Yomawari: Midnight Shadows
Publisher(s): NIS America
Platform(s): PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Steam
Release date: September 24, 2017 (JPN)|October 24, 2017 (NA)|October 27, 2017 (EU)
Last year’s Yomawari: Night Alone is easily one of my favorite games from 2016. It does a lot as a horror piece to scare the player with a good ratio of subtle, fear-building, moments and opportunistic jump scares. It’s also one of the few games that I feel really explored what it could do with a minimalistic approach to both gameplay and story. Yomawari: Midnight Shadows is this year’s sequel, and it does a lot of the same things Night Alone does while also exploring plenty of concepts that prevent it from feeling like a simple copy-and-paste.
In Midnight Shadows you play as one of two girls, Yui or Haru, after they are separated from each other one summer night. Yui has been spirited away by the many evil apparitions lurking in town, and Haru follows a meager trail of breadcrumbs to track her down and bring her home. It’s a touching story that has way more going for it than one might suspect at face-value. Haru will encounter a myriad of different types of spirits and specters, each with their own tale of misery attached to them, and she ends up solving more issues than simply that of her missing friend.
This game really likes to play up the subtly. The story is very bare bones, and there’s little dialogue. You learn a lot more about the characters and spirits by their expressions and actions, which are delightfully fun to look at thanks to the game’s beautiful art style. A lot of the side-material, and even a couple of boss tips, are tied to the various signs and documents you encounter while roaming around. It’s pretty beneficial to try interacting with as many things as you can, even if it only leads to a cheap scare every now and then.
Midnight Shadows is most easily described as a mix of bullet hell and a classic adventure game. Neither Yui nor Haru can actually hurt any of the apparitions roaming in and around their town, and instead they have to find ways to avoid them. Both girls can run, but only for a short amount of time before their stamina runs out. It takes a while to get your breath back, and solving all your problems by running away will often end up for the worse. A more reliable tactic is to find a bush or sign to hide behind, but these things are few and far between. You can also try to tiptoe past ghosts when they aren’t paying attention or throw rocks, paper airplanes, or fireflies to distract them so you can run past. There’s even more experimentation with specific enemies, and I love how many ways there are to get around monsters without getting grabbed. Boss battles are like big puzzles, and have you wistfully dodging attacks while trying to cobble together puzzle pieces or lure a creature into an unsuspecting trap. It is a lot pattern recognition, and once you memorize what a boss does, you can easily deal with them.
The horror aspects of Midnight Shadows are the game’s strongest point. I can’t think of a game in recent years that’s more fun to play with headphones on and the lights out. The development team nailed the atmospheric horror aspects by omitting a soundtrack from the game. Instead you roam in silence, and the only sounds you commonly hear are crickets in the background, the hum of street lights, and the plodding steps of Haru’s or Yui’s feet. This approach makes it very unnerving when you suddenly hear your heartbeat race, an indication that an enemy is nearby. All the Ghosts also make different sounds when angered, and these range from the giggles of a baby to the disturbing sounds of a cymbal bashing as a creatures goes full sprint for you.
The visuals are nothing short of great as well. I find that the very cute style of the girls blends well in a world filled with ghoulish monstrosities and some very unsettling looking creatures. The painterly style of the world is a joy to look at in HD, and I think it’s one of the most visually pleasing and disturbing games at the same time. Backgrounds are beautiful and full of detail, exploration itself is a treat just get a good look at everything around you. The visuals, when combined with the sounds, do a great job of pulling the player in, something that every horror or emotionally driven game should aim for.
Saying that I enjoyed Yomawari: Midnight Shadows isn’t giving it nearly enough credit. This is easily a contender for one of my personal top 10 games this year, and is without a doubt one of my favorite horror games. It does everything right from a gameplay to atmosphere. It doesn’t need the old survival excuse of using bad or limited controls to make you feel uneasy, because it can pull you in with its visuals and sound design alone. This really is a game that needs to be played in either surround sound or with headphones, and I can’t imagine tackling it in any other way. Any horror game fan worth their salt should definitely check out Midnight Shadows and its prequel, Night Alone.