Yomawari: Midnight Shadows on PlayStation 4
Imagine yourself walking alone in the middle of the night in your childhood hometown with nothing but a flashlight to give you solace in the dark. Strange people may lurk just around the corner, but you continue on, knowing that your best friend is missing and needs your help. This friend is on the opposite end of town, trapped in a recurring nightmare that she desperately tries to understand lest insanity gets the best of her and she finds herself hanging on a branch, breathing her last gasps of life before suicide takes its hold.
This is exactly the feel that Nippon Ichi Software’s Yomawari: Midnight Shadows impresses upon you from the outset, maintaining its grip on you the whole way through its eight-hour campaign with the help of a dark and brooding atmosphere. The game very much maintains the 2D visuals that made its predecessor, Night Alone, so novel, crafting beautifully drawn landscapes that are remarkable to gaze at, though not for long.
The second Yomawari is, at its core, a horror game, comparable to classic games in the genre that have you run from enemies rather than actually fight them. It follows the story of two little girls named Yui and Haru who attend a fireworks display together in the woods. Yui expresses how she’ll feel so sad when Haru moves away, but the two quickly put aside the topic to focus on the celebration at hand. When the show is over, the two venture back down to town only to get separated, and from here on the player periodically takes on the role of both girls in the hopes that they will reunite.
It’s at this point where horror fans not only get fully acquainted with Midnight Shadows’ mechanics, but learn that seeing Yui and Haru get back together will involve spending a lot of time with menacing spirits who, upon a single touch, slice you up into a squishy carnage that splatters blood all over the screen. Though it only takes them a second to kill Yui or Haru, each girl thankfully possesses an array of tricks to keep pursuers at bay.
Indeed, the pair can collect rocks, paper airplanes, and other disposable items that, while seemingly insignificant at first glance, could be useful in distracting spirits that block narrow paths. In one particular instance a faceless enemy with saws for hands continuously killed me every time Haru so much as just tiptoed past him. Throwing a rock into the adjacent bushes kept him occupied long enough to escape death a tenth time.
Speaking of death, players will experience the phenomenon a lot in a single playthrough, though there are plenty of save points sprinkled in between. This serves as both a boon and a bane for the title, as while the annoyance of backtracking and constant repetition has been removed, there’s never really any weight behind dying. All items trigger an autosave too, meaning you can casually pick up something out of reach despite having four different types of ghosts moaning behind you. I appreciate that the boredom was removed, but along with it there’s a loss of tension and I never really cared if I died or not.
Key items in the game can be used every time the player uses Haru and leaves her house to look for Yui. These trinkets boost stats like the ability to hold extra items or increase stamina. Though the freedom of customization is a nice touch, it never truly felt necessary to me not only because death was inconsequential, but because running felt like the best means possible to avoid contact with any spirits. The fact that players obtain an item that makes them run faster early on only lessens the fear factor and feels like an overpowered object, at least from the get-go.
Yomawari’s scares mostly rely on the aforementioned atmosphere it conveys and remain consistent throughout a single playthrough. Nippon Ichi Software did a fantastic job contrasting the warm, inviting feel of Haru’s home with the depressing, murderous streets of the town, putting players right in the shoes of the character. I myself sometimes felt as though I didn’t want to go outside.
The town itself is the real star of Midnight Shadows then, as it’s just as much an ally as it is a nightmare. You’ll be thankful when gloomy faces reach down an alleyway to jump scare you only to get stuck halfway and breathe easy when gloved ghosts that cry like babies disappear as you hide underneath a streetlight. That being said, no one is out there to save you on those lonely streets, leaving you and your flashlight to your own devices.
This is only made more apparent through Yomawari’s brave use of very little sound. Taking notice that the music in some horror games often comes at the expense of maintaining tension, Midnight Shadows removes the feature entirely, instead allowing only footsteps and horrid moans to reverberate through your speakers. Combine this aspect with the title’s advice to turn off all the lights before playing and horror fans are in for a great treat that’s guaranteed to get their hearts’ pumping.
Yomawari: Midnight Shadows shines a brave light to eschew some genre conventions, but not all. Though the lack of sound and solemn streets are sure to please anyone who loves horror, the abundance of save points makes death inconsequential, removing some terror that the atmosphere instills. Despite that, this is a horror game that is still very much worth your time, if only for a rainy weekend alone in the dark.
Score: 3.5/5 – Fair
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