Over-analyzing games and favorite mediums can be a real killjoy at times. A critical eye can make problems more glaring which lessens the impact of a body of work. But when masters of their craft know how to elicit specific emotions, all that is rendered moot. This is often the case with Yomawari. Damn you, game.
What is it about rational thought that escapes me when it comes to horror games? Recently released on the PSVita and Windows, Yomawari: Night Alone sends a lot of my thought processes crashing through a window and straight out beyond the horizon. I’ve “Noped” and been awash with fear more times than I can count while playing this puzzle, horror title.
My initial reaction is always to run when confronted by the unexplained in the game’s evil spirit infused Japanese town. Unfortunately (and deviously clever), Yomawari pushes the limits of how much running you can actually do in the body of an adorable chibi child. Stamina expends quickly, particularly around danger, and she’s weighed down by a severe lack of quickness.
As a child armed with a flashlight, pebbles, coins and errant pieces of food to feed animals; Yomawari’s protagonist’s three lines of defense amount to a sorry excuse for running, hiding, and solving problems.
The last one is left to the player, and in my less than capable hands—where a terrified mind replaces a calm, analytical one—Yomawari’s young girl has seen countless deaths at the behest of the supernatural. Eventually, these deaths have allowed me to see patterns. Repetitive failures and restarts will do that in a game that does little to change its AI spirits’ movements. Yet, there are times where panic sets in and in the absence of quick reflexes, mistakes happen. Frequently.
In a particularly downtrodden path near hazardous cliffs lit by flickering, dated lamps; a vengeful spirit of a murdered woman stalked my character. I struggled to get out of this continuous death cycle during the trek to discovering her splattered corpse. I could see her one or two attacks coming ahead of execution but my mind forced me to run when I should have steadied my resolve to time my actions for ensured survival.
I’ve had many of these reactionary ticks during my exploration of Yomawari’s creepy town, as it experiences the richness of multiple hauntings which occur from dusk onward until morning. Each chapter brings a new stage of darkness over the course of one long night, with the little girl searching for her dog, Poro, and her older sister.
Shadows of barely recognizable people, or misshapen forms imitating the living roam the streets. They’re hidden in the darkness—brought into visibility by those hateful, dim street lamps or their presence known by way of the girl’s beating heart. Her awareness is marked by rapid thumps as otherworldly guests draw ever closer. Even if her flashlight doesn’t bring them into her view, her senses do and it’s freaky. Houses remain still without showing signs of life. Gates to up-kept establishments such as the town’s school are locked tight in what feels like the longest night. Natural sounds of silence, crickets and the girl’s footsteps are interrupted by weird buzzing and unique identifiers of the ghastly visitors.
The town’s probably a normal, quintessential one during the day but it’s far from picturesque during the night. Dingy in parts and overflowing with ghouls, messages are found on bulletin boards or scraps of paper about rumoured deaths of the towns’ citizens. It becomes clearer that there’s nothing good about the town at all, and it probably stinks of all manners of depression under a sunny facade.