Yomawari: Night Alone

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ConsolePC, PlayStation Vita
DeveloperNippon Ichi Software
PublisherNippon Ichi Software, NIS America
GenreAdventure, survival horror
Release Year2015
Purchase (PC)Click here to purchase from Steam.
Purchase (PS Vita; Hotaru no Nikki/Yomawari: Night Alone standard bundle)Click here to purchase from Amazon.
Purchase (PS Vita; Hotaru no Nikki/Yomawari: Night Alone limited bundle)Click here to purchase from Amazon.

Yomawari: Night Alone is one of the new horror games I’ve been looking forward to this year. Its trailers promised dark, moody environments and bizarre monster designs. While the game originally came out in Japan last year, we’re pretty lucky enough to get it in the States just in time for Halloween 2016.

Yomawari: Night Alone was developed by NIS, best known as the developer behind the Disgaea series. But don’t let that set your expectations, because we’re not looking at a tactical RPG here. We’re looking at an open-world exploration survival horror title.

So what does “yomawari” mean anyway? The only definition I can find is “night watch.” In a way, this can make sense. Much of the game takes place during nighttime and there is a specific type of creature called Mr. Yomawari, who seems to follow you throughout the game. But I’ll go over those details later. For now, let’s get an overview of the game.

 

A Haunted Town

Yomawari: Night Alone gameplay

The story begins with a little girl taking her dog, Poro, out for a walk. As night approaches, the two set out for home. The little girl takes an opportunity to play with Poro, but then a truck runs him over. The little girl, traumatized, sits silently until she notices that Poro’s body had vanished. She returns home with an empty leash, meeting up with her older sister. The little girl, most likely afraid to tell her sister the truth, does not mention Poro’s apparent death. So the older sister wanders into town, thinking Poro had gotten lost.

Yomawari: Night Alone gameplay

The older sister never returns home and nightfall comes. Worried about her sister, the little girl searches the town desperately. However, she learns that the town is extremely dangerous at night. The town’s residents seem to be safely tucked away inside their houses, but the streets are infested with malevolent spirits and otherworldly horrors that kill anyone on contact.

Yomawari: Night Alone gameplay

So right away, the little girl is an identifiable character. She clearly blames herself for her dog’s death. But because she is afraid to tell her sister the truth, the little girl also stands to lose another life who is very important to her. So in spite of all sorts of nightly creatures that haunt her town, she is willing to put herself through a nightmarish journey to rescue her sister and redeem herself for Poro’s death. This journey is like a particular statement: losing everyone important to you is a scarier thought than the most unnatural creature.

Yomawari’s premise heavily reminds me of the anime Paranoia Agent by Satoshi Kon, which had similar themes. But in Yomawari’s case, much of the story is told through mostly visuals and sound design. While there is some great body horror in the game, there is also a psychological aspect. Dialogue is very sparse, but the little girl carries her guilt throughout her entire journey. In the end, she is a kind-hearted girl who had to learn about the horrors of mortality and responsibility. As a result, even the most fearsome creatures won’t stop her from finding her sister and giving her dog a proper sendoff.

Yomawari: Night Alone gameplay streetlight shadow

The most noticeable aspect of Yomawari is the visuals. Our main characters (little girl, elder sister and Poro) have noticeably simple and cute designs to contrast with the rest of the game. The town they live in is strangely dark and moody, as if it’s stuck in some David Lynch setting.

The spirits and monsters that haunt the town are noticeably more gruesome. They start off relatively simple with the Streetlight Shadow enemies, the tall and thin creatures that only appear in light. But you also come across something like the Road Blocker enemy, a disturbing spider-like monster with a hideous face and a hairy body.

Yomawari: Night Alone gameplay roadblocker
Eww…

All in all, it’s a very beautiful and eye-catching game. The atmosphere is strong with this one.

On a side note, I am slightly disappointed by the sound design. This is a mostly silent game, with minimal music and some ambiance in specific areas in the game. The town itself is relentlessly quiet and you can only hear the little girl’s footsteps. But whenever you are close to an unsettling event or a hostile spirit, the little girl’s heartbeats grow louder and faster.

This dead silence does help the game’s atmosphere in some ways, though I can’t help but feel that it needs some good background pieces to go along with the dark, moody visuals. But at the same time, I can see how background music can interfere with the gameplay as you can tell whether spirits are following you (via sound cues).

So, I’m a little mixed on the sound design. It feels lacking, though I can see where the dead silence can help enhance the gameplay.

 

What Lurks in the Alleys

Yomawari: Night Alone gameplay

Yomawari: Night Alone is an overhead adventure game where the little girl must explore her hometown at night to find her sister and the missing corpse of her beloved dog. To progress through each chapter, you must complete an objective, which you can find by viewing the hometown map.

Yomawari: Night Alone gameplay
As a crayon drawing. Cute touch.

These objectives can range from finding certain quest items to solving puzzles in new areas waiting to be explored. And eventually, you will acquire a flashlight. This item is one of the most important to have since it can detect nearby hidden items and reveal invisible spirits. You need to have it on for the majority of the game.

Whenever the girl shows a blue question mark above her head, it means there is something nearby you can interact with. If she is really close to it, a red exclamation mark appears instead. This happens for anything such as hidden items, signs, hiding spots, and Jizo statues.

Yomawari: Night Alone gameplay

Some of the hidden items may include yen coins and pebbles, both of which are useful. You can also search garbage cans and garbage bags for more of such items.

But you can also pick up important items that help move the story forward, such as keys, and collectibles that generally have no use. Like I said, the flashlight is important. Keep it on.

Even though there are a ton of collectibles that don’t do anything, the little girl’s descriptions based on those items are a nice touch to her character. They help portray a small child’s current understanding of the world. A world dominated by twisted creatures of the night. Aside from achievements, some collectibles serve a secondary purpose: unlocking hidden cutscenes. You don’t have to see them to fully enjoy the game, but they do at least make your collect-a-thon more worthwhile.

Yomawari: Night Alone gameplay

Scattered throughout the game, there are Jizo statues. By offering a yen coin, you can use the quick-save feature and even quick-travel to other areas with Jizo statues. But beware. The quick-save feature is more like a checkpoint than an actual save. To really save the game, you have to go home (which you can do through the hometown map or at the beginning of each new chapter). So whatever you do, don’t quit the game if you haven’t saved at your house yet. You will lose all progress.

Yomawari: Night Alone gameplay

The little girl has a stamina meter at the bottom edge of the screen, which is mainly used for running. Normally, the stamina meter is reasonably high and the little girl can run for long periods of time. But whenever she is close to a spirit or an unsettling event, she will become more stressed out and her stamina will consume itself much faster. If a spirit is in hot pursuit, her stamina will plummet for the worst and will make her extremely vulnerable. If anything, you WANT to stay as far away from spirits whenever possible.

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Now let’s talk about the spirits themselves. There are many different kinds of them, each with different behaviors. Regardless, any hostile spirit that comes in contact with the little girl will cause her to explode into a bloody mess.

Yomawari: Night Alone gameplay
Jesus, the number of opportunities a small child dies in a painful manner.

And if this happens, she restarts at the last quick-save. Fortunately, any items she had collected before dying will still be in her possession. Weight off my mind. There are moments when this game can get frustrating, which I will explain in a minute.

Yomawari: Night Alone gameplay

Whenever there is a spirit nearby, you can take cover in a hiding spot such as a bush or a sign. As long as the little girl is hiding, she can’t die. The red spots that appear during hiding indicate how close the spirits are to her, so you need to pay attention and make sure they move away. Then you can figure out when to safely exit.

Aside from the creative monster designs, I also like how they react in the little girl’s presence. The Streetlight Shadow, for example, will give chase if the little girl passes by it. It’s one of the most common spirits in the game and it generally moves pretty slow. You can also only see it in light. However, you can throw a pebble next to it to distract it for a few seconds.

The Child Spirit enemies are somewhat rare, but can be tenacious if you’re not careful. They stand in one place but will only attack you if you’re too close to them and you have your back turned.

Furthermore, there are spirits that react if you get too close to them. Spirits that are only aggressive towards a light source. Spirits that are blind and will only pursue you if you make a lot of noise. Spirits that patrol an area in a specific pattern. And even more unexpected behaviors.

But regardless of behavior, there are also spirits that move really fast. These are easily the most frustrating enemies to deal with, since some of them are tenacious predators that will immediately home in on the girl’s location.

Yomawari: Night Alone gameplay meat

At some point, you will find larger enemies that move fast. Perhaps the best example is this particular spirit (which the artbook called Meat). It took me a while to avoid this bastard, because he moves faster than the little girl. Combined with the stamina meter that worsens if the enemy is too close to you, you are going to die MANY TIMES.

Eventually, I figured out that this spirit charges like a bull. He will try to kill you with a straightforward tackle, so you can move to the side to avoid him. But what hurts it for me is the hit detection.

Towards the end of the game, the larger enemies seem to have an unfair advantage over you. Their large size combined with speed makes it extremely easy for them to kill you in seconds, and they seem to kill you if you touch a single pixel on their bodies. It really turns the endgame into a slog, to the point where it gets really frustrating.

 

Visual Ambiguity at Its Finest

Yume Nikki Uboa

In some aspects, Yomawari reminds me of Yume Nikki, a bizarre Japanese exploration game where a girl explores many disturbing dream worlds of unknown intent. Both games rely on unique Japanese visuals and themes symbolizing a pervading sense of loneliness and powerlessness.  And furthermore, the creatures that dwell in both games have unknown intentions and behaviors that can’t be understood.

The main difference here is that Yomawari has a clear narrative. But in spite of that, there is still room for ambiguity.

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One of my biggest question marks: Who is Mr. Yomawari? The only reason I know the name of this character is because the game’s artbook specified it.

Mr. Yomawari appears in multiple locations throughout the game, often standing still in one place. His appearance seems to change from time to time too. Sometimes, he has a ghoulish face. Other times, he only has a face consisted of two segments and no eyes. In his tentacles, he always seems to carry what appear to be giant burlap sacks.

Whenever you get close to him, he vanishes. But he will reappear if you move far away from his original location.

Seeing as how yomawari means “night watch,” we can probably assume that Mr. Yomawari is some sort of guardian spirit who patrols the town at night. However, we don’t know what his real intentions are. He always seems to follow the little girl, watching from afar. We don’t know if he sees the little girl as a potential threat or as a potential ally whose bravery needs to be tested.

Furthermore, the game’s ending really brings my confusion to a giant underscore. Part of it seems straightforward, but the other part…

If you have already completed the game or don’t mind spoilers, then click on the Plot Summary tag.

Yomawari: Night Alone gameplay

Yomawari: Night Alone is a surreal experience with a somewhat straightforward narrative, with darkly beautiful visuals and a captivating world full of secrets. The spirits that haunt the town seem to be right on the thin line of good and evil, simply existing like any other inexplicable thing. I had high expectations for this game when I first saw the trailers, and it managed to meet them all. So for those horror enthusiasts, especially Japanese horror enthusiasts, prepare yourself for an emotional journey towards responsibility.

Yomawari: Night Alone

$19.99
Yomawari: Night Alone
8.625

GAMEPLAY

9/10

    STORY

    9/10

      GRAPHICS

      10/10

        SOUNDTRACK

        8/10

          Pros

          • The visual storytelling relies on the emotion and subtle character animations, making for an enjoyable tale of a little girl's desire to take responsibility.
          • The art design is very well done, capturing both the cute and the disturbing designs perfectly. The setting looks like it came straight out of a David Lynch movie.
          • The open-world exploration makes the effort of discovering new places feel rewarding.
          • The unpredictable AI of the spirits makes for a rough and hair-raising survival experience.

          Cons

          • The story leaves behind some ambiguities due to the odd occurrences in the last chapters. Though this can be taken as a sign of the developer wanting us to interpret what really happened.
          • Sound design is minimal, relying mostly on dead silence and few ambient noises.
          • The game is brutal in its difficulty, especially in the last chapters.
          • The stamina meter, which drops much faster if an enemy is nearby.
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