If I’m honest, I feel sorry for Yomawari: Midnight Shadows. It’s a sequel to a niche game that I had never heard of released in the same week as Mario Odyssey, Assassin’s Creed: Origins and Wolfenstein 2. Even if it was a horror game released in time for Halloween, I feel it’s going to struggle to make a sales dent. And that would be a shame, because it’s one of the most inventive surprises I’ve played in some time.
When I first looked at a screenshot I was surprised that it was being described as a survival horror. It’s an isometric game with chibi character designs, hardly a recipe for scares. But when I started playing I was surprised at how effective it was at creating a spooky atmosphere. The story zips between two elementary school girls, Yui and Haru. Following a fireworks festival in the woods they get lost and separated. The game is then all about reuniting the lost friends as they both explore the town. Oh, and the town is full of malicious spirits who want you dead.
Armed with just a torch and a few other bits to help distract the spirit, this is a stealth game through and through. And with that also comes the problems that stealth games can fall into, that being trial and error gameplay. A lot of the time you’ll be testing to see if you can sneak past a spirit, if not you die, then you try and find another route. Sometimes save points can be a little far too, so that’s equally as annoying. You save the game by calling home with the various phones that are around the environment. You need coins as well to use them (think ink ribbons in Resident Evil), but they do respawn so there is no chance of running out. Which to be honest makes their inclusion redundant.
As strange as it may be to say, the gameplay is the least impressive thing about the game. Yomawari is all about the atmosphere and style. The town looks great, with very little illumination, your torch being one of the very few sources of light. The spirits themselves have a great variety to them, some look silly, others terrifying, but you will be on edge as they chase you through the world. And as they chase you your character’s heartbeat will start to go crazy and your stamina bar will drain faster as the fear takes hold. There are those spirits though that are just there to make you jump, such as trash cans that shake violently as you get close.
The menus are also quite stylish. This being a game starring two elementary school kids, the menus reflect that. The map is like a child’s drawing and will fill in automatically as you explore the world more and the text also has that childlike scrawl. It’s a great looking little game and also a surprisingly large one.
The town isn’t fully explorable at the start, often there are blockers that prevent you from exploring further from giant plant spirits that cover the entire road, to railway barriers that are perpetually down. As you progress, more and more of the town becomes available to explore, often after you return to your house to rest and regroup.
Yomawari: Midnight Shadows is a neat little surprise. A few minor quibbles with the stealth mechanic aside it’s a different kind of horror title that will hopefully find a big enough audience for the developers to continue with this style of game. Because boy is it a stylish game.