by Joshua Russo
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Publisher: NIS America
Format: PlayStation Vita (Reviewed), Steam
Released: October 25, 2016
Yomawari: Night Alone summons both fear and emotion
Yomawari: Night Alone hits all the right notes of a great survival horror game. You might not realize it at first glance, but yes, this is a survival horror game. The atmosphere, story-telling and constant sense of danger provide an experience that is cute, emotional and absolutely terrifying. No video game has made my heart race faster and more often than Yomawari: Night Alone.
A little girl who is searching for her big sister, who went out to find their missing dog. Once she leaves the house and starts wandering around the city, it becomes clear that something very strange and paranormal is going on. The quaint little Japanese city has become infested with ghouls, monsters and other ghastly things that go bump in the night. Yomawari hooked me from the very beginning with an incredibly effective tutorial. Those first five minutes are absolutely shocking and unforgettable.
I was well aware that Yomawari was billed as a horror game, but I underestimated its potential to instill fear based on the charming art direction. When you step outside your home and into the city, everything appears so calm and peaceful. Every detail looks like a town you would see in a Studio Ghibli film. The protagonist is also drawn up in such a cute chibi style that it seems like this can’t possibly be a scary game. That illusion quickly wears off once enemies start to appear from the shadows and begin hunting you down.
Yomawari does several things very well, but the lighting and sound are what makes this game so haunting. Since it is nighttime, of course most areas you go to will be dark. Luckily, you will be able to use a flash light to illuminate your paths. The light will also reveal some frightening creatures that are hiding in the shadows.
You will also hear some of these monsters, because there is no music at all, just the sounds of the night. Crickets, wind, footsteps and even the hum of nearby vending machines can be heard as you travel around town. Other than that, the air is tense with silence. The way your footsteps echo below when walking over a sewer drain remind you just how alone you are. When an enemy is near, you will hear the drum of a heartbeat. The closer the enemies are, the faster it beats. Oh, and you cannot fight back, you’re completely defenseless. If you’re lucky enough to find a hiding spot, you can jump in a bush or behind a sign while the monster searches around the area for you. You will see a flash of the monster’s proximity to you every time your heart beats, letting you know if it is safe to come out or not.
It’s pretty much a guarantee that at some point, you will get caught and you will be killed. I died quite a lot during my time with Yomawari. After each death, my adrenaline was pumping like crazy. I would often think I was in the clear from an enemy only to be suddenly killed by another one or by cornering myself in a dead end after taking a wrong turn. Hearing my heart begin to beat and flailing my flashlight around to find the source of the fear is a thrill every single time. That sense of terror is what a great horror game is all about and Yomawari delivers big time in that department.
Yomawari‘s story is split up in chapters, each one with a clear objective. You are free to continue the storyline, but you can also explore the city at your leisure. There are plenty of areas to roam around and a lot of collectibles to find. Some of them will even appear in your room throughout the evening as the game goes on. The map is a decent size and has plenty of little easter eggs and creepy places to find. You may want to explore as much of the city as you can, as the game is a little on the shorter side, clocking in around 4-5 hours.