NIS America has brought some wonderfully strange games over from Japan in the past, but Yomawari: Night Alone is the most unexpected one I’ve come across–it’s one helluva pleasant surprise!
Best described as a survival horror adventure game, Yomawari takes clear inspiration from Silent Hill in atmosphere, Clock Tower and Legend of Mana in gameplay, and . . . uh, Professor Layton in character design? Yeah, that’s spot on. Basically, you’re a little girl searching her night-time neighborhood for her missing loved ones while avoiding distinctly Japanese folklore-inspired monsters that’ll kill you with one touch. And sometimes, there are kitties. Just thought I’d mention that.
You can get Yomawari: Night Alone for the Playstation Vita here, or you can go to participating vendors and grab the physical limited edition version, which also comes with NIS’s beautiful title HotL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary!
This is one of those games where too much lowdown on the story would spoil it. Suffice it to say, you are a child left alone by her sister, who has gone out at night to look for your dog, Poro. You wait and wait, and when neither your sis or Poro return, you venture into the dark on a quest to find them.
Unfortunately, the spirits are also in the dark, and they’re out for blood!
Yomawari is a game that requires you to search the open-world of your streetlamp-lit hometown to find items and locations that will lead you to your missing family. While the puzzles are fairly obvious, finding the items often take a thorough search and an iron will, as you’ll need to make your way past horror-creatures that will off you with only a touch. Thankfully, you’ll know when an enemy is nearby your increased audible heartbeat (like the static in Silent Hill).
Items in the game are broken down into three categories: consumables, which can be cycled through on the movement screen and thrown; keys, which may or may not be actual keys, and unlock different areas and events when used at certain locations; and collectibles, which provide various details about the town and its inhabitants. Finding all the collectibles is a challenge, but gratifying, and the keys would be hard to miss during a normal playthrough (which is a good way to prevent you from backtracking needlessly in a tiring search).
Even though locating items takes effort, it isn’t like a hidden object game, which I really appreciate. Rather than having to strain your eyes, you’ll instead be keeping them on your character–when an item or interactive object is near, a blue question mark appears over her head. This tells you that you’ll need to scan the surrounding area with your flashlight beam to catch a sparkle on the ground, which is an item. The item won’t sparkle unless you pass your beam over it, and the limited range of the flashlight means you’ll want to always take a good look at each area you pass through. When you are within interactive range of whatever triggered the question mark, the latter will be replaced with a red exclamation point, meaning you’re close enough to pick it up or otherwise use it.
Scanning the town wouldn’t be nearly so difficult were it not for the many different types of nasty creatures loosed on the streets. You can tip-toe past them, sprint from them (which uses up a stamina bar), or hide. The cuteness of the character illustrations is present in the monster designs, too, but that somehow makes their rolling eyes and gaping mouths all the more unnerving. You’ll be chased, vomited on, and skewered throughout your quest, and monsters occasionally will be unavoidable. Many have different ranges of attack, as well, or become invisible or visible based on the amount of light trained upon them. All of this makes the monsters in Yomawari incredibly dangerous, and any touch will give you a blood-spatter black screen of death–lucky for you, you’re sent back to your last save point when that happens, with all of the important (non-consumable) items you’ve collected still in your inventory.
Saving can be done either at your house, which is only accessible after certain events in the game or at various shrines scattered around the town. Shrines also act as fast-travel points, and you can go from one to another anytime, for free. To save at these shrines, however, will cost you a coin, though the currency is plentiful (and reappearing) throughout the game. You can also pick up rocks, which you can throw to lure enemies this way or that. Doing so takes trial and error, however, as each creature has a different range of vision, and you can’t throw very far. You’ll also want to be careful not to accidentally hurl coins when you mean to hurl rocks; you’ll sometimes throw things beyond where you can retrieve them, too, which will have you cursing yourself now and again. As mentioned, though, rocks and (especially) coins are common enough in the game, and you won’t be left wanting. In other words, never hesitate to save at a shrine!
I should also mention that once, during my full playthrough, I encountered a crash that wiped out my last quicksave (a.k.a., shrine save). Frequent saving prevented my screaming out in anguish, and while I don’t know what caused it, it did occur when I’d had my Vita on standby with the game running for two days. Because of that, I’d suggest closing the game after saving when you aren’t sure if you’ll be returning soon. Still, this occurred only once, and I didn’t have a single another issue during the remainder of the game.
Zombies and Spiders and Jumpscares, Oh My!
Yep, Yomawari: Night Alone has some really great jumpscares, and I didn’t find a single one to be cheap (especially this one during an early part of the game–I will never forget it!) Each scare either facilitates the plot or the game progression, so it’s never a case of “Well, that pop-up ghost graphic that showed up for no reason kind of startled me, I guess.”
Combat? No bat.
The cute black-dot eyed characters, especially in the game’s marketing art, reminded me of Earthbound, but you’ll find no baseball bats to whack enemies with, here. You are a little girl through-and-through, and you have no defense against the creatures wandering your streets. What you can do, however, is hide in bushes and behind signs. When you do this, everything will go black except for you and the bush or sign, and enemies will show as pulsing red fogs. Enemies can’t reach you when you’re hiding, even if they see you dive in, so you can wait until the fogs wander away. There’s a heartbeat sound that accompanies the red fog’s pulsing, and gets faster and faster the nearer an enemy is–it really gets the blood pressure up!
graphics and sound
The presentation of Yomawari is overhead isometric, with extremely detailed pre-rendered backgrounds. This does not look like a typical 16-bit styled game because it’s not; no purchased assets or generic character sprites here, and the atmosphere benefits. The lighting is excellent, too, and makes the whole game world feel shrouded in that darkest part of the night.
The map, item, and diary screens (the latter of which shows up in between some events) are all done in child-like scribbles, and also add to the atmosphere. Your character never speaks like anything other than a young girl, and that consistency is rare in many games where you role-play as children.
As mentioned earlier, the characters and even monsters are kinds of cutesy, but they also have a hand-drawn feel that’s extra pleasing. The massive street-wide crawling spider-thing with eyes and mouths is an excellent example (it’s nightmare-inducing, people).
Beyond the sprite design and pre-rendered surroundings, Yomawari has occasional effects that are effective because they are out of the ordinary. For instance, at one point, an event is triggered and leads to the words “Help Me” being scribbled over and over on the play screen. At other times, you might pass under obscuring trees, only to come out with a spider and cobwebs covering your screen. This makes avoiding enemies super-difficult until the effect wears off.
The sound is frequently almost non-existent, which is to the benefit of the game. Sometimes you’ll swing your beam around, and see that a hideous beast has been crawling right behind you because you couldn’t hear them coming. The silence also allows the occasional unexpected sound to make you jump, but again, the scares are never purposeless. There also aren’t any voiceovers for the characters, and I preferred it that way–it would risk spoiling how well the game gets into your head, how it forces your imagination to work against you.
When all is said and done, I can’t recommend Yomawari: Night Alone enough to those of us who love a good scare, and don’t mind a game without combat. It’s a unique entry into the survival horror catalog, and it’s super-appealing graphics, great sprite design, and smart design choices had me up late into the early morning, my hot little Playstation Vita burning a hole in my hand.
|+ Actually startling jump-scares||– Wandering aimlessly occurs now and again|
|+ Nice open-world||– Map system could be clearer|
|+ Unique art take on the traditional JRPG look|
|+ Japanese folklore-inspired creatures are freaky|