Yomawari: Night Alone Review -- Lonesome Nights
Yomawari: Night Alone
Nippon Ichi Software
Review copy provided by the publisher
Yomawari: Night Alone tells the story of a young girl who must find her missing dog and sister in a small town over the course of several nights. Her plight is complicated by the presence of malevolent spirits who seek only her harm; armed with only a flashlight, the girl must avoid death and confront her own mortality. This narrative is stretched over a two to three hour time period so it has very little chance of becoming repetitious. While certain stretches of the game can be frustrating due to constant death and too-little guidance, it has a great atmosphere throughout with a rather sad story that is well told.
Throughout most of your time with Yomawari: Night Alone you traverse a town occupied by violent ghosts. These spirits take on a variety of forms and frequently will fade in and out of view. Each has its own pattern of movement and triggers. One aggressively runs after light sources, another will relentlessly chase you once you reach a certain distance. Others simply exist on the edge of your view. These are freakish monsters that you can’t quite make out. They are imposing both due to their infrequent appearance and the fragility of your character. The little girl you control will die quickly and frequently over the course of each night in Yomawari.
Dread is built by your limited view of the surrounding world, since certain ghosts will only appear in the beam of your flashlight. It is compounded upon by the visual style — everything is hand drawn and shown from about four angles. This means much care was poured into how each character looks, and the world itself has a lot of detail. Graphics and sound design go hand in hand, as ambient noise, such as the electrical buzz of street lamps, the footsteps you take, and phones ringing in the distance also do a great deal of building the setting. The score is very rarely heard, only played during important instances. A great sense of loneliness is imbued due to this, which helps emulate the emotions of the young girl who has lost her only connections.
While each night tasks you with exploring a different area of your home town, base gameplay can be divided into exploration, threat avoidance, and puzzle solving. While the map may give the appearance that the entire town is free to roam from the beginning, the game will guide you down the current progression path. You can still walk around some sideways to find collectibles. Inventory space is predetermined, and in the late game you will have quite the collection of odds and ends. Each with a short, but morbid, description. Whether it be a note with suicidal thoughts or torn clothes, each item strengthens the atmosphere.
Threats are common, and Yomawari throws quite a lot of different spirits at you. What begins as simple black figures that give chase when you draw too near develops into larger, and more grotesque, beings. Many of the ghosts are differentiated not only by their character art but also by behavior. Some will give chase but relent once you have run a certain distance. There is one ghost form that can only chase after you in a straight line but is quite fast. Generally, when a pathway is blocked by a ghost that constantly kills you when you get anywhere close to it, that is the game telling you to head elsewhere. If not, it will just be a wall of roadblocks keeping you from moving further down that specific road.
Each night has an ultimate goal in mind, finding your missing dog and then sister. Each night also has a sort of boss-ghost, a larger threat than those that occupy the streets and alleys. These can range from gigantic beasts that stretch across multiple parts of the map to a woman as large as yourself. Since you can’t fight these spirits, you have to either find a way to appease it or flee. Typically this involves solving a simple puzzle that requires you to travel from point A to point B while finding an item between those points. Some have more tiers, and others require more than one key item, but each is quite simplistic.
Challenge in Yomawari is instead found in the guess and check approach to solutions. Death will be the tool by which you check, and guesses are guided by inner dialogue and notes found that don’t explicitly give you the answer and instead point you in the right direction. Occasionally this experimental approach to solutions can be frustrating. In one instance I repeatedly died due to a ghost who would chase me, then instantly appear in front of me and spit out some projectile that caused death. Reaction time was greatly limited, which led me to face the blood splattered death screen repeatedly for a short stretch of gameplay.
Another problem is the inconsistency of save points. Throughout the town are small shrines that you can contribute a coin to in order to quicksave your game. These coins are found often enough that you don’t have to really worry about running out and being unable to save. Shrines also act as a fast travel station, allowing you to zip to any shrine previously visited for free. While these shrines allow you to save progress, specific scenes or sections of the game will also autosave in the background, but not always at the best time. Sometimes it will checkpoint you right before a constant death zone, allowing you to circumvent repeating the same task prior. At some other points though it will checkpoint you much farther back than I would have liked.
Bookending each night are short scenes of the little girl you control coming to terms with death. The opening features the only real jump scare, which I won’t spoil here. Its efficient in setting the tone, and genuinely made me jump back. Some of the emotional beats it hits are well tread territory, such as the loss of a pet or family member, while others can be more subtle. Collectibles throughout help build the environment and rather morbid world this girl occupies. The ending very nearly becomes a bit too abstract, but thankfully fades back to a final scene that offers closure on this tale.
Yomawari: Night Alone has small elements that may be frustrating, with repeated death and wasted time spent wandering, looking for the one thing that will cause some progression. This is mitigated by its short run time and great sense of atmosphere. The reserved score, reliance on player imagination, and world building make it a worthwhile investment for those who aren’t afraid of surrealistic creatures lurking in the dark.