The latest title in the Yomawari franchise from developer Nippon Ichi Software carries on the tradition of releasing right before Halloween. Makes perfect sense, the survival horror games have been scaring the pants off of fans since 2015. Although I have yet to play any of the earlier titles, Yomawari: Lost in the Dark certainly scared me half to death on a number of different occasions. The emotional components of the story mixed in with the jump scares and anxious moments avoiding evil monsters left me wondering if I should be contacting my doctor for a heart exam.
Yomawari begins with a young child hiding in the bathroom at their school while bullies kick at the stall door. After the danger has passed, the child attempts to return to class only to be subjected to cruel treatment from their peers. In order to escape the unbelievable torment from the other school children, the child escapes to the roof to reflect on their current predicament. The camera pans upwards to show the vastness of the sky, only to return to the rooftop with the child now missing. The only clue to their disappearance is a set of shoes at the corner of the roof that insinuate the child may have escaped their suffering through suicide.
The introduction to Yomawari is absolutely heart wrenching. As a father, my worst nightmare is having one of my children experience even a fraction of this torment. I can’t even imagine how triggering this would be to someone who has lived through the same level of torture during their childhood. The child awakens in another land, aware that they should have been at the school with no understanding how they got there. This reduces the feeling of dread somewhat given that the child doesn’t seem suicidal, but it’s left ambigious to whether this is somekind of purgatory after death. What is told to the child, is that they have been cursed by an evil and have only a few hours until morning to break it. In order to break the curse, the child must find objects to trigger memories of what lead up to this point in their life, and recall the solution to escaping their fate.
The main gameplay of Yomawari consists of the child walking around their hometown finding objects and locations to trigger memories. The child’s home acts as a homebase of sorts and essentially the only safe place to stop and think. The streets are full of spirits trying to kill the child, jump scaring from behind buildings and from under objects at every corner. The only defense from instant death is for the child to close their eyes and attempt to walk around the spirits without alerting them to your presence. Yomawari succeeds at creating an ongoing feeling of dread as I never felt comfortable exploring the streets at any point. Any time I came towards any kind of object or new area, I anxiously waited for some demonic creature to jump out at me.
For a game with a cute hand painted art-style, it’s quite impressive that NIS is able to keep the player on edge at all times. The penalty of instant death is to return to the last save point, which isn’t all that punishing, except for the fact that saves are limited to the number of coins you find in exploration. Initially I felt great anxiety at the prospect of limited saves but again, that’s kinda the point. Even the smallest elements of the game like saving are panic inducing.
I’ll admit that I’m not one that actively plays games from the horror genre. Between the emotional roller coaster of the story and the constant jump scares, my heart had about as much as it could take. For those that do enjoy the genre and won’t be triggered by the subject matter, Yomawari: Lost in the Dark feels like a terrific game to make the hair on your arms stand on end.
Score: 7 / 10
- Feeling of Dread and Suspense throughout
- Artstyle is beautiful to look at
- Very emotional story
- Child walks a little too slowly
- Difficulty skews a little high