A Night of Horrors
The word Yomawari roughly translates to “night watchman.” It’s an apt description of my experience with Yomawari: The Long Night Collection: patrolling a small Japanese town alone at night. In this survival horror game, monsters lurk around every corner, ready to kill. This collection compiles two games: Yomawari: Night Alone and its sequel Yomawari: Midnight Shadows. Both appear to be cute adventures at first glance, but as the old saying goes, “things aren’t always as they seem.”
Check out the game in action in my Video Review!
The two games in Yomawari: The Long Night Collection are standalone tales connected by the theme of a little girl trying to find a missing loved one, be it a sister or best friend. Although every chapter is built on bizarre occurrences in a small Japanese town, the deeper narrative encompassing the dark realities of emotional turmoil is what lingered in my mind. Both stories had intense expositions that hooked me from the get-go, and I remained invested with dying curiosity as the mysteries piled up.
The first thing you’ll probably notice is that Yomawari is a cute game. You play as super-deformed button-eyed girls in an isometric anime world. It’s an unusual artistic choice for the survival horror genre that takes you off guard. The adorable aesthetics are juxtaposed with subdued colors and shadowy borders, teasing a constant looming presence. When I finally saw one of the grotesque spirits, I realized the game was effectively scaring me through its presentation. A mostly mute game with only a blaring rapid heartbeat and deafening screams, the ambience was perfectly set up to creep me out. My psyche was vulnerable to any threat, such as the unsettling smaller Yokai monsters or the nightmare-inducing Lovecraftian demons. I no longer felt safe in this corrupted den.
If there’s anything a survival horror should induce, it’s fear; and Yomawari’s gameplay sets it up in an effective, albeit flawed way. Unlike action-oriented games like Resident Evil, your character has no means of attack. You merely run and hide. Your run is tied to a stamina bar that depletes faster if you’re near an enemy. And you can only hide in certain areas like behind bushes or sign boards, but you lose sight of what’s happening around you. Your limited repertoire paves the way for frightening scenarios where you feel utterly helpless. There are a few helpful items like pebbles to distract spirits, but survival depends on your reflexes and stamina management.
How the monster spirits are concealed elevates the fear factor. You can only see an enemy when light shines on it, so they’re invisible in dark areas unless you can pinpoint them with your flashlight’s limited range. You may still hear nearby enemies or sense them with a small indicator of your heartbeat. This gameplay design heightens the senses, asking players to be aware of their surroundings. I was on the edge of my seat, constantly fidgeting my flashlight in circles, ready to run at a moment’s notice. Yomawari wonderfully captures that dreadful fear of the unknown.
Sometimes survival requires conserving stamina and mastering timing to dodge enemy attacks. Other times, the key to getting past an enemy lies in learning how the monster operates. Some spirits will follow you if they hear your loud footsteps, while other ghosts may be frozen in place if you constantly face them, similarly to Boo in the Mario series. In the second game especially, there are thrilling encounters with large demons that you must outwit by cleverly manipulating objects around you. The whole game is ripe with environmental puzzles, and my heart raced when I had to solve one amidst danger.
These fear-inducing mechanics come at a cost, however. The invisible enemies work to build anxiety, but they can lead to some cheap deaths. A warning to those faint of heart: there are jump scares. Enemies suddenly appear, instantly killing you in one hit. Having almost no time to react to these faster threats and relying on frustrating trial-and-error to soldier through may be appropriately thematic, but they’re also the game’s biggest weaknesses.
Luckily, Yomawari is very forgiving. Death brings you back to your last save point, and you get to keep all your items when you respawn. These save points, represented by Jizo statues, are frequent but have a pesky in-game cost to use. As a bonus, they conveniently let you warp to any other statue you’ve activated. You’ll need to use them to explore every aspect of the town, from the suburban streets to the rice paddy fields, and even inside abandoned manors. The map, which is creepily hand-drawn in crayon, isn’t always helpful and can be stressful to navigate. Unless you know where you’re going, you’ll likely get lost and die.
There are extra events outside of main missions that you may activate. These bonus episodes extend the playtime, which is otherwise around five to seven hours per game. Completionists have the freedom to fully explore the spooky town in an open-ended fashion after beating the game. Since this compilation is merely a straight port of two games without exclusive features, that’s as much replay as you’ll get.
If you’re looking for a unique, scary experience, Yomawari: The Long Night Collection frightens with its eerie atmosphere and tense mechanics. Every element is designed to heighten the senses and ramp up fear, even though it doesn’t always translate to solid gameplay. It’s not for everyone, but it’ll please players itching for a good horror adventure. To survive this Japanese ghost story, you don’t need precise skills – just a strong soul.
Note: A review copy was used for this article.