Yomawari: Midnight Shadows Review
Last year’s Yomawari: Night Alone was a refreshing variation of what we have come to expect from the survival horror genre. It had a fascinating approach to an innocent little girl's journey combined with the ever-present threat of demons who are based on Japanese mythology and urban legends.
Although it didn’t quite reach its full potential, there was enough there to serve as a provocative experience. It certainly was a strong first effort by Yu Mizokami in her lead designer debut. I mentioned in that same review how the game was well deserving of a sequel, and I’m happy to see that desire be accommodated with Yomawari: Midnight Shadows.
There’s nothing else like it, which is what makes it so important that the design is expanded upon in that capacity. It may not go far enough in some respects, but this is still a meaningful improvement on its predecessor.
The story takes a different approach this time around. Instead of playing as a child trying to find her older sister and her dog, you now control the fate of two young girls, Yui and Haru, who have been separated from each other after being attacked by a mysterious monster.
They now must learn how to survive against the spirits of the night while testing their courage as they attempt to reunite with one another.
As I talked about in my review of Night Alone, the game opened to one of the most bone-chilling sequences I have seen from a video game. In Midnight Shadows, that feeling of dread I had was immediately eclipsed. While the look of the characters may give you the impression that this is some PG-rated “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” affair, it quickly goes into a very dark and grim direction.
I could feel the color drain from my body from what I had soon witnessed; it’s clear the designers aren’t playing around. Needless to say, this series has a shocking way of betraying your expectations.
Anyone who played Night Alone will be instantly familiar with the controls. As you navigate the different areas of the town, there are moments when you’ll be attacked by different spirits.
With no means to fight back, you must find different objects in the environment to hide behind, such as signboards or bushes, until they abandon their pursuit. Your flashlight will also help you skirt around enemies, though there are times you want to turn it off so you’re not seen by them.
Once again, you have to manage a stamina bar as you attempt to evade the enemy. As your blood pressure rises and the sound of your heartbeat increases your anxiety levels, your stamina drains faster as a result. So long as you play it cool and go from cover to cover, this is almost trivial. The only times this becomes maddening is when you’re dealing with open expanses where there’s little to protect you.
Although a lot of the gameplay elements have carried over from Night Alone, there are particular differences that set it apart. For one thing, one of the new mechanics is the use of charms. Throughout the course of the game, you may come across one of these items that provide special perks which prove useful along the way.
These benefits include the ability to carry extra pebbles, have increased stamina (a godsend), avoid enemies more easily, and more. It’s an ease-of-life improvement that gives the game depth in what is otherwise a fairly straightforward experience.
Visually, the game looks similar to the first entry, which was already a striking look that gave it a unique personality. I never had a chance to play Night Alone for PC, but I could already tell how sharper and more detailed the sprite models are.
The backgrounds are also gorgeous as they drip with perceived foreboding. Just seeing the contrast between these small, chibi-style girls and the gigantic demons you come across makes for a fantastic fusion of atmospheric storytelling.
Speaking of which, enemies have gotten even more frightening. Those who have played the first entry will appreciate that, aside from a few exceptions, most of the demons you come across are original. There were several moments where I was given a nice jump scare with the inventive ways the game attempted to catch me off guard.
Unfortunately, no changes have been made to the core game design. That means the same frustrations I had before, specifically the bad checkpoint system. You still get those sudden deaths which disrupt the flow of the game.
To be fair, I honestly don’t know what else they can do to fit save points within the context of the game outside of manual saves or checkpoints, but there is something to be said about reliving those scary moments only because you accidentally got caught up in a choke point in the environment.
There are challenging moments in the game that only make it more aggravating. It really tests your patience especially near the end where you experience a number of trial-and-error moments. However, I can’t say it bothered me as much this time around only because I had already dealt with it previously.
On the other hand, it was fascinating being able to observe the fate of two different girls and see the plight from their individual perspectives. The visual and audio design shine brightly in this bleak journey that never breaks from its ambiance and distressing frame of mind.
This carries all the way through to the ending which sets a somber mood. So if you’re looking for a frightening adventure that subverts your assumptions, and if you can get around the checkpoint system, the unnerving atmosphere of Yomawari: Midnight Shadows may do you in.