Perspective changes everything. A place can look very different during the day than it is at night. But then, maybe that’s because it is. Time passes, schedules change, denizens may appear or disappear and something familiar can very quickly become unfamiliar. Yomawari: Night Alone is a game that makes us accept and survive such a change. After a series of unpleasant events, a child is forced to explore an altered version of her hometown. It’s nighttime. She’s alone. People are depending on her.
Well, she’s allegedly alone.
Your life as this little girl begins simply enough. She’s out on a walk with her dog, Poro. She walks, tiptoes and runs along a path, though something doesn’t seem quite right as she does. There’s something in the shadows. But never mind that. She picks up a stone, throws it to show you proper inventory management and unintentionally causes a tragedy.
Yomawari forces you to match its pace.
She returns home, alone, with a dog leash trailing behind her. Her sister assumes Poro has run off and tells the girl to wait at home while she looks for him. Twilight turns to evening, and the sister never returns. Now, it’s left to you. You must head out into the night alone, armed with coins, rocks, keys and items you may find as you go and a map of the area. Who knows what you’ll find?
Yomawari forces you to match its pace. You can run, or even tiptoe if you’d prefer, but it comes at a cost. Our young heroine can only go so far, so fast. It even feels like exposure and proximity to has an effect on her stamina. Which is fine. While some enemies can be outrun or outmaneuvered, the truly hazardous ones cannot. It all comes down to knowing the area and environment, being able to suss out proper hiding places in time or turn enough winding corners to lose your pursuer.
It really is about exploring the environment, experiencing what’s around, and forcing yourself to work with what you’ve been given. In most instances, Yomawari does a fairly good job of telegraphing things. You have an idea of where you need to go and what you have to do, though that may involve leading monsters out of an area so you can pass through safely or exploring multiple areas before heading to the most important spot so you’re properly prepared. Which means someone who is paying attention, the one thing Yomawari really wants from its players, will probably do well.
I say probably, because success isn’t guaranteed. The first time I played Yomawari, I admit giving in to frustration. I sped through the tutorial level and found myself at the first Jizo statue, a means of quicksaving and fast traveling, without a coin. The game wouldn’t let me go any further, and I couldn’t for the life of me find a coin via backtracking. I stepped away. I came back and this time, found myself beset upon by various, unseen enemies. These spindly shadows with white, vacant eyes and mouths, are one-hit kills, as all enemies in this game are. I was doing the exact same things as I had the initial run, with the exception being some coin collection near the girl’s home, but I somehow had the misfortune of running into more of these foes.
Yomawari offers an intriguing, yet familiar, world to explore and has a very distinct presence.
It puts quite a dent in your Yomawari enjoyment when survival can come down to chance. There will be instances where sometimes, the girl will fall and you’ll have to start again from a quicksave. It will be no fault of your own. It will come down to chance – one wrong move or awkward interaction. A good rule of thumb is, if a supernatural creature is chasing after you, it will kill the little girl. If not, then there’s a chance you may have to approach it. But then, even standing still in an area that seems safe can lead to an unexpected death from something you haven’t even had an opportunity to detect. There’s too much pressure to constantly keep moving.
If it helps, Yomawari isn’t actually too scary. At least, I wasn’t scared. Considering I’m an absolute baby about such things, that’s saying something. (I used to hide behind my hands and pillows during certain episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark?) The supernatural creatures are certainly disturbing and the situations unsettling, but I didn’t encounter anything that really left me unnerved. Rather, I was more intrigued by some of the otherworldly spirits, as many are inspired by Japanese folklore. Unfortunately, this isn’t explored much in the game’s lore, but it is an interesting element people already familiar with such things will notice and appreciate.
I actually wished there were fewer one-hit kills. Yomawari offers an intriguing, yet familiar, environment to explore and has a very distinct presence. More items to interact with would have been nice, as would more puzzles and lore. I found the game was at its best when it was being witty and I needed to out-think opponents. I cherished billboards that hinted at the town’s history or characters’ backgrounds. It shone during these moments, and unexpected deaths made me afraid to get too immersed in the world.
Yomawari: Night Alone is at its best when it presents you with a challenge and gives you the time to think it out without having to worry about sudden death. Which is quite a rarity, unfortunately. Rather than scary, it can be frustrating. You can be on the precipice of success and find yourself dead, forced back to your last quicksave, all because of the occasionally unfair nature of the game. Which is unfortunate, because this game offers the perfect ambiance. The sights and sounds of this town pull you in, until one wrong move pulls you out. Yomawari is an interesting experience and one I’d recommend to people who enjoy exploring environmental puzzle games, but save often and keep moving.