Colourful, welcoming, uplifting and delightful: all words that I wouldn’t use to describe Yomawari: Night Alone, the latest Vita game from longstanding Japanese developer Nippon Ichi Software. But do not worry, this is a good thing!
You see, Yomawari: Night Alone is a somewhat unconventional survival horror game in the sense that, unlike the big-budget and bombastic AAA franchises in the genre, it tells a relatively small yet personal tale uniquely from an isometric perspective.
Throughout this bleak and atmospheric adventure, you play as an unnamed girl who’s tasked with the simple objective of finding your sister during the course of one fateful night, handily played out across seven bitesize chapters. To some extent the small town you’ll be exploring throughout your journey feels at times open world-esque with optional objectives to carry out and puzzles to complete, but generally Yomawari: Night Alone sets you on a linear creep-tastic adventure that is well suited to a handheld system.
The game does an excellent job at taking the prospect of a survival horror game and stripping it back to its core. You won’t find any combat, set-pieces or gunplay in Yomawari: Night Alone; instead using your wits to avoid the various ghostly creatures you’ll come up against along the way. In recent years, indie-horror games such as Outlast, Slenderman and Amnesia have done a pretty good job at placing an emphasis on evading, and Yomawari: Night Alone is thankfully no different.
It takes both smart gameplay and level design on the behalf of the developer to pull off any game that doesn’t feature combat to always feel fair and beatable, Yomawari: Night Alone the majority of the time works this in to its exploratory nature very well entrusting you with a trusty flashlight as your only tool because hey, this is a horror game after all.
Yomawari: Night Alone’s stealth-action gameplay is made all the more tense and unnerving thanks largely to the consistently moody and grim atmosphere that’s been created by the ever present 360 degree darkness. When playing, the Vita’s screen is always bordered by absolute darkness even when your torchlight shines bright, always requiring me to be cautious before turning that next unexplored street corner.
Sound design (much like the rest of the game) also takes a fairly minimalistic approach. Each of the game’s creatures slide, slither and crawl up behind you at an alarming pace most of the time, an eerie tone swelling up every time they do so. Other than this, your only companion throughout the search for your sister is the sound of your own footsteps tapping against the town pavement, successfully setting in a cold chill.
Despite Yomawari: Night Alone’s quite unique take on survival horror, certain elements those familiar with the genre will be familiar with make an appearance. Saving requires items a la Resident Evil, some enemies only appear under torchlight as in Alan Wake, and of course running away is more often than not the best option. Speaking of running, it’s an action that plays a key part in your attempt to survive throughout the game, requiring you to be careful not to fully deplete your energy.
Resources, while present, aren’t probably as sparse as they should be if the game’s original intention was to make you feel disenfranchised. Throughout my 12 hour play time (even more to find all of the game’s secrets), I never once fell short of coins to save, pebbles to throw or keys to unlock, yet I still felt the game’s sense of dread and tension successfully struck the perfect balance.
Yomawari: Night Alone’s story is intriguing yet a little underwhelming. The central plot never develops much further than the simple search for your sister, although the various designs of the creatures and monsters you encounter along the way seemingly tell their own story if you feel the need to look hard enough. This experience is a classic case of “gameplay is king”, generally resulting in a much better bitesize survival horror experience because of it.
Should you ever take a large break inbetween play sessions, the game handily reminds you in the form of diary entries what your current objective is. If the game was more elaborate and free-roam than it actually is, this feature would be a lot more welcome, but it’s a nice touch nonetheless.
Now for a shocker; despite having its roots firmly set in survival horror, Yomawari: Night Alone is really not all that scary. It’s creepy for sure, but in terms of pure jumps or shivers, these reactions were a no go. In today’s modern world and with such a simple (yet still beautiful) art-style this is most definitely a hard thing to achieve, and especially considering it’s on a handheld. Yomawari: Night Alone has around just as much scare-factor as say a Resident Evil 5, meaning not very. Yet it embraces familiar gameplay tropes enough and delivers enough atmosphere to warrant a place at the genre table.
Dive into Yomawari: Night Alone expecting a bitesized creepy exploration adventure and you’ll have a lot of fun. Although a significant lack of actual scares is replaced more with a definite sense of unease and the story is rather secondary, the generally bleak and atmospheric small-town setting never fails to remain fun to investigate and run around in. Yomawari: Night Alone is a well thought-out survival game that uses stealth to a smart degree, even if you still “ain’t afraid of no ghosts” by the time the adventure comes to an end.