Yomawari: Night Alone tells the haunting tale of a girl, seemingly alone, trying to find her sister and lost dog Poro in her small town. As our heroine's adventure beginss, it's clear from the offset that the town is haunted, and she must go on her quest without being caught by the many ghosts that roam the streets.
Settling in to play, we're immediately struck with how visually appealing Yowamari is. The characters are adorable, and the whole feel of the town is very quaint. Even the ghosts are somewhat cute - except when they appear without warning and send you back to your last save point. The game quickly proves that its cutesy tone is all for show, and that its story won't pull any punches. Indeed, it's kind of disarming that in the opening scene, there's a horrible accident that you're tricked into triggering, immediately leaving you with the worst sense of guilt.
Navigating through the eerie town, the presence of ghosts is signified by a heartbeat, which becomes faster as the distance closes. You're then left with the choice of running away or hiding in a nearby bush or behind a sign until the ghost passes. If you choose the latter, the screen closes in on whatever object you're using to conceal yourself, and the heartbeat couples with a blood spatter which moves according to where the ghost is.
Everything about Yomawari is carefully planned to put you on edge, from the cute character design, to the map drawn in crayon. The only sounds to be heard for the majority of the game are the footsteps of our protagonist, and the crickets chirping in the background. It's hammered home that this is a little girl on her own in this situation, and her childish naivety is proven time and time again as she doesn't appear to grasp the gravity of certain situations that she's in.
There's little direction in Yomawari, and it only ever gives very subtle hints about what you should do next. No map markers, no navigation arrows, nothing. Sadly, this can lead to a lot of mostly pointless wandering about as you waste time exploring the town only to not progress the story at all. While wandering can help you fill out your map for later, the lack of guidance serves to be the title's only real source of frustration.
Billed as a horror game, Yomawari: Night Alone ultimately feels like it falls more on the side of tragedy. Sure, it has its jump scares which can get the blood racing, but the town and its supernatural inhabitants just feel a little too charming to be considered a real threat. The story, with its sad undertones, will definitely tug at the heart strings the more that it unfolds - far more frequently than it'll scare you, especially once you become accustomed to the ghost's surprise visits. Yomawari is satisfying in its own weird way, but those looking for a good scare may be disappointed that any potential threat is short-lived.
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