Horror games are a genre of gaming that always interested me. They can get under your skin and make you really think about yourself, and see the world around you differently from before. Japanese Horror games like Silent Hill always did a strong job at making you scared all the while pulling the rug under your feet at the worse (best) possible moments.
I love horror like that, as it the terror gets inside your head and avoids the normal jump-scare or overly bloody moments. The PlayStation Vita and Steam release Yomawari: Night Alone is a horror game from NIS America that captures the spirit of horror games like Silent Hill, with you exploring a haunted town looking for your lost sister and her dog.
You playing as a little girl makes the dynamics quite interesting and presents a horror game that feels more like an adventure game with horror elements than anything else. But does the unique protagonist and interesting puzzles offer a terrifying experience?
The story follows a unnamed little girl as she walks her dog home, but she finds a rock on the floor and just throws it in the middle of the road. Her dog runs after it and…..he vanishes. So our main character walks home with a torn-up collar and her older sister asks her to stay put while she looks for the dog. Hours pass and she doesn’t come back home. So our main character goes on a quest to look for her dog and sister all the while facing the many spirits haunting her town.
What makes this story so interesting is the perspective it all comes from; a little girl. Not some strong male adult or a mercenary with a gun, a little girl holding a flashlight and a few rocks. This makes exploration very interesting as many of the spirits you encounter aren’t even angry at you, they are just minding their own business most of the time. But our main character is both scared and respectful of the spirits, creating this element of the unknown.
One moment a giant dog could be chasing you and the next you give him a wet bone, and he just runs away. The next moment is that of a woman with long hair chasing you but once you put her lost necklace on a specific object, she stops chasing you. Our main character even puts a rose on her corpse as a sign of respect. This innocent perspective helps make the horror have impact; our main character is going through these trials to help the various spirits of the game find peace after death.
How this relates to your sister and dog is very interesting, creating very powerful story beats pushing you to complete the game. Side sections of the game where you can interact with some spirits outside the main story are also quite interesting and creates a feeling that this world is alive.
The story of this game is largely up to interpretation based on the player but is also quite deep in offering an unforgettable experience.
Gameplay & Design
This game is split up into seven different chapters and each one tasks you with specific goals. The game does a great job telling the player where they need to go and the very useful map (accessible with the start button) keeps opening up the more you explore. The game even has special quick-save statues that you can warp too the moment you touch them. Death is also very forgiving, keeping track of any progress you made (map completion, puzzle solving, item collection) so you never feel like major progress is lost if you die too many times. To keep your save intact though, you must return home to save (pressing Square on the Map Screen), otherwise all progress is lost (as the statues only offer Quick Saving).
Items are spread all around the game’s world, split up into Key Items and basic Items. Key Items are major items you get across the game that are needed for level progress but basic items are memento’s you gather for exploring the large world the game provides.
Basic gameplay for this title is quite simple; you move around with either the D-Pad or Analog Stick, have access to a Flashlight (which you can aim left/right using the right stick and turn off with the select button), use items with the Square button, bring up you inventory (usable items like rocks) with Triangle, run & strafe with the shoulder buttons and interact with objects with the X button. This is enough for basic exploration and the controls are very responsive, more so with a great heartbeat/hiding mechanic.
When you run (which has a very large stamina meter), movement speed increases heavily but as it goes down, your heartbeats faster. But when spirits are around, it beats very fast and makes your running speed much slower compared to before. Interacting with the spirits is a major mechanic with the heartbeat system regarding when it goes off; spirits increase it when getting closer to you and surprise events do this as well.
To avoid spirits killing you, there are objects you can hide behind and a red radar-like object appears on the screen; depending where the pulses are on the screen, it determines the directions the spirits go in. Sometimes this is not very effective as I remember waiting at a spot for a good minute or so and a creature was right behind me despite waiting a long time for them to pass. But this works most of the time, making it one of the ways you can avoid spirits. Some other ways include using special items like matches or even creative usage of your flashlight can help navigate around the different spirits.
Puzzles are another major mechanic of this game and they are mostly understandable. Smart design choices are a major reason for this, as the game telegraphs major locations you need to visit through organic exploration and letting you know where your next objective is on the map screen.
Overall the core gameplay and design of Yomawari is very tight and despite some minor frustrations with spirit AI, it is a very enjoyable experience.
Yomawari: Night Alone offers a seemingly large amount of content, as fully exploring every location in the game will take a long time. But the main story will take you five to eight hours to complete depending on how much you explore. Collecting every item in the game and seeing every special event outside of the main story adds extra hours to the game, ensuring that your horror adventure isn’t a short one.
This is a great looking game, as the atmosphere of the games world is very effective. Smart usage of color does a lot to create a heavy mood for every location you visit. The places in the game world are quite varied, ranging from a basic town, a haunted forest too even a dark cave. It makes fully exploring each location a treat, as you don’t know what strange spirit will appear before your eyes.
Character designs are chibi and can look cute to a degree but this works out greatly due to it adding to the experience of facing all these horrors as a little girl. Her world being filled with innocence clashing with the dark spirits around her is very effective.
Music usage is not really present much, but that does not mean the sound design is weak. It is one of the strongest parts of the game. Playing the game in the dark with headphones on was something I loved doing when playing the game, as little details stood out. The footsteps from our main character, the groaning from the different spirits, loud sounds when you die and the beat of your heart suck you into the game world. You feel like you are the main character, which is very powerful for a horror game.
Story: 4.5 out of 5 / Gameplay & Design: 4 out of 5 / Lasting Appeal: 4 out of 5 / Presentation: 4.5 out of 5
Yomawari: Night Alone is a horror game that is quite refreshing. It takes the Silent Hill approach to horror, having the world around us being the main threat to our main character. Having the story lead by a little girl makes for oppressive but haunting adventures that suck you into the game world through very strong sound design and detailed artwork. Gameplay & Design is solid thanks to ensuring players don’t get lost often and offering enough tools to make exploration simple. This is a well designed horror game I can highly recommend any fan of the genre.
Overall: 4 out of 5
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation Vita with a review copy provided by NIS America. The game is also releasing on the PC through Valve’s Steam Platform.