Yomawari: Midnight Shadows is a sequel to Yomawari: Night Alone, a Japanese survival horror released in 2015. However, for this sequel it’s not entirely necessary to play the first beforehand. Myself having not played the first game before this, I can say it stands on its own with regards to narrative – only confusing in places due to the odd abstract idea.

Midnight Shadows sees two girls, Yui and Haru, get lost in a forest after viewing fireworks together from a summer festival. They get split up on the way home and the rest of the game sees you switching between the two as they search for each other on the streets and woods of what quickly reveals itself to be a haunted town.

The game’s world is filled with the kind of spirits only Japanese horror is capable of, and you must sneak and flee to make it out alive. The game contains some light puzzling, but the real challenge comes from your encounters with these ghosts, both as you try to make it to your destination, and in the boss fights that inevitably ensue. The game is fairly linear in this respect, with you having a destination as you start a level – for example, “I should check for Yui at the library” – however the game world is more open than I was expecting. You can wind through the multiple streets and alleys to avoid dangers or just to explore, and you’re provided with a map so you know you’re on the right track. True, much of the map is blocked off when you start the game, so as not to confuse, but for those willing to risk exploration, there is the opportunity for it here.

When you encounter a ghost there are four ways of dealing with it. Firstly you can run. You have a stamina meter which depletes when you sprint, but in most cases this will be enough to get you away from any pursuing spirit. When this isn’t enough you can hide behind certain objects. Be that a bush or a street sign, hiding is actually the most efficient way of dealing with ghosts as they will disappear once they lose interest. You can distract ghosts with objects such as stones and paper planes, allowing you to run past unbothered. And lastly, and unfortunately least, you can sneak. In my experience sneaking worked only in a few instances, and running or hiding were the safest and easiest options.

You’ll need to be doing a lot of this running and hiding as well, as when a ghost catches you it’s ‘splat’ and back to your last manual save. Thankfully save spots – or shrines – are littered around the town, and the coins that you need to spend to use them are plentiful, as long as you’re willing to explore a little. Shrines also come with the function of fast travel, which enables you to switch between discovered shrines, taking out some risky travelling – if you have the coins to spare that is. You can of course choose to ignore exploration all together and simply take the most direct route to your destination, however in that case you would miss out on useful items as well as collectables.

As a minor level of customisation you can outfit your girl with charms unlocked throughout the story. These offer benefits such as more carry space for rocks, more coins, and even faster running and more stamina. The catch being that you can only equip one at a time, but it’s nice that it’s there, and I found the additional stamina charm to be very useful.

As the story plays out, we flit between Yui and Haru in a linear fashion (you don’t get to choose when to switch). The dynamic is that Yui is lost and Haru is trying to find her, so as we play as Yui, we experience her exploring unknown, dark places, and as Haru we tick off various landmarks of the town – exploring the library, going to the forest, the sewers and so on, anywhere Yui may have ended up. It’s quite an interesting dynamic, as we see Haru in search with vague hints as to Yui’s location, and then gradually we see them getting closer to each other.

Exploring any of the locations as Haru and contending with their respective challenges is where the real meat of each chapter lies. You’ll explore through each location, searching for Yui and a way through. Spirits patrol that you must avoid, and occasionally you’ll be stumped by a locked door or inaccessible pass that you will need to find a key or object for – for example, one obstacle needs you to carry a ladder over to it to get through a window. And then at the climax of each chapter comes some kind of boss encounter. This is where your skills are really tested, and in a surprisingly varied fashion. You may have to avoid the thrown objects of poltergeists, run away from a giant tentacle spirit shooting at you – in semi bullet hell fashion – pick up objects to thwart a spirit while it chases you around a room, the boss encounters are certainly memorable.

However they also illustrate the game’s biggest problems, and that’s to do with its controls and difficulty. Yomawari: Midnight Shadows is by no means an easy game. As already mentioned, enemies will kill you in one hit as soon as they catch you, and upon death you are thrown right back to your last manual save point. Usually there is the option to save just before a tough encounter, but still these can be a couple of minutes of travelling and re-watching cutscenes/animations away. The last thing you want to do when repeatedly dying is to have to mess about unnecessarily. But I digress, the main point I am trying to hit is that the game is balls hard and not all of it is entirely fair.

Movement is slow and clunky – it’s not as mechanical as RPG Maker games tend to be (not that this is one, but it is an isometric, chibi-esque affair), but if you’ve experienced fleeing in one of those then the state of Yomawari’s controls isn’t too far off. This is of course a big issue when the core challenge comes from running from enemies, some of which are at least as fast as you, all of which can kill you instantly. The boss fights in particular, especially towards the end, were a source of frustration more than anything else, and as a result were difficult to enjoy for their creativity.

Which is all a shame, because one thing the game certainly has going for it is its creative enemy designs. The whole aesthetic is creepy and disturbing. Some enemies are grotesque abominations, whereas others are more subtle, though still as unsettling – that weird, jittery Japanese ghost horror. There’s the odd jump scare thrown in – some of which annoyingly involve insta-death – but the threat of pursuing enemies is a genuinely tense experience. The story also has its interesting, if predictable, twists, and I enjoyed the direction they took. I can’t really explain much about why due to spoilers, however the game takes you on an emotional ride and it’s not afraid of getting a little dark.

Aside from the stark difficulty level, there are some annoyances that, though minor, begin to grate after a while. The slow pace of animations and dialogue becomes tedious – with your character constantly stopping to look at things in a painfully exaggerated manner while repeating lines throughout the game (there’s not much good reason to have an ellipses as a separate dialogue box, let alone multiple of them in the same ‘conversation’). And the sound design is a little cheesy, taking away somewhat from the horror – the ghosts don’t sound all that scary to be honest, especially when they repeat themselves over and over again when in pursuit. The game has a distinct lack of mechanics as well, which while not an objective flaw – this sort of game tends to be more walk and witness than complex action – this may put some off (if you’re expecting a good variety of puzzles then you aren’t going to get them, and there’s no combat to speak of).

But otherwise I think Yomawari: Midnight Shadows does what it does reasonably well. If you’re looking for a creepy ghost story then look no further, and with the added benefits of interesting levels, boss encounters and an explorable game world. The difficulty and control combined were a real issue for me, and I feel this is a case of attempting mechanics the engine is not designed for. These ‘types’ of games generally have an issue with this in my opinion, and they’re all less enjoyable as a result. Though they also have strong fan bases for a reason, and I’m sure Yomawari: Midnight Shadows will appeal to you if you enjoy these kind of games. There’s a strong story here with some creepy and creative designs, you’ll just need to prepare yourself for some frustration along the way.



Author

John Little
John Little

I started gaming with the release of the PS1 - Crash Bandicoot and Ridge Racer Revolution being the first 'real' games I ever set eyes on - and have been enthralled with the medium ever since. I particularly love strategy and horror games, the sort offered by titles such as Total War and Silent Hill, though I also have a soft spot for a good RPG. I studied Journalism at university in the hopes of progressing into writing about games, but my 'real job' is as a postman. You'll most likely find me covering indie games as I'm always on the look out for interesting little titles, and generally I stick to the PC and PS4 platforms. I'm not interested in MMOs or really any kind of online game, and I have an unusual and frankly worryingly expensive obsession with collecting gaming guide books, but aside from that I like to think I'm a well rounded average gamer. Find me on twitter @JohnLittle29