Developer: NIS America
Publisher: Nippon Ichi Software
Genre: Horror, Adventure
I do not know how seriously the average Steam user regards their Discovery Queue, but I get upset with myself when I miss a day to clear mine. After marking a barrage of ecchi games as “not interested,” many of them spawning due to both my age and my penchant for hand-drawn indie games, a suitable suggestion based upon Seasons after Fall spawned. Interestingly enough, Yomawari: Night Alone is a port of 2015 PlayStation Vita release in Japan by Nippon Ichi Software, now localized by the NA division of the company, NIS America. Japanophiles, Otakus, and fans of adventure and survivor-horror games alike should prepare themselves for some weird!
Violence: Yomawari: Night Alone contains only one scene where violence takes place on-screen, which is that of an exploding eyeball. All other acts of violence take place off-screen or before the player discovers the location where a violent action took place, such as the player’s inevitable discovery of one human and one animal corpse.
Drugs/Alcohol: The player-character can collect paraphernalia like empty cans and cigarette butts, but nothing is actually used.
Spiritual: I am shamefully unqualified to make sense of symbolism encountered in this game due to its heavy references to Japanese mythology and Shinto religion—my western education fails me. Here, I will have to rely almost exclusively on information provided by Steam user Maverick HL, with some direct quotes and paraphrasing:
The appearance of a giant centipede suggests the presence of Bishamon, the Japanese god of war and prosperity. A quest requiring the placement of pillars of salt LL around a marketplace is a superstitious practice to ward off bad luck and evil demons to bring forth good fortune to business, suggesting that Bishomon and his insect messenger are in conflict with another god, possibly, the god of the mountain.
Typically darkness, in particular the path towards the mountain, can be used as a metaphor of passing through the land of the dead (Yomi no Kuni). This is the realm typically controlled under Izanami the wife of Izanagi. There is a section of the game where two important figures will be required to pass through this darkness.
Looking at references the typical mountain god would likely represent Ōyamatsumi who is as the wikipedia says is an elder brother of Amaterasu, and an important god who rules mountain, sea, and war.
Reading further into the lore, the final boss is possibly a representation of Ōyamatsumi where you can see he had the right eye still in tact while the left eye was empty. Extrapolating from the myth of Izanami and Izanagi, when Izanagi finally escaped the land of the dead, he washed his face and bore three deities. Two of these were a god and goddess—one is the goddess Amaterasu who was born from the left eye of Izanagi, and the god Tsukuyomi who was born from the right eye of Izanagi.
Amaterasu represented the goddess of sun or light while the god Tsukuyomi represented the lesser light which is the moon and, is usually alone in the shroud of darkness. It can be then interpreted potentially in this manner:
While saving your sister you are facing Ōyamatsumi whose current state is when the moon is up hence the right eye is intact on the boss while the left eye is empty. After “warding” off the god, you will notice when exiting that the god still exists…when dawn appeared or is about to, [a sacrifice takes place] to have dawn come out once again.
This in turn does not stop night from appearing again. They [NIS] could expand on the game (DLC?) with an attempt to face the god during the day and maybe the left eye will actually be intact instead of the right.
Whew, I feel like I gained a level in Google-fu just by reading that. For certain, if they ever submitted a paper, “Interpretations of Gods in Yomawari: Night Alone,” they would get an “A” from me! That said, know that this game is all about paranormal activity, so readers should keep this in mind going forward; this section has gone long enough.
A young girl is walking her dog, Poro, who barks toward a dark tunnel, but she turns him back. On the way home, a rock falls from the upper wall, and the girl collects it and throws it, causing Poro to chase after it. Something happens, and Poro is gone! Distressed, the girl drags her leash back home where big “Sis” is waiting for her. Unable to utter the words to describe what happened to Poro, the girl allows Sis to go look for him, but night comes and Sis has yet to return. It is then that the little girl departs from the safety of her home to look for them both.
But there are spirits, spirits everywhere! Why are they here? Though I do not have definitive answers to that question, I did enjoy discovering, or better yet, providing a resolution for many of the paranormal disturbances. The girl—the player-character—reunites with Sis in the first chapter of Yomawari: Night Alone, only to be separated immediately and indeterminately. Sis apparently drops her flashlight, an important item that the girl keeps and uses to survive her trek around town, for the deadly spirits populating all around town can only be seen via the light. That is not the only survival mechanic that players are armed with; long before enemies can be seen, the girl’s heart palpitates—slowly at first, and more rapidly in accordance with the vicinity of a malevolent presence. As a side effect to the proximity of a spirit, the girl becomes seemingly short of breath, unable to run as far as she can while not under duress. The game maximizes this effect, oftentimes leaving the girl just enough of her stamina meter to barely escape a few encounters. These close calls heighten the sense of terror.
Traditionally, horror games utilize principally grotesque aesthetics to enhance the fear factor. In contrast, many of the assets in Yomawari: Night Alone are comprised of hand-drawn, cute, but deadly sprites as a reflection of the player-character girl’s innocent perspective. This style of art direction is potent, because a giant smiling spider-like thing touching the girl results in the same consequences as ball with teeth touching her: DEATH! This is something that remained unsettling for me; thinking that a sprite was utterly harmless, I would be startled when walking into it resulted in a blood-stained black screen. Furthermore, this game excels a creating the dread of an encounter even when there is not one to be had. The “warning” heartbeat begins long before a spirit is nearby, regardless if it is on the other side of impassible terrain. So while the threat cannot be seen, I know it is nearby; if it never appears, then where the fook is it? Wait, is that wall really impassible? Ok, that thing bouncing over here is stuck. HOLD UP THAT OTHER ONE IS A GHOST [dies]. Ok I see you, so I will just pass by over he—WHY IS IT FASTER THAN ME [dies]. Man, I would feel better if that thing moved because at least then it would not catch me off guard when I return to this spo—OMG IT IS FOLLOWING ME NOW I WAS JUST KIDDING [dies]. The plethora of “first encounters” that Yomawari: Night Alone will keep anyone on their toes. Still, I found myself abusing its checkpoint and save systems by intentionally dying because I know that even after dying, items collected never drop. Because of this, the game is easy…once one overcomes the fear of death.
My experience with Yomawari: Night Alone was not without a few hiccups. During two chapters, I pressed the pause button in order to check my map, and the game froze entirely. This forced me to push through two portions of the game without using the map, one being lengthier than the other. I succeeded in figuring out how to navigate without it, but being required to restart the game multiple times was inconvenient.
While some gamers might frown upon the brevity of Yomawari: Night Alone as it can be completed 100% in under seven hours, I appreciate the fact that it does not last forever. After all, the heart can only take so much stress! This game pulls stunts one would come to expect from an adventure game, forcing players to pass by an area only to return to it later with an item allowing them to progress-through-backtracking. Combined with horror elements like jump-scares, disappearing apparitions, and enemies faster than the defenseless girl, this game is sure to entertain, and is not so intense that it would alienate the timid. NIS America released this game at the tail-end of October but even though Halloween is over, Yomawari: Night Alone is worth a play even as we approach a season of cheer.
Review copy generously provided by NIS America
The Bottom Line
Yomawari: Night Alone is a cute, but bone-chilling game that will make players want to never walk their dogs at night, and if they do, have cell phones with flashlights on at all times.