Wholesome Horror and a dead dog! Yomawari Night Alone Review

Greetings Mortals and those who have ascendent to monsters this month! For the blog’s birthday back in July I got a lot of birthday wishes, a bit of help on Ko-Fi and one gift! That gift came from a man that is now known as Indigo! That gift was a Japanese horror game! One I knew I would review for Halloween month! See.. sometimes I do plan ahead!

The Night’s Watch

Yomawari: Night Alone was a game that was developed for PS Vita and Steam spread around the world in October 2016. Although the Japanese PS Vita game came out a year prior to the Steam version’s World Wide release. The game has since seen a release on Switch with it’s Sequel : Yomawari: Midnight Shadows as the Yomawari Long Night  Collection, launching close to Halloween 2018.  I got gifted the Steam edition and as such will be reviewing that version and that version exclusively. The game scores about a 7,5 on Metacritic. Getting mostly Positive to mixed reviews and only a handful of negative ones. It takes roughly 3 to 5 five hours to complete this game, depending on if you are prone to use a guide on what to do if you are stuck yes or no. I finished the game in about 4  and a half hours myself, which included about one hours of pointless searching, including me exploring for some hidden items.  To gain all hidden items I’d say would take.. about two more hours depending on your skill and control scheme. 

 In this game you play a nameless girl protagonist who during the tutorial is walking her dog. It is shown we can toss items as well and when we toss a stone we just picked up our dog goes to fetch it and run under a truck. Left with only a big pile of blood in the road, a torn collar and a hole in the side rails.. the girl looks flustered and makes her way home. It is there that she lives alone with her older sister. When that sister asks where Poro is the little girl is too traumatised to remember and says she doesn’t know. The older sister goes to find Poro but doesn’t seem to be returning so the traumatised little girl has to search all over town for her dog that presumably died and her sister.. whom she claims will die if she is not found. It is a journey that is filled with mysterious and dangerous spirits which want nothing more than to eat a little girl.. or to exact their terrible revenge on those who took them from this earth to early.

A not so lonely Night!

This game is brought to life in 2d topdown anime like artstyle with the main character and her sister and dog having some chibi-like qualities while the ghosts and monsters take a more “realistic” detailed appearance. The town is more in style with the Main character, being made out of soft natural tones, while monsters usually take on red and black shades or look overly large or with “wrong” details. It helps convey the issue that what you are seeing on this night does not belong to this world and it is through this style of visual trickery the game really builds it’s tension. The game is set in a sleepy small Japanese town and it’s adjacent locations such as the rice fields, the factory, the school and the woods. 

Each chapter pushes you to visit a sub-location that makes you traverse to a newly unlocked part of town. Locations feel both unique and generic at the same time which conveys a great feeling of being lost yet does clearly show you what chapter you are working on. If you are outside the school there are a bunch of straight paths,  and sideways that all look alike but you very much know you are at the school.  You constantly need to search for the most effective route for you to get a new item or clue and while the same looking path causes panic and disorientation , the unique looking location itself does limit your search area thus never making it feel too daunting.

The sense of dread is aided by the fact that this game lacks a soundtrack! Except for maybe the menu and some very sparing moments there is no music playing at all during this game. All you hear is your footsteps on the asphalt or concrete.. and some monsterlike growls and grunts.  Here and there a dog will bark and you wonder if it’s your Poro or it’s some other dog. Cat’s will cross your path to fake you out but the game doesn’t really use jumpscares to be scary. Instead it builds up to this claustrophobic anxiety. The sound design helps with this!  Most monsters don’t even make a sound but if the MC draws close to a spirit her heart starts beating loudly and the closer it is the more panicked that heart rate it becomes

The character has access to three tools to shake them off. She can outrun them by having access to a limit sprint, she can toss an item to create a distraction and she can hide behind a rose bush or certain signs. When you hide the main character closes her eyes in fear and hopes the evil goes away. Instead of monsters we see pink swirls of mist  as our heartbeat races. While you are absolutely safe in these locations and even if a monster saw you flee inside the use of the heartbeat is absolutely fear inducing. The fact that a pink/red mist is used instead of enemies always makes it a gamble if they are far enough to come out yet.. is it that creature you just saw? Or is this something else? How will it react to you coming out of hiding? Sound.. and the light of your flashlight are in most cases the only thing that makes these ghosts appear.

The strongest element of the audio-visual design of this game is most definitely the monsters/ghost. They are all so weird and extreme.  A giant spider  that has no head but instead a very humanoid face on it’s back.. check.. A zombie-like creature whose head is almost alert like a flashing light.. you know one of those alarm light or flashing lights of a cop car. A ghost dog with a disproportionate head  so it looks like one of those stone guardians? Check! And these are enemies we encounter in the first chapter! Later we encounter many many more.. and everything feels unique and special. There are even spirits of children.. who look like children except it is as if their sprite is poorly covered with a black pencil and their eyes and mouth are now light sources. 

Some of the spirits  won’t harm you but if you bump into the wrong one.. bam you are still dead, MC gets eaten in a single hit. My favourite spirit feels like Nina Tucker and Alexander.. but missing the lower half of their body!  It crawls in a straight line towards you at lighting speed and the only way to avoid is is to sprint to  the side on time. It has some qualities of Samara from the Ring as well. Spooky creatures. Each time you see something you wonder to  yourself.. Oh My Arceus.. what the heck is that! Get it away from me! You are never truly alone on this night but you REALLY want to be! 

A whole night of wholesome!

While we have control of the main character most of the time , there are some in game cutscenes that take away that control. Sometimes it seamlessly passes over into you playing again and requires split second decisions and reactions. This keeps a tension to them I don’t often see, they are needed to let the character react to things. She can for example burst into tears, fall to her feet in fear or just look extremely startled. The anime style makes it feel cute and sweet and you genuinely feel like a very young girl.  She doesn’t dare to venture off the roads too much so invisible walls in front of patches of grass are explained that way. She just wants to find her sister but tries to follow as much of the normal rules as possible.

This is reflected in the way she handles ghosts. At many moments you can encounter a “boss” ghost of the area which is usually a tormented spirit of some kind whom the main character has to bring a little offering or distract , or even perform a little chore to put them to rest.  She wants to do the right thing and will place flowers on peoples final resting places as she acknowledges them and hopes they can find peace. It is really cute! Not all spirits are just evil.. most are just lost and while we journey we see this girl come to terms with that. She isn’t happy they are so scary..but they do not deserve to suffer either. 

The age of the main character is also reflected in your menus. Your inventory feels like it is drawn with crayon, just like your map of town. It’s all drawn by the main character. Her journal entries displaying your objectives and discoveries are all written in a very childlike manner as well. It creates an endearing effect , even though we do not know anything about this main character, she doesn’t even have a name. We want to see her safe.  She is so sweet and innocent, yet she did a terrible thing.. although not intentionally! She made her sister pay for her mistake! In the end we will find out that this will not come without consequences either… yet this is one of those horror games that ends.. pretty well. At least as far as can be expected. Weirdly enough the game also doesn’t shy away from darkness. A girl being pushed from a cliff and finding her broken body happens all the same as a spirit staring at the flower at her grave and being happy.  It doesn’t go as dark as the second game which big reveal made me super upset, but it does really do well to walk a very strange but believable balance of dark and sweet.  The main character is such a good girl and I had a smile when she befriended another spirit on her journey.. but I had my heart pounding in my throat when I first encountered them.

This wholesomeness also extends to the collectibles. During your journey by visiting places you do not HAVE to visit you can encounter stuff the main character seems to call treasures. Which are non functional collectible items. These can be simply crayons, but also pieces of fashion of things that she thinks look cool or special. The final treasure she can collect are those which belong to people who met an unfortunate end or whom she at least things belong to other people. Throughout the town you find numerous billboards that sometimes have rumors or missing person reports. A description of them is given in text .. for example “wears a red cloak”   and somewhere in the map in the last seen area you find a torn piece of red fabric.  These relics connect to the bigger world for those willing to pay attention, yet you do not miss anything of the main story if you choose to ignore it. Most of these types of treasures are spirits you will never “really” encounter. You just find rumors and more often than not proof that they won’t be coming home. The main character logs all these treasures in her little notebook even making little drawings for them.  Plenty of these treasures are hidden behind small sidequests, for example you can get an egg as a treasure if you find and bring home five chickens to a coop you unlocked but forgot to close earlier. That kidlike charm is in everything you do here  and I love it.

A Long Night or a Short Night

If you rush this game and stick only to the main goal and NEVER explore you can finish this game in 2.5 hours or so?! Which caused people to complain about it, yet I feel that is a bit of a lackluster reason to shoot this game down. People also complained that if they rushed they could complain about Pokémon Sword and Shield within 8 hours which was to short. Yet these games are clearly made not just to rush. That would be the same as saying Mario sucks because if you use warp pipes it only has like 5 playable levels in my opinion.  Just because you can rush doesn’t mean you have to. Plus people who say that finished the game that fast, I assume either had a walkthrough present on how to play or watched a let’s play because there really are some parts that require you to figure out some patterns or find well hidden items. The game makes it clear enough where you should go but if you don’t constantly use the map to walk the perfect route  you get plenty of bang for your buck.  Horror should not go on too long because you can not keep that fresh for 8 to 10 hours. You might with a jump-scare style game or some deep narrative story but not in this format.  So I believe this game actually has a great length. 

However.. I am not super fond of their save system. In this you use a consumable coin to make an offer to an altar that works as a quicksave point.  From then on out using an altar  can allow you to save ..for one more coin or it can work as a quick travel point to other shrines you have uncovered. Quicksaves do record your progress but not your location upon a restart. If you want to go to bed (I play this LATE at night)  after playing this game for a bit you will respawn back at your home, then you have to find a shrine near you pray to it teleport back to the location you where at yesterday, which can be hard to read of a children’s map and thus make your way back. If you do not have coins because you tossed them as distractions or if you save too much you can not save. Getting killed usually respawns you at the last prayer too late.. with some exceptions after cutscenes or “instance” switches. For example in chapter five you will be able to transfer between the normal world and a red tinted one that houses a huge town-covering centipede… whenever you switch between worlds you gain a checkpoint there.. but not always. So it always feels a bit as a hassle to come back to the same chapter the next day which more than once forced me to finish an entire chapter before taking a break.

I do not mind the “ink ribbon” system  they go for with the coins, I think it does add some tension in Resident Evil , however in the age of streaming and let’s play respawning back at home feels really outdated.  As lazy as it may sound, I do not want to spend 10 minutes just to get back where I was before. Not only do I have to find a shrine to pray near my house I also must be sure that I have coins with me so I can pray to the altar I went to just so I get a respawn point up. So if I am out of coins I first have to venture into town to find a few, which are usually around vending machines and temples. Another issue I personally had was that I had a bad time with the controls, which more than once resulted in me tossing a stone at a shrine and  that douses the flame of the altar and negates the checkpoint. Since a few first encounters with ghosts result in certain death.. as you have no way how they work yet or how to flee from them, this means a lot of backtracking.. or at least going through hoops to end up where you were before. So sometimes chapters felt too long for the wrong reasons. Encountering new ghosts or seeing new attacks of a ghost I had no clue on how to dodge yet. It can cause a few of the trickier parts to go stale or frustrating real fast. Especially if you are out of coins!

Big Sisters Advice

The controls on PC are very clunky, walk with the arrow keys interact with z is fine but then the sprint button is mapped to E,  waving your flashlight is mapped to WSAD , tossing an item instead of cancel is mapped to X and item select is mapped to V while turning off your flashlight is mapped to B.  So the C button isn’t really used. Then through the item select menu you can switch items by pressing the sprint button instead of the arrow buttons..because you can still move when selecting items but you can not sprint?! Arrow keys Z is fairly normal for any type of game that favours a controller but the rest here makes no sense to me at all. At a certain point I just remapped almost everything! It’s fine since it’s an option to do that.. but my advice is.. play this one with a controller it plays so much nicer.  If you do not have a USB controller this game easily is worse for it.  This is also a horror game I now prefer to play earlier in the evening. Just so I can go on for stretches of an hour or so to complete a chapter. It is more enjoyable that way mostly because your journal does not update whilst in a chapter. Your goal will not update so if you forget where you were.. you are pretty lost. So play this game when you know you have a few hours available that month and you can play each chapter with the old clues still in your mind. Making notes could also be great  if you want to complete the game and get all treasures. 

This game comes with a manual and it’s not the easiest game to pick up, it is quirky and relatively slow paced. Fear doesn’t come from shouting in your microphone or a big husky man chasing you. Fear comes more in the build up of this chase, because of the unknown. It causes a sense of claustrophobia in a sense.  Will you sprint now to get to your location early.. or do you walk keeping and end out for that crawling spirit.. will you come out of hiding while the enemy is still that close? What way is his head facing?! These abnormal creatures are amazingly designed and you want to see them all, but how can you see them in all their glory without being killed.  The game wants you to have fun, explore a bit of the areas you already know.. while strictly tunnelling you in new areas to keep them feeling nice and claustrophobic and it is a formula I can deeply appreciate. 

There is however a feeling of distance you will need to be able to accept.. you aren’t seeing the adventure through the main characters eyes, you guide her, even the way you control her feels slightly less direct with a mild delay.. as if you are guiding her by her hand instead of actually controlling her. It feels unwestern.. which it is. This game really understands horror but it is very much its own brand of horror. It is a unique type of horror that I would recommend people to try out without a shadow of a doubt in my mind. The game built around it is pretty good as well, just at times it can feel a BIT too much like a Newgrounds game to completely put me under its spell.

Thank you Indigo for gifting me this wonderful game! It doesn’t rely on jump scares and more so has you actually fearing for this sweet innocent child that is one of the most adorable main characters I ever played with. For people interested in this game, you can check out the steam page here! Happy Halloween and spooky games to everyone!