It was probably stupid of me to think Yomawari: Night Alone wouldn’t end up being terrifying. After all, the main character is a cutesy girl rendered in a soft, pastel chibi style, and all of the strange monster designs I had seen in the games marketing made it seem like more of a bizarre experience than a scary one. Still, I know from games like Corpse Party and Yume Nikki that simple sprite graphics can deliver some of the scariest gaming experiences out there, and Yomawari is no exception.
Yomawari begins with a seemingly simple tutorial taking you through the mechanics of the game, yet within minutes, I had already dropped my Vita in shock as the game began to expose it’s true colours. You play as a little girl who’s pet dog Poro ran away during a walk at night, and after coming home and telling your older sister what happened, she goes out to find the dog, only to never return. This is the catalyst to make you go out into the dark, desolate, night-time town, searching for clues as to where your dog and sister disappeared to.
Almost immediately, you encounter an enemy monster, and you quickly learn to put the skills you were taught in the tutorial to use. Holding down the left trigger will let you tiptoe past dangerous enemies, while the right trigger will let you sprint away from the ones that already have your scent. You can’t run forever, though, and the faster your heart-beat is, the quicker your stamina bar is depleted. This is when hiding behind shrubs and signs in the environment can come in handy. Crouched down and covering your eyes, the screen surrounds your character in darkness, with vague red pulses of energy being the only representation of nearby enemies that you might give the slip.
I love a horror game with no combat. When done right, it can lead to some of the most gripping, terrifying moments you’ve ever experienced. We’ve all felt moments of fight-or-flight response in our body during tense moments. Playing a game where the “fight” option is completely taken away from you leaves you feeling powerless and weak, and in a game where you play as a small child alone at night, that stark lack of control or confidence works so well.
The game is split into a handful of chapters, tasking you to progress through each one by finding clues that advance the story in the open-world environment of the town. Many areas are blocked off in the beginning, but you quickly gain the ability to explore more and more of the large and dangerous town, and you’re able to utilize Jizo prayer statues placed across the game-world to teleport to any previously accessed Jizo statues. These also serve as your quick-save spots, provided you offer a coin in offering first. Initially, I was off-put by the idea of my ability to save being tied to in-game currency. However, you find coins so often that it never ended up being something to worry about.
You also find plenty of other items in the environment, and discovering these items is how you progress through the game. You’re never given objective markers or explicit instructions. Instead, your goals are as vague as “Find big sister”, and with nothing but that you’ll have to discover clues, keys, and locations that will help you find the answers you seek. A brave and intelligent player can make it to the end of the story within five hours, but there’s a lot more to explore in the world of Yomawari that can keep you trapped in the little girl’s dusky nightmare for upwards of 10 or 20 hours. There are plenty of unique events and side quests in the game that offer a bunch of extra content to explore, some of it intriguing, some of it chilling. While you’re only rewarded with collectible items or the rare PSN Trophy for completing them, they’re still interesting pieces of content that help extend the length of the game.
A lot of the events and encounters in the game could really benefit from being more than just simple activities, though. This is my one main issue with the game. Yomawari never holds your hand. Perhaps as a way of truly immersing you in the mindset of this lost child, you are barely given instruction, or backstory, or exposition. It’s an interesting idea, but the fact that I encounter dozens of different monsters in this game and have no explanation for why or how any of them have come to be just bugs me.
On one hand, getting zero explanation for the events or creatures in the game is perhaps just as scary in a more psychological sense. Are the things I’m seeing actually grotesque creatures of the night, or are they perhaps much more natural, human figures that the mind of this small girl is warping into something much more twisted and unfamiliar? It’s an intriguing and gripping question, but it’s also a question that is never quite answered, and that oversight muddied a bit of the experience for me.
As I mentioned earlier, the game is rendered in a simple, pastel style with chibi characters. Unlike Corpse Party, though, these are not stark RPG-Maker style pixel sprites. Everything has a gorgeous, smooth hand-drawn look to it, and the realistic lighting and sound design that accompany these visuals create some of the most haunting moments I’ve experienced on the Vita.
It’s hard to find a truly glaring flaw in Yomawari: Night Alone. My biggest complaint of a lack of story or creature explanations is honestly something that other players might have zero problems with. It’s even something that I admit myself adds to the mystique and charm of the game. I’m awful at playing horror games, and I’m always too scared to make any real progress. Yomawari creates a great atmosphere of tension and terror that rarely relies on cheap scares, and it was the perfect formula to keep me hooked until the end. If you’re looking for a good alternate horror game, look no further.
Version tested: PS Vita