We all love good survival horror game, though I personally haven’t come across one in a while. With Halloween round the corner I did some research to see what’s on the horizon in terms of horror games, one of the games I found was Yomawari: Midnight Shadows. Being the sequel to Yomawari: Night. Alone the game follows a similar premise of exploring a town at night with only your flashlight at hand. On paper the game sounds like it would be the ultimate horror game, I mean exploring places at night, tick. Only having a flashlight, tick and spirits that are out to get, double tick. So it’s bound to be horror game of the year and have me hiding under my covers right? Sadly that wasn’t the case, even though this games story and art style are good the rest of the games elements let it down.
So to set the scene, it’s coming to the end of summer vacation and Yui and Haru (the games protagonists) are watching a firework show on a mountain. On their way home a spirit lunges from the shadows and attacks the two girls. When they come to they find themselves lost as the town is covered with darkness. Now being separated the girls must face the terrors of the night to find out what has happened and once again be reunited. At first the story is quiet confusing and kind of makes you want to know what’s going on, I mean the opening bit in general had me like Oh My God what the hell just happened but about midway through the game it sorts of drifts off and start to drag. Yomawari however does a good job in the final few chapters to pick up the pace answer the longing questions of what’s going on and what has happened. Yui and Haru are really cute and lovable character and to top it all off they even have a dog that helps you out called Chaco but we will cover him later as he play an important part in the game mechanics as well as aiding in the story (this being that he guides you around).
Game Concept and mechanics
Players explore the town at night by mainly playing as Haru. It does jump between the two but you mainly find yourself playing as Haru trying to find Yui. While exploring the town you will uncover subevents and come across different items that Haru can use or horde in her room as little treasures if you will. The only source of light the game gives you in the darkness is a flashlight, though using this all the time can be dangerous as some spirts are drawn to it. Though it can be used to push back certain spirits so that you can escape or hide. The town is huge and can sometimes get very confusing, I found myself referring to the map quite a lot but once I found out what the stones are used for it made it easier getting around. I also liked the whole treasure thing that Haru has, like when you find items in the world she draws and writes about them in her journal and you can go back and read over them.
Hiding in the game is technically a huge feature as for some reason the characters aren’t armed with weapons. I know it seems like a poor complaint but nothing is more frustrating than having to watch your character die over and over again and all you can do is run away or hide. Certain spirts are quicker than you and sometimes you just don’t even bother running. You can hide in bushes are behind certain signs, once the spirit as moved on you are safe to come out. This is indicated by a flashing red dot moving away on your screen or the girl’s heart beat slowing down.
The heart beat is used to indicate that a spirit is near, kind of like a detection system seeing as some of the spirit lurk in the dark and jump out last minute. While you have a fast heart beat you stamina runs out quicker, this has led to me dying countless times and favouring the charms that make me run quicker or have longer lasting stamina. Charms can be found throughout the town and give your personal bonuses so find as many as you can and choose your favourite.
You can come across items like stones, coins and paper airplanes. These can be used to aid the player but not really to the extent you need if trying to get from A to B and having hordes of spirts in the way. They can be seen in the world by a little flashing light or indicated that they are nearby by a question mark and when close enough to them changing to an exclamation mark. While exploring keep your eye out for Necessities, these items are key parts of the story and while help you progress. With Midnight Shadows you are now able to move and pick up objects, when a little hand icon appear on an item you’re able to move it around the world to help you. Lastly we have Chaco, if not one of the stars of the game. Chaco is Yui’s dog and helps you in varies ways in the story, if not guiding you around to key locations Chaco is fending off spirits to protect Haru. It does seem silly that at times the dog can do more against the spirits than you but without this trusty companion helping me I would have probably got lost countless times.
The only source of light is a flashlight. While exploring, the player finds items and strange ‘spirits’, who are lurking in various places such as shades of mountains, street corners, and below a street light, and sometimes attack the player. When a spirit is around, the girl’s heartbeat will increase. Since the girls cannot fight, the player has to find ways to overcome the spirits, for example by running away, hiding, or using an item. Since each spirit has its own characteristics, the best method to use differs per spirit. Players can push large objects, such as wooden boxes, in order to create stepping stones, which enables the player to get past blockades. As the story progresses, the player finds charm-like items, called ‘Omamori’, which have an influence on the stats of the girls, such as making stamina harder to reduce, or increasing the girls’ run speed.
I love the art style in this game. Personally one of my favourites, I love games like Child of light and Ori of the blind forest that do this whole painted backdrop sort of world and have the character wonder on top of them. A new feature in this game is that in certain areas you will be able to go into a 2D side scrolling mode, which just adds to the feel of the world. The games map have doubled in size and you can also venture into buildings now, I personally enjoyed the indoor areas such as the library it was a nice change from wondering the streets. I also enjoyed the character and spirit designs and felt that they all worked together to make this one of the selling points for the game.
One of the games weaknesses is its’s soundtrack, there isn’t a backing track when roaming the town or even when times get tense. It’s made up of the sound of footsteps, Chaco barking, spirits and the annoying heart beat monitor. This probably has been done so that the game has an element of suspense but what it actually does is make it dull. After the eighth or ninth spirit you encounter the rapidly beating heart beat noise and the spirits howling at you just do your head in. Even when you are hiding behind signs waiting for the spirts to pass your still having to listen to your characters hard beat pound on and on while waiting for what seems like forever sometimes for a spirit to pass and leave you alone.
Once the game had finished I felt like there was still stuff that could be done, for example trying to unlock all the trophies, find all the collectables and the best one of all taking Chaco out for walks. Though personally I don’t think there is any replay value in the sense of playing through the story again.
Overall my time playing Yomawari: Midnight Shadows was mixed, at times I found myself really enjoying it and wanting to progress then other I just felt like I wanted to put the control down and not pick it back up. The story was quiet dark but at the same time made you feel for the two girls but not being able to fight back against the spirits in anyway was a huge bug bear for me. The art style was the main hero for this game and was one of the main reasons I enjoyed my time exploring the town. It’s simple gameplay at times felt too simple and the way I kept dying over and over I couldn’t help but think I was playing Dark Souls or something. That being said it might be that I’m just too use to having games where I have to fight back, the whole feeling powerless and weak could be what the developers were going for and if that’s the case then they hit the nail on the head but to be honest that wasn’t my cup of tea. If I had played the first game I might have understood and appreciated it more. People who have played the first game I would highly recommend it because the new story and features are there, but if you haven’t touched any of these game before I would highly recommend doing some research into them before picking them up just to make sure you know what you’re in for.