Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Publisher: NIS America
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Playstation Vita, PC
From just looking at Yomawari: Midnight Shadows alone you wouldn’t necessarily think that it’s a horror title. I mean, it almost looks a little cute at times, with its chibi-like character sprites looking like they’d fit in well with some 16-bit JRPG. As demonstrated by its predecessor though, looks can be deceiving and Yomawari: Midnight Shadows certainly proves that itself with the frightening little adventure it offers. I’m a horror video game veteran, and it certainly managed to have me on the edge of my seat at times…
Don’t worry if you haven’t played the previous game before (Yomawari: Night Alone) because Yomawari: Midnight Shadows is a stand-alone tale that requires no previous knowledge of the series.
You take on the role of best friends Yui and Haru, who encounter some strange otherworldly presence after watching a firework show atop of a mountain. Whilst heading home, Yui ends up in an altercation with a sinister creature and ends up going missing. It’s up to Haru to try and find her, but of course, that’s pretty difficult to do when the world around you ends up filled with monstrous creatures that want nothing but your blood.
From a gameplay perspective, Yomawari: Midnight Shadows offers the same kind of experience that a lot of horror-exploration titles do these days; the main difference is that whilst most of them take on a first-person viewpoint, Yomawari: Midnight Shadows instead has a top-down look. It works well though and doesn’t stop the game from being any less unnerving.
Most of your time in the game is spent exploring the creepy town and solving puzzles, all whilst avoiding the myriad of creatures that’re out to get you. In fairness, some of the monstrosities you come across are incredibly unique in design; Yomawari: Midnight Shadows doesn’t just throw ghosts or zombies your way, but instead these disgusting beasts that are quite literally the things of nightmares. Each creature has to be handled in a different way too, so you never quite know what to expect when you encounter them. Some might be harmless enough, some might try slowing you down, some might need to have a light flashed on them to go away, whilst others you might need to hide from if you want to stay safe – there’s certainly a good variety of ways to handle them, which ensures that each encounter always remains a tense and unpredictable affair.
The hiding mechanics were actually handled in a really neat way. The game zooms into your hiding place and obscures the view of your surroundings, however, any monsters that were pursuing you are still present but represented by a little red glow. You’ll see the red glow stalk around your hiding spot until eventually it disappears. Because the camera zooms in though, you’re never fully aware of where they’ve gone or where they’re facing, so you’ll still be left wondering when the perfect time to jump out of cover is. It’ll keep you on edge, whilst the fear of the unknown may actually keep you hiding in bushes a little bit longer than you ought to…
The game world is an open one, though the gameplay itself felt a lot more linear given how much of it is blocked off. It could actually prove to be a little frustrating, especially since you could essentially work your way down a specific path only to find yourself turned away and forced to look for a different route. There’s already quite a lot of backtracking in Yomawari: Midnight Shadows thanks to the fact that every new section of the game starts off back at Haru’s house, so having to search around aimlessly at times whilst creatures were out to get you often broke the pace of the game.
Of course, a horror game would be nothing if it didn’t frighten you, but thankfully Yomawari: Midnight Shadows certainly does a good job of keeping you on edge throughout. Whilst the designs of the monsters aren’t particularly frightening (the game goes for a more grotesque look), the way in which they pursue you will definitely prove unnerving; they’re relentless at times and will certainly cause you plenty of deaths. There’s plenty of jump scares on show too, and whilst some are a little cheap (who scares players checking out their inventory?!), they all do their job of shaking the player up momentarily.
Where Yomawari: Midnight Shadows most effectively provides its chills is within its sound design. There’s no music throughout the game, but rather a plethora of different noises that ‘go bump in the night’ as you go searching throughout the town. Whether it’s your own hurried footsteps, the daunting moans of the creatures that stalk you, the haunting ambient sounds of the town, or just the moments of silence where you simply KNOW that something vicious is lurking around the corner – Yomawari: Midnight Shadows just constantly keeps you gripped in and on edge.
One thing that I’d be remiss not to mention is Yomawari: Midnight Shadows’ opening tutorial. In honesty, I was getting a little bit frustrated with it at first; whilst I can appreciate that a game likes to teach you everything about its gameplay mechanics, these were features that I’d seen a million times before elsewhere and didn’t really need to be shown how to do. However, it then took a very dark turn that both shocked me and also essentially set up the overall vibe for the remainder of the game. It made it all worthwhile, with the pacing of it and the almost condescending tone of the instructions making the overall shock value all the more effective. Bravo.
Yomawari: Midnight Shadows offers a thoroughly enjoyable horror adventure that’s a little different to the norm. Whilst the exploration, puzzle solving, and enemy-avoiding mechanics may feel familiar to some gamers, the way in which they are presented was unique; it certainly helped mask the fact that the game doesn’t really offer anything that you wouldn’t have seen before, but it also ensured that it remained a lot of fun too.
The cutesy presentation style may fool you into thinking that Yomawari: Midnight Shadows isn’t going to be a bona fide horror game, but believe me, the tale it provides is certainly an unnerving one. If you’re a fan of horror-exploration titles it’s definitely worth checking out, though those who just enjoy a good little adventure may find a lot to like here too.