Published by NIS America
Reviewed on PS Vita (also available on Steam)
Yomawari Night Alone is a back to the basics, survival horror game with a deceptively cute aesthetic arriving just in time for Halloween. By stripping away conventional horror genre elements like the ability to fight, item management, and even story telling to an extent, Nippon Ichi Software has crafted a streamlined survival horror experience that’s tense and full of mystery. There’s very little hand holding, largely leaving it to the plays to figure out what to do. Unlike it’s spiritual predecessor, htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary, Yomawari is much less frustrating experience despite the game’s trial and error nature.
Yomawari’s visuals are an eclectic blend of beautifully handrawn backdrops filled with unnervingly nightmarish monsters. The young girl is drawn a cartoonishy chibi way that clashes with these monstrosities but also serves to highlight her own vulnerability and innocence within their realm. Yomawari is best experienced playing with a pair of headphones or in a very quiet room as you’ll rely heavily on audio cues to detect and avoid enemies. There’s no music during game play, which is actually a benefit because it adds to the tension and having music would detract from the game’s strong sound design.
As mentioned, there’s very plot little exposition and dialogue in Yomawari. You play as a nameless young girl who lives with her sister and dog in a small town filled with malevolent spirits. After a very brief tutorial, your dog Poro goes missing during a late night stroll around town. Not long after that so does your sister, too. It becomes clear that it’s unsafe to walk around at night, yet that’s that only time our young protagonist is able to actively search for her missing loved ones. The game consists of several chapters, each one taking place over the course of a night in the town. The game itself isn’t very long, but there’s some incentive to back to discover areas you may have missed earlier if you’re a completionist.
Gameplay consists of exploring the town for clues regarding her missing loved ones, avoiding the spirits that roam the streets, and the occasional puzzle solving. Our young protagonist is only armed with a flash light that enables her to see the spirits. She is also able to throw items, run for a limited time based on her stamina meter, and hide in places like bushes, trash cans, and signs. Both have their drawbacks; when you’re near a spirit your stamina is greatly reduced due to the girls’ fear and while you’re completely safe when hidden, you’re also forced to wait until they’ve passed before you can continue on. When you’re near a spirit the screen begins to distort and the game’s audio begins to distort. All it takes is one touch from the spirits and it’s game over. This can get frustrating as often times spirits of all sizes and speed can appear out of no where. Adding to the frustration is that the map itself isn’t particularly useful, making it a challenge . The trial and error nature of the game play is thankfully offset by the generous amounts of check points and quick save areas. Be sure to collect as many coins since they’re needed to activate these quick saves.
While the core gameplay is simplistic and the story telling is minimal, the game manages to remain compelling each night thanks in part to how it cohesively ties its themes together. The protagonist doesn’t say much, yet the game masterfully illustrates not only her fear, but also innocence; the aforementioned puzzles involve not destroying the spirits, but rather finding ways to bring them peace so that they may finally rest. This ranges from offering a ghost dog a bone or finding placing a treasured memento on the grave of a spirit that’s been chasing after you. It’s these little unique, intimate details that make Yomawari one of the more interesting horror games long after the jump scares and monsters no longer frighten you.