Resident Evil 7: Biohazard has been grabbing all the horror game attention recently, especially with the staggered release of gameplay videos. With all this headline-grabbing PR, it would be easy for people to miss Yomawari: Night Alone (on PS Vita and PC) from Nippon Ichi Software. This would be a real shame as this deceptively cute-looking game more than deserves our attention.
The game places you as a little girl looking for her lost sister and missing dog. Unfortunately, on the very evening they disappear, your hometown becomes more haunted than a house on a Native American burial site. This setup is more than just skin deep, though; it cleverly frames the gameplay mechanics for the rest of the game. You are given a vague objective — find your sister — and are expected to explore in order to achieve this goal. Cue that lost feeling we all experienced as a child, and you're immediately involved.
This flows into how you deal with the hordes of monsters roaming around. You quickly learn that each nightmarish entity has a different movement pattern and behavior triggers. How do you learn this? Normally by dying. There are visual indications to use, such as the demon with bandages wrapped around their head. They can be avoided by tiptoeing around them. It took me far too long to figure that one out.
The Horrors Are Unavoidable
This trial-and-error atmosphere generates a real sense of permanent fear. You never feel truly safe, aware that around the next corner could be an unexpected monster or sprite. You consistently feel weak and vulnerable. By making you blindly explore, you can't avoid the horrors surrounding you. More effectively, you are forced to decipher their strengths and weaknesses. However, even after hours of play, you'll still never shake off that feeling that the next hellish creature will be your downfall.
There are many gamers who will revel in this freakish land of opportunity, drinking in the on-edge setting and gameplay. That sensation of not being in control was a fresh one for horror games, which have for too long felt the need to empower the player. Yomawari: Night Alone strips you of any perceived power and demands you respect it. Equally, those who prefer more solid direction will find the game overly challenging. Most of the mysteries and puzzles posed by Night Alone offer little to no clear advice, which could quickly become more frustrating than fun.
Fear And Frustration
Graphically, the game is simple in style, with some twists and flare. The world is almost Studio Ghibli in design, especially in regards to the monsters. They are recognizable, which makes their existence even more terrifying. The buildings, streets and locations are gloomy facsimiles of real-world (anime generic) Japanese towns, and they do create a claustrophobic element as you travel around them. Indeed, this concept of all-encompassing fear is the game's dominant strength —and weakness.
There are almost no ways to fight back against the monstrosities of the town. Later in the game, you may discover ways to stall them or misguide them, but only very rarely (read: practically never) can you remove them from play altogether. This makes you fill with fear with every corner-of-your-eye glimpse, as one touch from these beasts will lead to your death and subsequent resurrection at the last save point. However, while this is effective in generating that horror atmosphere, it can rapidly become infuriating. Especially true when you're occasionally cornered in new areas by new enemies in a depressing death/repeat gameplay loop.
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Instead of taking the monsters on or running past them, you are taught to hide within the environment and wait for the creatures to leave. While hiding, the screen zooms into the object you're hiding behind. You cannot see the area around you, and must instead rely on the pace of your character's heartbeat to determine whether it's safe to move on.
These moments are impressively tense, especially if playing with headphones on. However, there are times when enemies linger for a little too long, consequently turning tension into irritation and frustration. Similarly, the zoomed-in view of where you are hiding is significantly more graphically retro than the rest of the game. This leads to long periods of time staring at a lackluster screen, with an unnecessarily long pause in gameplay opportunity.
A Survivor Or A Casualty?
Despite the evident flaws of the game, Yomawari: Night Alone is a fantastic horror title. The scares are mostly effective, and the game will leave you with that eery feeling you want from the genre. While it isn't especially long — collectible hoarders will probably take around 5–6 hours — the time you spend with the game, it's story, and the characters is time well spent. It left me hungry for more, but more than satisfied with what I had. If you're hankering for that ideal, old-school fright title, then you should definitely pick up Yomawari: Night Alone.
Yomawari: Night Alone from NIS America and Nippon Ichi Software is available for Steam and PS Vita from October 28.
Have you played Yomawari: Night Alone? What were your thoughts? What horror title are you looking forward to? Let us know in the comments below! —
(Full Disclosure – GameOrNought was provided a Steam copy of Yomawari: Night Alone by NIS America)