Yomawari: Night Alone is an isometric puzzle survival-horror game that draws much of its inspiration from much lauded, genre-defining titles such as Silent Hill, Lone Survivor and Neverending Nightmares. It’s arguably a more simplified, minimalist approach to the genre with cute visuals and stark audio, which at times feels at odds with its trial-and-error, old-school gameplay. Despite this, there is something oddly refreshing about the game as a whole that makes it an endearingly crafted love-letter to a genre that is often over-looked or often overly action-focused in today’s horror videogame landscape. It’s this quaint individuality that makes Yomawari: Night Alone a rather novel fit on the PS Vita.
You play as a nameless girl out and about on a quiet evening stroll with your chirpy pet dog Poro. Things quickly take a turn for the worse as Poro and the little girl are struck by a terrible accident. Awakening in her bedroom later that night, the little girl discovers that her sister and loveable pet Poro are both missing. She decides to venture out into the dark, eerie streets to find her missing sister and affable pet pooch Poro only to find that the town has changed; the once-peaceful town is now populated by disturbing monsters and sinister spirits, and it is your job to manoeuvre through the empty, haunted streets to find the little girl’s lost loved ones and unravel the truth of what has come to pass.
It’s a compelling, if somewhat familiar setup, that drives the player forward through a myriad of light puzzle solving, thoughtful exploration and dexterous monster dodging. There’s no combat in the traditional sense, so what you’ll be doing a lot in Yomawari: Night Alone is avoiding the nasty little beasties that wander the creepy streets of this now haunted town. These ghastly beings are prevalent and numerous in appearance and behaviour; some may stalk and follow you persistently, whilst some may follow a pre-determined path. Coming into contact with these critters often spells doom of the insta-kill variety, though thankfully, in a similar vein to Limbo, load times are snappy and virtually non-existent.
The little girl does have a couple of rudimentary tricks up her sleeve. A stamina bar at the bottom of the screen gives players a visual representation of how long she can run for, however, when she gets too close to the ghosts her stamina gauge gets sapped even more quickly, which results in your character finding it hard to run and inevitably running slower and slower. It’s a bit like that nightmare where you get constantly chased by a giant Big Mac with legs and a mouth and you can’t run away… no? That’s just me, then. This mechanic does help to ratchet up the tension and gives you a little flexibility to dodge the ever encroaching nasties the game throws at you.
The protagonist can also hide in certain spots in the world, such as bushes and metal containers and wait for the dangers to pass by. While in your hiding spot, the game demonstrates the danger’s proximity via a beating red mark that pulses and “fades away” as the danger dissipates. I unfortunately had a couple of frustrating instances where a monster was persistently hounding me, and luckily I just about made it to a bush in-time to hide. I waited. And I waited some more. But the red pulse just wouldn’t go away, suggesting that the monster was still out there waiting patiently for me. After about five minutes of waiting I stepped out and… was killed instantly. Frankly, that’s an example of poor design and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t frustrating. Moments like these were few-and-far-between and like I mentioned earlier, the game does thankfully restart promptly.
Strangely, there is very little music to be found in Yomawari: Night Alone, though surprisingly, what little audio there is to be heard within is used effectively. The low buzzing of electrical vending machines, the hiss of fluorescent street lightbulbs, the rhythmic chimes of railway traffic lights and the chirrup of cicadas, all form a very prominent, deliberate role in the game’s minimalist, though, effectual audio design.
The juxtaposition of cute art-style and creepy survival-horror is initially very incongruent and jarring, however, these conflicting aesthetic and design elements do inevitably begin to gel together and form one of the game’s most praiseworthy attributes; Yomawari: Night Alone has a lot of unique character, mainly because of its strange concoction of old-school, horror gameplay and cutesy visuals.
Despite the initial disconnect between the cute art-style and occasionally frustrating trial-and-error, pixel-hunting gameplay, there is actually a really cool game underneath with a thoughtful narrative, a provocative atmospheric ambiance and some pretty tense horror moments. It may not be a horror masterpiece, but Yomawari: Night Alone is a stylistically memorable slice of the genre that will intrigue, indulge and endear itself well, particularly to horror aficionados looking for something a little bit off the beaten path.
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