I really enjoy horror games, but effective horror is something very difficult to pull off. Yomawari: Midnight Shadows is an example of a game that tries but fails to hit the mark in terms of its scare factor. With its basic gameplay and design decisions, the game feels rather shallow and there’s just not a lot to see.
Yomawari: Midnight Shadows is an isometric third person game where the players controls one of two girls, Yui and Haru, as they try to find their way to each other in their home town. Depending on the level, the player will travel around the girls’ home town, as they evade spirits, look for clues, and try to find the other girl. Gameplay is limited to running, sneaking, the use of a flashlight, and certain items characters can pick up. These are all used in order to evade the spirits as they chase you throughout the town. Haru is able to use charms that give her certain abilities in the town.
As far as gameplay goes, there’s really not much to see here. The beginning of the game drags on for a while, as the character is railroaded into a straight path while certain events happen around them. After a while, the game opens up into the open world town, similar to games like Silent Hill. Exploration through the town in conjunction with the updating map works well, but that’s the only good thing I have to say about it. While the level design is cool, the main problem comes in with the spirits that need to be evaded. On top of there being an absolute insane amount of enemies, most of them move slower than Australian internet. Most of the enemies you can just run past, and since your stamina bar is so huge there’s not really much reason to sneak or hide. Some specific areas force the player to be quiet and scope out the area and turn off the flashlight, but I found that even those you could get away with just running to the next room while the enemies shriek and howl behind you. There is of course the occasional enemy that comes in out of absolute nowhere with the instakill. I’m okay with enemies being able to instantly kill you, it’s not my favourite but it works sometimes. What I’m not okay with is when I’m walking down a road and off-screen a ghost tire comes reeling down, slaughtering me in an instant. Getting killed is less of a punishment and more of a minor inconvenience, since save shrines are abundant and every time you do you just go back to the last shrine with no punishment. There’s no reason to be scared of these enemies as they just don’t pose a threat, even if you do get killed by them. It’s not scary or fun, it’s tedious.
Yomawari: Midnight Shadows has some interesting design choices. I can definitely see the type of horror that they we’re going for, but it misses the mark and isn’t effective. The game features a chibi or child-like art style, as many of the games imagery revolves around children’s drawings. The poems and writings of children on the walls and notes do add to the tension, but that tension is ruined by the monsters themselves. The spirits’ design varies, with some of them looking like deformed monsters while others look like children’s drawings. The spirits who look like drawings look incredibly out of place and really silly, as they are crudely drawn and have little to no animation as they float towards the characters. The deformed spirits are a little more interesting to look at, but they’re nothing particularly unique. One aspect that is interesting about the design is that some of the monsters are invisible unless you shine the flashlight on them. Some of them even react to light, causing you to think quickly about what you should do. The combination of the chibi art-style and the monster design works against the horror the game is trying to present, and ultimately fails to scare. Many of the scares within the game rely on shock value jump-scares, which there are loads of. There’s a jump scare roughly every 5 minutes, probably more, and it’s garbage. Even if you enjoy jump scares, the absolute lack of tension from the monster design, along with the frequency of scares, means that you’re more likely to jump at your own shadow than at this.
The game sets up an interesting sequence of events at the beginning, as the two girls desperately search for each other in this nightmare town. As it progresses, the lack of character depth and actual events happening becomes incredibly apparent. The dialogue consists of one girl saying “I need to find X,” or “I’m scared! What’s happening?” There’s no substance to what’s happening, there’s just a bunch of imagery while the two girls go on a wild goose chase. There’s no driving force during the main parts of the game, and while certain story elements do happen during the beginning and end, it drags on so much that it doesn’t really feel that important or thought provoking.
Yomawari: Midnight Shadows breaks some of the cardinal rules of horror. From its simplistic gameplay, bizarre design choices, and lack of meaningful narrative, fear turns quickly into boredom. That’s the biggest blunder a horror game could ever make.