By Ashley Ring / October 18th, 2016
|Title||Yomawari: Night Alone|
|Developer||Nippon Ichi Software|
|Release Date||October 25, 2016|
2D survival horror games seem to be something that are becoming commonplace in my gaming adventures. Ever since the 2012 release of Lone Survivor, I’ve become more and more interested in what kind of experiences and moods can be accomplished by this type of game. Much to my initial surprise, the moods created by 2D horror can be just as effective, and sometimes even moreso, than their more recent 3D counterparts. Now another 2D horror experience, Yomawari: Night Alone has arrived. How does it stack up to the rest of the titles in the genre?
Yomawari: Night Alone is the story of a unnamed young girl who is frantically searching for both her missing sister and her dog. Throughout her journey to find them, she must follow the trail left behind by her loved ones as she travels through many different locales in her hometown. Unfortunately for her, something is amiss. Hostile spirits of the dead, as well as a few horrifying monsters, now walk the streets. If she ever wants to find her loved ones, she’ll have to carefully sneak by them or she may end up like the spirits she’s trying to avoid.
The way the story is presented is probably one of the highlights for me. It’s a sad and dark tale that is told in a very subtle way. Yomawari uses very few short cutscenes throughout the entirety of the plot. Instead, each chapter gives you an objective, as well as having its own theme. Much of the happenings of the area you’re exploring are told through optional billboards that you can read to give some background. You can also find various newspaper clippings, notes, and items on the ground that don’t aid you in progressing but give some insight to an event that happened. The best example of this was in one of the earlier chapters; you’ll find billboards warning about the dangers of a cliff ahead and a girl who went missing in the area. You’ll find old crumpled up notes left by the girl, as well as some of her belongings. All of this leads to a great build up that turns into quite an intense chase sequence.
Thanks to that subtle approach of storytelling, Yomawari: Night Alone’s biggest strength is able to shine, which is the exploration. The entire game is spent searching the streets of your hometown, with several key locations marked on your map. Each chapter has a specific destination to travel to, but you can generally walk around the town somewhat freely. Some locations in later parts of the story might be blocked off, but much of the streets and surrounding areas near your next destination are all open to exploration. Much of what you can investigate is optional, and usually rewards you with more story background, items or even a side quest. Since exploration is my favorite aspect of horror games, I really liked this approach, as it gives me plenty to do while moving towards my next goal.
The environments that you’ll explore are presented in a 2D isometric view, and they look great. Everything is detailed and pleasing to the eye. Unlike most horror games, the environments aren’t claustrophobic, nor do they feature blood, gore, or even look dilapidated. Instead the environments hit much closer to home, presenting an ordinary looking town. While I do love the more traditional horror environments, what Yomawari: Night Alone does with its ordinary looking scenery is a nice change, and puts an interesting twist on surroundings that should feel safe. At first I did feel a little disappointed that the entire game takes place outside, and there are no indoor areas to explore. This feeling quickly went away as I progressed through the story, as I feel the way the enemy encounters are designed just wouldn’t work well in a more closed off space.
During your exploration, you’ll frequently start to hear the sound of a beating heart, which is signifying that an enemy may be nearby. The catch is, you won’t be able to see most enemies with just your naked eye, and you’ll need to shine your flashlight on them first. Whenever I saw an enemy, I would try to run past them as there is no combat whatsoever in this game, but that would almost always get me killed relatively quickly. The enemy designs are good but most of them don’t feel very menacing. Some of them are quite cute, actually! There are a few notable monsters that are pretty creepy that you definitely don’t want to run into! Death is something you’ll be experiencing very, very often in this game. The second any enemy touches you, its game over. This can be extremely frustrating and tedious as one hit deaths are never fun and to base the entire game’s design around it is questionable. Thankfully, the checkpoint system is incredibly forgiving, though it does cost in-game currency to use one of them. Fortunately, in-game currency is extremely plentiful and you’ll almost always have the maximum amount of coins you’re allowed to hold. Whenever you die, you immediately spawn back at the last checkpoint you rested at, retaining any key items you may have gotten before dying. This makes the frequent deaths a little less frustrating, but at the same time the whole way this is designed kills any possible tension this could have had as a horror game. There is no consequence at all for dying except for having to backtrack slightly to where you died.
It will become quickly apparent that running past enemies is not the way to go, as your ability to run is tied to a stamina meter that drains incredibly fast when near an enemy. Instead, the better approach to take is much more quiet and stealthy. Holding down the L1 button will zoom in the camera slightly and allow you to tiptoe your way quietly past an enemy. It’s actually surprising just how close you can get to them while sneaking your way around without them even noticing you. When they do notice you, running might be a better option but if you’re too close, you might not be able to get away before your stamina runs out completely. Once I learned that this is the better approach, I started to enjoy the game a little bit more, and it became less frustrating to play.
Additionally, you’ll often find bushes and sign posts that you can hide in during enemy pursuit. While hiding in one of these, you’re completely invincible and it’s impossible for an enemy to grab you out of a hiding spot even if they see you run into it. The catch is, when you’re in hiding you cannot see anything, the screen goes black and you just see the little sister curled up in a ball with her hands on her head. You’ll need to pay attention to the red light on the screen that pulsates, which indicates how close the enemy is to you, and what direction it’s walking in. These hiding spots are a life saver, and they can really give you a slight rush while seeing your stamina drain quickly while running to one of these safe havens.
For a while, I thought that this was all the game would have to offer in terms of gameplay. Thankfully, I was wrong. In the later chapters it does present interesting puzzles to get around enemies. When I say puzzles, I don’t mean the traditional survival horror puzzles, but rather using your brain to figure out how to get by certain formations of enemies. Late in the game there is an enemy that doesn’t respond to anything except for when light shines on it. At first it’s pretty straightforward, just strategically strafe past a few of them. It gets more complicated, though. The further you go in, the more you’ll be faced with groups of this monster in closer proximity to each other, making it harder to get past them without shining any light on them. Instead, you’ll find matches in the area you can throw on the ground that will attract the enemy to it for a short amount of time, allowing you to maneuver. I really liked this, as it came about halfway through the game when I was craving something different. There are other things that the game changes up later on to make it more interesting, such as warping between two versions of the same area to solve a big puzzle that I also really liked, but I don’t want to spoil every cool thing in Yomawari: Night Alone.
Perhaps the most disappointing thing to me in Yomawari: Night Alone was its sound design. It’s not bad, but it just lacks much of anything to really enhance the atmosphere and tension. Most of the time you’ll just be hearing the ambient sounds in the night, with no real eerie music to add to the atmosphere. There are a few good tracks every now and then, but for the most part it’s very quiet and just didn’t work for me.
Yomawari: Night Alone is a decent horror title that has a good, minimalist story and is interesting but lacks anything that’s actually scary. It can occasionally be frustrating but once you get the hang of it, it does become a lot more fun. At $19.99 for the digital version, it’s not a bad deal at all. The physical version costs $39.99 (or $49.99 for the limited edition), but it does come bundled with another game, htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary. The game is relatively short, clocking in at around 5-6 hours on my first playthrough. Yomawari: Night Alone constantly puts players in a vulnerable state with its non empowering gameplay, going for a much more stealthy approach, making it easy to recommend to fans of the horror genre.
Review copy provided by the publisher.
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