Yomawari Midnight Shadows (Vita) Review – Odyssey to the Dark
Platforms: PC, PS Vita (reviewed), PS4
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Publisher: NIS America
Release: 24th October 2017 (NA) / 27th October 2017 (EU)
Just in time for Halloween NIS America brings the sequel to the much-loved Yomawari Night Alone to the west. The mix of cute girls, disturbing creatures and 2D horror already made the first game a big success, in sales and reviews and Yomawari Midnight Shadows shows that this experience can only become better.
Yui and Haru are typical elementary school kids and best friends, doing nearly everything together. However, when they go into the forest to observe the fireworks one day, Yui disappears. Worried about her friend Yui, Haru makes her way into the night but quickly realizes, that there are far greater dangers lurking in the shadows of the night. Confronted with terrifying creatures, she has to try to save Yui while surviving the deadly darkness as well.
As in the previous game, Yomawari Midnight Shadows follows a very simple story: Find your friend in the night. Except the ending, the overall story isn´t particularly present, only serving as a rudimentary guide through the world. Since it´s a game about elementary school girls, such a simple story is quite fitting, especially since it´s not necessary to play the first game.
During the ~7 hours long journey through the darkness it´s possible to find dozens of notes, the true focus of the game´s narrative. Giving more and mor evident hints to the conclusion of the game, they serve as both, essential tools to foreshadow but help the player with tactics as well. Everything then concludes in a somehow foreseeable but still very impactful conclusion. Granted, story-wise there´s room for improvements but it works fine as it is.
The core of Yomawari Midnight Shadows consists of its gameplay, which could be described as a horror stealth game. Divided into different “chapters”, the game starts out at Haru´s house with the goal to find the next main story location. Even though the game follows a very linear story, the world itself isn´t nearly as linear, offering an explorable world that slowly expands with the chapters and is also colonized by hundreds of deadly fiends.
On the one hand, walking around in this quite big city isn´t only interesting but simply terrifying due to the well thought out enemy placement. In contrast to other horror games, most of the spawns aren´t scripted but rather act as a “zone”. For example, the monster that killed me in a street might not be there the next time I pass through or was exchanged by a different one. By randomizing their locations and types the game can create this amazing feeling of the unknown during its open world sections. The fact we´re reset to one of the dozens different save points, effectively resetting the progress, is a huge drive to survive. However, in the mission areas, the enemies are placed by hand in order to allow some more scripted horror enjoyment.
On the other hand, especially at the beginning, Yomawari Midnight Shadows simply loses the player in the world, in a bad way. To ensure the maximum of insecurity, the game doesn´t feature any target points, completely relying on sounds or context to guide the player. While it works surprisingly well the most time and rewards itself with a ton of additional atmosphere, the few times the player´s lost, a huge amount of backtracking is required to find the way, leading to a big break in the atmosphere.
So, most of the time is spent on foot, running through the great open world or the scripted mission areas and for fans of such games, Yomawari Midnight Shadows is probably one of the best. Only using the most rudimentary mechanics like running, sneaking and a flashlight, the game can achieve some truly great moments. A huge part of this is the sprinting gauge, depleting itself faster the closer Haru is to an enemy, meaning a chase isn´t only a hard to navigate but to manage too. Hearing Haru´s heart pounding nonstop just adds to the tension. Surprisingly, later on, the game also implements some new iterations, like sneaking or search light enemies, to spice things up. The creativity and knowledge in the game design is stunning and works like a charm.
The only thing not truly fitting are the boss fights, yes, you heard right. They´re neither good nor add anything to the mix, consisting solely of repeated mechanics and zero hints what to do. After dying, rewatching the unskippable cutscenes and dying, there´s surely a learning process but most of the bosses were beaten mostly by luck.
Last but not least, the most unusual thing about NIS America´s latest horror game, the looks, are a reason alone to play it. Completely hand drawn in a dark but simplistic, childish tone, the world doesn´t only look absolutely beautiful but harmonises so well with the overall tone and story. Every enemy, box or house is designed with the intention of looking terrifying but somehow innocent at the same time. Combined with the pretty good sound design and monster grunts it´s a breath-taking experience. The bigger budget is surely a big reason for the even more detailed assets. The Vita version just has some quite long loading times (~20 seconds) and some mediocre frame drops when traversing from one area to the next but nothing too inexcusable.
All in all, Yomawari Midnight Shadows had a tough job, improving on an already great first game. Unfortunately, it can´t quite nail its job, it´s exceeding it. Improving the original in nearly aspect, due to the bigger budget and vision of the game. More enemies, even better, more terrifying graphics and well designed mission areas. Nearly everything it tries works and adds up to this truly great survival horror experience. For 2D horror fans, this game is basically a must buy.
[A Review Code was provided by NIS America]