Yomawari: Midnight Shadows is full of surprises. Some people may bemoan the cutesy art style and complain how its not real enough to be a horror experience. However, Yomawari: Midnight Shadows certainly knows how to convey a sense of dread – an impressive feat for a title that really adheres more to a show than tell approach.
When PY volunteered to review Yomawari: Night Alone last year, I had no idea what to expect. Mostly because he’s a chicken when it comes to horror games (sorry buddy, but you know I speak the truth here <- PY’s Note “he really does!”). However, despite a few flaws here and there, he found himself completely sucked in by the tale.
Yomawari: Midnight Shadows gives you an incredibly jolting beginning. While you may be eased into the game’s basics like the controls, let’s just say that the content doesn’t pull any punches. We follow two young girls – Yui and Harui who were watching fireworks from the woods. On their way back home, the girls get separated and find one another as the narrative switches from one girl to the other as the story progresses. You’re looking at the same basic setting as the first game, but there is more content and some of the foibles from the first game have been cleaned up here. Of course, one of the biggest advantages is just updating the visuals to take advantage of the PlayStation 4 over the Vita. Despite the adorable character and zone design, the team’s use of shadows, light and subtle movements enveloped the gameplay, immersing me almost from the opening scene.
The visual style is an odd one, but it works well. Walking through a brown path in a green forest illuminated by a bright cone of light coming from your character is a tense proposition, despite the cutey nature of the graphics. The characters are not overly expressive, but the use of shadows and light still paint a tense scene. This is ably assisted by fantastic audio design that is focused on sound effects and not spooky music. These audio cues are important, as they are oftentimes the only hint you have that danger is nearby.
The gameplay is of the run and don’t fight variety that has popularized survival video games over the last several years. Neither girl is going to threaten the spirits that can and will kill them (a lot) over the span of the adventure. Primarily, you will spot them – or be spotted by them – and take to hiding out of sight until the moment’s danger has passed. There are a variety of items that can be found and used to distract or stun the spirits, and they will be key to success since they come in an impressive number of flavors. Some of the spirits will outright chase the girls down, some are more patrol-bound, but all of them present a clear and immediate threat. This sense of tension is heightened by mysterious voices or sudden, jarring slamming sounds. Yomawari: Midnight Shadows teaches you to listen to your surroundings for survival, and the team at Nippon Ichi Software makes masterful use of this in startling you during the gameplay.
One could look at those moments as cheap jump scare tactics, but they serve a purpose. If you start to ignore your surroundings, stop listening for important audio cues, you will suffer the consequences. While you will die numerous times, it has to be said that the checkpoint system in Yomawari: Midnight Shadows is actually pretty generous. That is good, or else the frequent deaths may have gotten frustrating. Some of the scenarios and boss encounters are more frustrating than others, but on the whole this is a well-paced game that has you invested in the two primary characters and their story.
This is at the core of why Yomawari: Midnight Shadows works so well. Certainly you could have more gore, more realistic graphics, a soundtrack that gets loud and almost screams “YOU SHOULD BE SCARED NOW”, but instead everything is handled with more nuance. I really don’t dare go further into the story than I have already – but the heart of the tale is how Haru and Yui are best friends who were trying to enjoy an important night together before being tasked with fear not only for their own well being, but for one another as well. This gives weight to the story, because each girl progresses, surviving while wondering about the other. Because of this, the game’s narrative manages to effectively dangle new carrots, luring me further into the story and further into caring about the fate of the two girls.
Most of the gameplay is of the puzzle variety – not necessarily in the traditional sense, but encountering spirits in a particular location or situation and piecing together how to best advance. It is a relatively simple formula, but effectively handled. Couple this with a story that takes about a dozen hours to beat (there are lots of collectibles that can be found along the way as well for completionists), I came away with a strong sense of satisfaction in the end.