Halloween Doesn’t Have to Be Dead Yet!
October has come and gone, taking with it the first of the large string of American holidays: Halloween. For many, the season of spooky ghosts and various horror-themed events leaves an empty void in their hearts when they have to put away their jack-o-lanterns and start worrying about setting up for Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Christmas, and New Years.
For those suffering from holiday stress, I say, “Worry not, friend. The Halloween spirit need not die with October!”
Why not hold on to the Season of Fears a little longer? Embrace your inner darkness and indulge in fright with something that you can hold on to all year round. That’s right, you need to play a survival horror video game! Don’t worry, everyone knows zombies have been done to death. What you need is something that might actually send shivers down your spine. What you need is an atmospheric little game that will have you on edge from the start and keep you there the whole way through. What you need is Yomawari: Midnight Shadows!
Don’t let the cutesy chibi-character designs fool you; the stakes are real.
Whether you’ve enjoyed other Japanese-Horror media like Ringu, the works of Junji Ito, or Corpse Party (all recommended), or you’re just looking for something new to get under your skin, Yomawari should have you covered. Midnight Shadows is a sequel of sorts to Yomawari: Night Alone, which boasts a nearly identical serving of scary gameplay – in this case, that’s wonderful thing.
A Twisted Tale of Two Girls, A Dog, and A Whole Lotta Ghosts
Everything scary needs a set-up and Midnight Shadows wastes no time in doing so. From the first screen of the game to the end of the tutorial, the game oozes tone and atmosphere. Mentioning anything else about these first few minutes would rob a new player of a pure reaction, so I’ll leave it at that.
Once the tutorial is over, the player is introduced to two young girls, Haru and Yui, as they meet up with each other to watch fireworks from a spot in the woods nearby. On their way back, the girls start to experience strange occurrences and the protective girl, Yui, decides to have the frightened Haru hide while she investigates a strange noise. Something happens to cause the girls to split up, leaving Yui searching for answers while Haru looks for her. Along the way, Yui’s dog, Chaco, guides the girls through the town as they outwit ghostly yokai.
Only the beginning of a fairly large map. Be prepared to explore every nook and cranny if you want to 100% this game.
Surviving the Night
The gameplay is fairly simple; explore the town and run from all the things! The player will have to rely on auditory cues and their trusty flashlight to identify threats before it’s too late. A heartbeat will sound as one of the girls gets closer to an enemy and their stamina bar will drain extra quick, meaning the player will have to decide whether to attempt rushing past into the unknown or finding another method of getting by. This can sometimes lead to cheap deaths from things you couldn’t have seen coming.
Should you hide in the bush and hope it goes away? Throw a rock and hope it chases? Or run and hope you can get away?
The girls can’t really fight back against the otherworldly creatures. Instead, they’ll have to use hiding spots and mundane items like rocks or coins to outwit the various creepy-crawlies lurking around every corner. Each monster might react differently, if at all, to the different objects you find. The game does not explain these items or how to use them so trial-and-error is required when obtaining something new. Usable items are also limited to a max of nine of each type, meaning using items all the time could end up causing big problems later – just like in any other true survival-horror game.
Save points are also very frequent and allow the player to teleport to any previously discovered save point, but each use will cost a coin. The relationship between deaths and saves in Midnight Shadows is somewhat unorthodox, however. If a character comes in contact with a monster, it’s an instant death… but they’ll immediately start from their last save point with anything they may have accomplished (i.e. found certain key items or solved a puzzle) still completed. This also means that any items the player may have used will also remain used up as well. It’s just as well that the system is so forgiving because there will be many, many deaths on the way to beating the game.
Lastly, there are “boss fights” frequently throughout the game, usually serving to punctuate the end of a chapter of gameplay. Normally, these require the player to identify the boss’s gimmick (with many seemingly nonsense hints during the chapter by way of notes) and combine quick thinking with tense dodging. Remember, the girls won’t be able to attack the boss on their own! Expect to die a lot trying to figure these really cool sections out, although a few of them can be somewhat annoying to have to deal with multiple times in a row.
Mr. Kotowari is this game’s Pyramid Head; you’ll quickly learn that those scissors are red for a reason.
The Unique Visual Style of the Night Town
I’m sure you’ve already taken notice of beautiful aesthetic shown in the screenshots throughout this review. There’s a hand-drawn and detailed look to the environments and characters that works incredibly well with the feel of the game. If I were to compare it to something, I’d say it looks very Vanillaware-esque (Vanillaware made Odin Sphere and Muramasa: The Demon Blade, among others).
It should be mentioned, however, that the Vita version of the game is a bit too high-res for such a small screen—there’s a lot of details that are extremely difficult to see. It may be worth it to determine whether or not portability is more important over being able to fully appreciate the visuals if looking to purchase.
Some of the most breathtaking visuals come from the moments when perspective shifts to a 2D side-view; the use of parallax background scrolling may be one of the best I’ve seen.
Who Needs Music When There’s Atmosphere?
There’s a certain something to be said when walking down a dark alley in this game makes you feel as uncomfortable and jumpy as you might in real life. Imagine walking home late at night, the sound of your footsteps echoing over the buzzing of insects and the electronic hum of that vending machine nearby. You feel your heart pick up the pace and your feet struggle to match it. You can’t help but feel nervous, and your eyes dart from shadow to shadow… Now, how would it feel to hear a ghostly wail or see a strange figure shambling along the edge of the streetlight? That is the kind of atmosphere the sound design creates in Midnight Shadows! It takes a risk by eschewing a traditional musical OST for ambient noises. The effect turns the creepy-factor into overdrive, even when you know that deaths aren’t too harshly punished. It should be noted that the ending DOES have a very fitting piece of music to go with it though.
Things might be scary, but you just can’t help but pick up those random coins. After all, what harm could a random lucky penny bring?
Is Yomawari: Midnight Shadows Worth Its Asking Price?
The game’s price tag is currently $29.99 on PS4, Vita, and Steam. A first playthrough will probably take most people six or seven hours, a bit more than that if the player decides to seek out all the collectibles scattered throughout the game. There isn’t much replayability to be found immediately, however, I could see myself doing a yearly playthrough solely because of how perfectly suited to Halloween-time shenanigans it is. It’s also pretty on-par with most full-priced games in the genre and you won’t ever have to worry about DLC. For what it’s worth, I’d say it was easily worth purchasing but would recommend anyone shaky on it to wait it out for a Steam or PSN sale. For anything less than the debut price, it would be a steal.
There are pages-upon-pages of collectibles to find… if you dare!
That Scary Game With A Weird Name
Yomawari: Midnight Shadows is a beautiful third-person isometric-view horror game that any fan of the genre should love. The tone of the story and the atmospheric gameplay combined with the use of Japanese horror to make a final product that will have you playing with the lights on—even though the game tells you not to. If you happen to be a lover of all things spooky and wish to extend your favorite holiday a little longer, why not give Yomawari a shot? I guarantee that it will make you shiver from the intro alone!
- Strong Spooky Atmosphere
- Memorable "Boss Fights"
- Beautiful 2D Graphics
- Lenient Save System
- Great Price
- Deaths Are Frequent and Sometimes Feel Cheap
- Item Effects Are Not Explained
- Lots of Trial-and-Error (Especially Later On)