I was a huge horror fan growing up, which has led to some interesting issues later in life – namely, I don’t scare all that easily anymore. It takes some pretty severe shocks to get to me these days, and I find myself laughing at horror games and films more than enjoying them as they’re made to be enjoyed. There are some exceptions; Until Dawn wasn’t bad, I looked twice at dark nooks for awhile after seeing The Babadook, and Yomawari: Night Alone managed to put a shiver or two down my spine despite its cutesy appearance.
It’s even available on both Steam and the Vita; the latter is practically a zombie handheld, which makes it even more appropriate for some spooky gaming on the go.
After going on a walk and losing her dog, our heroine’s sister decides to take matters into her own hands and go out to find the pooch…though, uh, pooch’s odds don’t seem so great when you consider the circumstances under which it was lost. This doesn’t really go as planned; now the girl’s out one dog AND one sister. It’s time to grab the assault rifle, lock, load and get out there to find them…except, well, minus the assault rifle bit. Our heroine isn’t actually armed with anything but a flashlight, and it turns out that her town’s not so friendly after dark.
Yomawari is a pretty standard survival horror game in that you’re not really meant to fight your way through. Success comes from carefully and quickly making your way to your destination, avoiding baddies rather than engaging them. The most proactive thing you can do when faced with a baddie is to hide behind something, and you’re usually best off just hauling ass in the opposite direction. You’d probably feel safer with something a little more dangerous than a flashlight, in any case, as Yomawari’s creatures trend toward the nightmarish horror side of things and you’re going to be stumbling into them thanks to the oppressive gloom.
Not many games can really manage this, but one thing Yomawari does right is atmosphere. This is a dark, quiet game, meant to evoke a primal feeling of anxiety as you play, the same way you might feel during a blackout as you wander around your house with nothing but a candle or flashlight. Many games would take advantage of this by jumpscaring the life out of you – God knows that’s big wth the YouTube crowd these days – but Yomawari only uses that trick sparingly and instead relies on a constant, unyielding tension. It’s a nice change after Five Nights at Freddy’s ushered in an era of horror games that are about as subtle as a sledgehammer to the face.
Yomawari’s aesthetics play a big part in this as well. If you didn’t know any better you’d think this was just a cutesy wandering game, given the adorable sprite used for your little girl and the gorgeous surroundings she wanders through. Once you see some of those creatures, though, the gloves are off. I should also mention, as I’ve seen others mention, that the first five minutes or so of this game are probably the most effective and will stay with you long after you’re done playing. I mean this, to the point where there probably needs to be a warning label on the thing because Jesus Christ. The fact that the game’s fairly short helps with this as well; you could probably wrap up Yomawari in a couple hours if you really felt like it, though extracurricular exploration is usually rewarding and this can pad the game out a bit.
The short run time would be complaint-worthy if you couldn’t get this game in a Vita bundle with htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary, a similar game from last year that boasts some obvious conceptual similarities to Yomawari: Night Alone. You can, though, and that’s pretty cool; alternatively you can just get it for $20 on Steam, which is pretty acceptable. It’s the right time of year for this kind of game; it’s cold, it gets dark early, and you never know what kind of things are lurking around outside in the frost…