Yomawari: Midnight Shadows tells the story of two young girls, Haru and Yui. One summer night, after taking in a fireworks show on a wooded hillside, the two cautiously make their way down a darkened mountain path to return home. However, before they make it to safety, an evil spirit emerges from the shadows and attacks, separating Haru and Yui. To make matters worse, all living things, with the exception of Yui’s faithful Shiba Inu named Chaco, have been replaced with ghastly creatures hell-bent on sending the pair of elementary schoolers to their grisly demise. What a lousy way to end a summer vacation.
At first glance, Yomawari: Midnight Shadows may look too cute to deliver any real chills. Don’t be fooled, though. Much like its predecessor, 2016’s unnerving Yomawari: Night Alone, there’s a whole lot of grotesque horror buried beneath the game’s saccharine aesthetics. This is a survival horror title through and through. Death is never more than a few steps away. Seriously, you’re going to die a LOT in your journey to reunite the game’s bow-topped protagonists, as simply touching a spirit will result in a messy gush of blood splashing the screen, followed by an ominous “Game Over.”
Death isn’t such a big deal, however. Yomawari: Midnight Shadows can be tough, but it isn’t quite the survival horror equivalent of Dark Souls. Save points are plentiful. And while saving your game requires the use of a coins, the city is flush with more pocket change than a 1990’s arcade. And even if you do die a bit far from a save point, all of the key items you collected before you kicked the bucket will remain in your inventory. While this forgiving approach to dying is appreciated given just how easy it is to find yourself ripped apart (the game even offers trophies for successive deaths), I have to admit I did find myself wishing each bloody end held a bit more weight.
Saccharine Sweet Survival Horror
To progress through the game’s story, you’ll switch between playing as both Yui and Haru as you explore their spooky town and attempt to uncover clues to each other’s whereabouts. Sounds easy enough, right? Well, it would be if it weren’t for all of the demons roaming the streets, looking to turn the pair into a juicy late night snack. The game does a great job of making you feel hopelessly vulnerable by arming the player with little more than a flashlight and their feet. The flashlight is good for spotting some enemies who are invisible to the naked eye, as well as uncovering coins, which can be used to save the game at shrines, and other single-use items that can occasionally distract ghouls, like paper planes and stones.
These are pretty much the extent of your arsenal, however. Combat is never an option, the only way to survive against these ghouls is to keep an eye on your surroundings and plan your movements carefully. You’ll find out early on that cupboards and bushes are your friends, and to tiptoe around sentient butcher knives and eerie ghost-babies, lest they turn you into twitching piles of meat. Oh, and be sure to run like hell when you see ghouls wielding massive garden shears, lest you’re dying to see your little head lobbed clean off. Like I said, cutesy visuals be damned, Yomawari: Midnight Shadows is a survival horror game in its purest form, with an emphasis on survival. That said, be ready to spend a lot of time running away from encounters or hunting for alternate routes to get around your otherworldly pursuers.
Things That Go Bump In The Night
Occasionally you’ll cross paths with special boss creatures. These moments can be especially unnerving. This is thanks in no small part to each creature’s delightfully twisted designs. However, while thrilling, they also highlight Yomawari: Midnight Shadows‘ occasionally frustrating reliance on trial-and-error mechanics. With no means of defending yourself, oftentimes the solution to make the boss attack an otherwise unremarkable spot in the background. This can turn an otherwise interesting moment into an exercise in futility as you run in circles, hoping to trigger whatever event that will cause the fight to end.
Thankfully, the most maddening encounters are few and far between, and they never last long enough to really put a damper on the experience too much. And for every boss fight that misses the mark, you’ll enjoy several more that deliver the chills and thrills in spades.
Despite these issues, there’s an awful lot to love about Yomawari: Midnight Shadows. Just like last year’s Night Alone, the detailed, hand-drawn art style does a great job of pulling you into the game’s haunting world. The spirits you encounter run the gamut from genuinely terrifying to something that looks ripped from the set of a Monty Python production, which can sometimes make things feel a bit uneven. Still, each of these creatures, most of which are ripped from the pages of traditional Japanese folklore, are rendered with diabolical charm.
The same goes for the masterful sound direction. From the spooky murmuring of invisible creatures closing in to the sound of furniture crashing into the walls at the unseen hands of a malevolent poltergeist, the sound direction will keep you constantly on edge. Unfortunately, there isn’t much music to accompany the gameplay, but what’s here is suitably atmospheric and matches the game’s dark tone.
Are You Afraid Of The Dark?
Yomawari: Midnight Shadows doesn’t do a whole lot to stand out from its predecessor. However, it really doesn’t need to. It’s still an excellent horror game that will keep your blood pumping from start to finish. The lush and haunting hand-drawn visuals feel like a loving cross between htoLNiQ: The Firefly Diary and Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark. And the story, while simple, still manages to make you feel for its young protagonists. Simply put, if you liked the original game, then you’re bound to enjoy every bloodcurdling moment of this sequel.
When all is said and done, Yomawari: Midnight Shadows is a ghoulish Halloween treat from Nippon Ichi Software that no survival horror fans should miss.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Vita, PC ; Publisher: NIS America. ; Developer: Nippon Ichi Software ; Players: 1; Released: October 24, 2017 ; ESRB: M for Mature; MSRP: $29.99
Full Disclosure: This review is based on a copy of the game given to HeyPoorPlayer by the developer.