of distraction. I tell you this because Yomawari thoroughly engrossed me from start to finish despite environmental distractions, to the point that it rendered me oblivious to a nearby Hen party on one such train ride.
Let’s unpack those first few moments of gameplay. A young girl is walking her pet dog Poro at night. All is fairly calm, as the game teaches you its basic controls, when the girl’s attention is drawn to a rock at the side of the road. The game teaches you how to interact with and use objects by having you pick up and throw the rock. Poro gives chase and there’s a very sharp, sudden crash and splash of red on the Vita screen as the poor pup is hit by a truck. Once I regained my senses, the picture faded in on a clearly traumatised young girl stood shaking at the side of the road, a trail of blood leading off the road being all that seemingly remained of Poro.
The young girl runs home to get help from her big sister, waiting at home as the older girl sets off in search of the missing dog. Eventually, the younger girl sets off in search of big sis, who has been gone a suspiciously long time. When they’re reunited, big sis tells little sis to hide in a nearby bush and close her eyes no matter what. Upon emerging from the bush the young girl is chased by nightmarish monstrosities through the abandoned streets of her hometown. That’s roughly the first 10-15 minutes of Yomawari. And it’s a fantastic opening to a solid horror game, setting a very specific tone that the rest of the experience follows through on.
Yomawari is an isometric horror game set in an open-world that slowly expands itself through a series of chapters. Your main objective is to explore the town to try and find your missing dog and big sister, dodging some truly nightmarish creatures along the way. I’m not sure what twisted imagination birthed the creatures you’ll encounter along your travels through Yomawari, but some of them are absolutely terrifying.
There’s a twisted insanity to their design – they’re almost completely alien, with just enough recognisable features to invoke true terror in anyone unfortunate enough to cross their path. Bouncing eyeballs will suddenly emerge from bushes to block your path, headless horses that also happen to be on fire will sometimes be waiting in ambush around corners. And whatever the hell this is can stay locked away in my nightmares where it belongs thank you very much:
Every facet of Yomawari is designed to be as intense as possible, with the incredibly creative and downright terrifying monsters that stalk the streets merely the tip of the iceberg. Yomawari primarily plays on that intrinsic, primal fear of the dark that’s hardwired into us as Human beings. Monsters are everywhere, liberally stalking the town as you try to find your big sis and your beloved pet dog. The twist? You can only see them in the light.
In lieu of any actual combat, your flashlight very quickly becomes your best friend throughout this highly traumatic night in hell (streetlights help too). When monsters are close the little girl’s heartbeat will become audible – the faster it thumps the closer you are to death. Swinging your flashlight back and forth in an attempt to find a nightmare fuel monstrosity that you’re sure is one step away from you is some of the most intense gameplay I’ve experienced this year.
When you do spot a creature your only options are to either attempt to tiptoe past undetected or run like hell and find a hiding place. Unfortunately the closer you are to death the harder running away actually becomes. Your stamina meter is tied into the protagonists heartbeat – the harder your heart is thumping, the quicker your stamina runs out. While generally exploring the world you’re afforded liberal amounts of stamina to make huge strides in progress. When a demonic dog is one step behind you…not so much.
Even hiding is intense. Diving into a bush and closing your eyes is the only way to lose your pursuers. When you do this, the entire view is focused on the scared little girl you’re controlling cowering with her eyes shut. The deafening din of her heartbeat remains as ominous red clouds, representing the monsters that are right there, hover around you. Yomawari takes every opportunity possible to remind you that you’re completely powerless in its world.
Death is a constant companion on your journey. You’ll probably met your end a lot in Yomawari. The game features a risk/reward checkpointing system. Each time you die you’ll respawn at the little girls house. Any items you find or progress you’ve made will stick with you, but it can be a long trek back to wherever you met your end. Luckily the town is littered with shrines you can use as quicksave points. These shrines, however, require coins to be activated, which you’ll need to scour the environment to find.
Most often death is swift, as most of the enemies in the game will one-hit kill you. Oftentimes you’ll never see it coming thanks to the light/dark mechanics at play. Other times you’ll make a wrong move, be taken completely be surprise or simply charge into an unwinnable situation. There are plenty of ways you’ll die in Yomawari, unfortunately some imprecise controls can also occasionally cause your downfall. Whether using the d-pad or analogue sticks, movement can be quite floaty in Yomawari. It never really detracts from the experience, but it’s just enough to cause a few frustrating, unwanted deaths.
The game does also get less scary as it progresses, as you become accustomed to the types of scares that will be thrown your way, although the minimalistic story remains chilling right until the very end (it helps that it’s far too easy to empathise with the main character and her plight). Whether through incredibly creepy creatures or the content of its story, however, Yomawari is a haunting experience that I won’t soon forget.
Yomwari: Night Alone is one of the more intense experiences of 2016, as well as being the best Vita game I’ve played all year. It features a standout opening sequence that few games can match and fulfils the promise set out by those opening minutes throughout the rest of its running time. The art style is gorgeous, giving birth to creatively designed monsters made from pure nightmare fuel, ripped straight from the mind of a madwoman (I mean that in the nicest possible way, major props to Yu Mizokami for her fantastic creature designs). Yomawari is a game that will linger in my memory for a long time thanks to some incredibly tense, well designed horror gameplay.
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