Just in time for Halloween, Yomawari: Midnight Shadows, the sequel to 2016’s spooky Yomawari: Night Alone, releases for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita and PC. That first installment was bundled with the PlayStation Vita game HtoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary when released in October of last year, whereas this latest entry is a standalone product.
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark
When you first start Midnight Shadows it’ll ask you to turn off the lights, and it’s quite adamant you do so – if you tell the game “no” instead of “yes”, the game will keep insisting you turn them off. Next, the game asks you to stare at the screen while playing. If you say “yes”, the game thanks you for playing and takes you to the game menu. Saying “no”, meanwhile, has the game declare it is not responsible for what you see and thanks you for understanding, taking you to the menu. From the beginning, then, it’s clear the game has a somewhat light tone, playing-off its horror style gameplay.
While I haven’t played the first one, the game starts off with a tutorial starring a little girl with her two dogs. One of the dogs is dead and being buried in the forest, while the other follows the little girl. After burying the dog, the other takes off and you, as the girl, chase after it. The tutorial then shifts to explaining the mechanics of the game as you track down the pet. By the end of the tutorial, the following events took me by surprise, but we won’t spoil them here.
Fireworks That Won’t End with a Bang
Once the tutorial ends, you start the story proper, which focuses on two girls who are travelling back home after watching fireworks. While travelling through a wooded area, the girls are separated when “spirits” emerge from the shadows and attack them. As the story advances, you alternate between the two girls, trying to find each other and eventually head home.
Yomawari: Midnight Shadows is not your typical survival horror game. Compared to other games in the genre, such as Resident Evil, it’s has a very different take on gameplay. It requires you to think strategically and plan your actions to avoid “spirits” in order to progress through the story. Areas are like labyrinths when trying to get from one area to the next.
The user interface (UI) is playful, mimicking the style of kid drawings and scrapbooking. The mixture of this in a horror survival game works rather well, with the spirit illustrations coming across as very creepy thanks to their Japanese folktale inspirations, and they integrate with the style of the game very well.
Run to Fight Another Day
Each spirit has their own characteristics and will make eerie sounds when they come out of hiding, with some attacking you head-on. To avoid the contact with the spirits, you either have to run, hide or use items such as your flashlight. If you run, you have a stamina bar at the bottom of the screen indicating how long you can go. Once the bar shrinks to zero you immediately stop to regain your stamina, so you have to pace yourself.
To hide, you have to find objects like bushes and signs; not everything on the screen is something you can use. To help find a hiding spot, a question mark will pop up above your character’s head when near an interactive object. If you get close enough, it will change into an “exclamation” mark indicating an action can be made, and you simply press the action button to hide. These icons will help you avoid spirit attacks. Items like your flashlight or rocks can scare away spirits too, but using them first before running or hiding is not ideal.
Sometimes instead of an exclamation mark you’ll see a star icon above the character’s head, indicating an item you can pick up. Most the items you will encounter are rocks and coins. The former will help when attempting to scare of spirits but can also be used as landmarks when figuring out the area’s maze. Coins, meanwhile, are used for quick save points at “Jizo Statues”. You’ll want to use these statues soon as you find one.
If you are not careful or are outrun by a spirit, the screen turns to blood splatter and you’re immediately sent back to your last save. Any items you picked up along the way before you die are not retained, so you have to re-do your progress and avoid the contact that killed you in the first place. Considering this can be caused by one-hit kills, it gets aggravating having to retrace your steps just to avoid one enemy.
Thankfully, other items that you can pick up will help you maneuver around spirits and progress to the next area. Some boost your stamina to run longer, for example, but I can’t help but wish there were more ways to defend against spirits.
While travelling, if you are close to a spirit, the played character’s heartbeat will begin to beat harder and faster. The controller will also rumble based on the heartbeat, which really helps with the eerie immersion. The first time I encountered a spirit, I was so deeply focused on the game that I jumped when there were suddenly sirens blaring outside my own home. The game really does work best when you’re isolated with it, so it really is worth making sure you don’t have something going on in the background like cooking – otherwise you’ll probably get startled by something as innocuous as water overboiling on your stove.
The areas are laid out simple but yet challenging. There are various paths to go around and to maneuver and puzzles to solve, while the details and designs in every area are unique, though each definitely has a dark tone to it to give it that scary vibe. Of course, given the setting, many areas are based off of modern downtown Japanese neighborhoods and forests. That said, there are some unique places that you explore such as mansions and libraries.
A Frightful Conclusion
The storyline is short and simple but let’s be honest, you’re playing for the adrenaline-pumping survival game play. While a lot of horror survival games give you plentiful weapons to take down the scary beasts that stalk you, this one wants you to run to live another day. If you are in search for a unique horror survival game to close out October, be sure to take a dive into this one.
Yomawari: Midnight Shadows PlayStation 4 review code was provided by NIS America, Inc.