Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
With Halloween being just a few days away from the official release date, NIS America could not have picked a better moment to release this horror title. Yomawari: Night Alone has nothing to do with Halloween itself, but as the days of October get shorter and the darkness sets in quicker, there’s a coolness in the air and a creepiness to the game that comes together perfectly to chill you to the bone.
Everyone has their own types of fears whether they are rational or not. Being left alone, being chased through the darkness by something that can’t quite be made out, getting lost, losing a loved one, or simply not being able to find their way through an obstacle when it matters most. Having left before dark and not having come back yet, this is the story of a little girl as she explores the darkness covered streets of her hometown for her big sister that set out before sunset in order to find their dog that “ran away”. Armed with nothing but a flashlight, she will face all the above and more.
As stated, Yomawari isn’t simply one style of horror. It has just about everything and it uses it quite effectively. Jump scares, shock factor, the slow and increasing tension before letting it all loose into a full out chase scene. While being a completely different style than that of Among the Sleep that gave me horrible nightmares, Yomawari finds itself in the same ballpark but for different reasons. In both of these the player will find themselves in different, but none the less, helpless shoes. In the former it was clear that everything we take for granted is because we’ve grown up, we’ve gotten taller, and it’s easier to move across the room and reach door handles easily. Here there is nothing that can be taken for granted as the only thing that this girl has access to is her sister’s flashlight that does a total of two things. The first? It lights up where she’s stepping. The second? It shows the ghosts hidden in the darkness.
Our protagonist is young and being that young there are still some things that either cannot be understood or the mind simply puts up barriers in order to not understand it because the reality is too horrible to think of. This comes across in several instances including the reason that she searches the darkness covered streets for her sister. Walking through these streets however it is clear that not only are the ghosts deformed and hard to make out at times, but the more human styled ones come across as horrible scribbles or shadows that are honestly more terrifying than the non-human ones because of the fact that they cannot be distinguished.
The ghosts themselves would be terrifying in the first place but it is only made worse by the fact that this is all happening in a rural town that simply adds to the atmosphere. Having taken place in a city the evening may not have been as creepy as cities tend to leave the lights on. In a rural town however, there’s a streetlight maybe every other corner and most of these streets are clad in darkness short of those with houses that have left the front light on. Adding in large trees that only help to reduce visibility and the atmosphere is set and more than unsettling to say the least.
Now while the atmosphere alone could make you run to turn a lamp on, run outside into the sunshine to forget the darkness, or run to the dog or cat for cuddles and reassurance that life is really ok, it’s nothing compared to how you navigate this darkness. Our little protagonist is exactly that, little. Walking, tiptoeing, or running through these streets are all going to be on tiny legs that don’t exactly move as fast as we would want them to. This works exceptionally well in her favour when trying to not make noise in order to sneak by but when the chase is on? She can’t sometimes move fast enough.
While there is sometimes nowhere to run, there can be somewhere to hide which if her tiny legs can take her there. While it may be childish in a manner, there is a saying and Yomawari takes it to heart. If you can’t see them then they can’t see you. Bushes and signs can can be used to hide behind in order to block the ghosts view of you. Hiding behind these however blocks all sight allowing you to hear nothing but the beat of her heart as the adrenaline pumps the blood quickly through her veins. Visually the only thing that can be seen is the bush or the sign with her sometimes hiding “in front” of it depending on the angle that the object was approached by. Adding to the visuals in order to allow an easier time to figure out if it’s safe to leave or not are large red blots in time with the heartbeats. Having both the audio and the visuals in place is a great help as otherwise the consequences may be deadly.
While moving through town slowly or quickly depending on the situation with her flashlight, there are sometimes in which the ghosts will catch up to you. Yomawari holds nothing back as there in a manner are no “second chances”. Being caught by a ghost results in becoming a violent blood splatter on the screen in which almost had me drop my controller in shock the first time as I started off on a PSTV. Yomawari being played on 103” is not something for the faint of heart, and thus I went back down to the Vita’s tinier screen in order to scare myself stupid. Thank you NIS America, as I barely slept that night.
“Dying” is interesting as it does not result in a game over or a loss of progress. Instead of this, after becoming a blood splatter our little protagonist will either start back off in her room or from one of the various Jizo statues around town. Saving properly is done in her room while a quicksave can be done at any Jizo statue for a donation in which will also act as a spawning point if she dies. The difference between the two is any time that our little protagonist goes home she loses her usable items such as coins, fish, and rocks. This doesn’t happen if the story forces this however which is a good thing.
The other benefit of the Jizo statues other than allowing quicksaving is that they can alleviate a bit of the stress by allowing to teleport between all the ones that have been uncovered. Some streets are filled with ghosts at just the wrong place making it almost impossible to traverse as there’s a sense of paralysing fear that takes hold once they are close. This paralysing fear comes across as a very rapid depletion of stamina making it more of a mad scramble away than an actual run. There are ways around this with other streets and hiding places accessible but sometimes? Sometimes you just need to run before the ghost gets you on the muddy hillside.
The biggest thing that has to be kept in mind while exploring is how little our little protagonist can do both in terms of being a human with angry spirits around, and the controls you have in order to explore. Yomawari has very minimalist controls. One shoulder to tiptoe, one to run, the left stick to move and the right stick to shine the flashlight around. Adding only one more button to manipulate items, the last is the menu. This above all else helps reinforce exactly how little she can do while exploring and how important it is to use what she has in order to run away. While the flashlight is useful to see in the dark… sometimes it may have been better not knowing what was there…