Yomawari: The Long Night Collection Review
Release Date: October 30, 2018
Publisher/Developer: NIS America/Nippon Ichi Software
Platform: Nintendo Switch (Series originally premiered on Steam and PS Vita)
Yomawari: The Long Night Collection reminds me of the first time I sat down and watched Studio Ghibli's Spirited Away. For those who may be unaware (let's face it though if you clicked on a game called "Yomawari" you likely have a little anime history, let alone one of the most prominent anime to reach American shores) it has a combination of cute anime style beauty but shifts into some pretty macabre characters and monsters before the end. Take any screenshot of Yomawari, and you may be wondrously pleased at it's cuteness or completely horrified by what you are seeing.
Releasing originally three years ago, Yomawari Night Alone tells the tale of a young girl on the search for her missing sister and dog in the darkness of her home town. Whether it's a child's mind run rampant with dark shadows or truly horrifying monsters, there are plenty of things that go bump in the night and can end her life in a heartbeat. The sequel, Midnight Shadows, received a Vita and PlayStation 4 release last year, telling the tale of two friends lost searching for each other and the safety of home.
These tales are told through an isometric view of a darkened city. Your amazingly cute and innocent protagonist in either game is a weak, innocent little girl just trying to find comfort and safety, of which there really isn't any to find. Around the corner, under the streetlight, just out of range of your flashlight, there are monsters lurking everywhere. They are based on traditional Japanese scary stories, giving them a new coat of eeriness to someone unfamiliar with the lore. While all of them may look like things you should avoid, there are some who aren't interested in you in the slightest. It is better to take care though, as your little girl can't really fight back. You can tiptoe and sneak around, hide, throw things to distract or slow down an enemy, or run. Hiding is an interesting mechanic in where you cover your eyes and literally cannot tell if the monster that was breathing down your neck is still here or gone. You have to rely on audio cues alone and hope when you peek it isn't waiting for you.
The game perfectly merges cute and disturbing into one package. When you check your map it looks like it was drawn by a six year old in crayon. The cute little girl with her pretty hair ribbon turns a corner and shines her light upon a giant grotesque blob of a monster that slowly oozes it's way toward you. As you hide, your little super-deformed anime girl sits there with her eyes covered, blackness all around, waiting for you to pop out and open them, hopefully free of the monster that was chasing you. There is no retaliation, just escape. It can be a strange combination as you may see something you are certain is there to kill you walk by without a care. There is a serious feeling that in the darkness you are a visitor, and some of the residents couldn't care less why you are there. Meanwhile, others are intent on hunting you down.
Some of those hunters are rather viscious. Enemies don't appear unless light is shining on them, but they can still attack you with your back turned. Some of the faster ones can get you by dashing right into your flashlight beam. Even if you do escape, you are likely looking the other way and have no idea whether the enemy is still on your tail or not. This creates an insane level of tension. Contact with an enemy is instant death. The game is mildly generous with it's save points but if you have difficulty in a particular area you may get tired of running a pattern through a gauntlet just to get to another jump attack and have to start over again.
The atmosphere of this game is perfect for what it is trying to convey. Mostly silence and darkness make it feel like you are an innocent little child out on the streets long past your bedtime. Animation is simple and fluid. The enemies are incessant and will come for you. While having the Switch capable of big screen bliss, Yomawari definitely calls for the handheld, lights out, all by yourself under a blanket in complete silence kind of treatment. Fans of tense, scary games will be amazed at how much weirdness can come out of a cutesy little isometric style game. Yomawari eschews the first person, realistic graphics found in most games trying to evoke these emotions and still manages to hit the nail on the head.
Looking back at my reviews you can likely tell I'm not a huge horror fan, so I don't really know how far I could make it in this game. I will say that it's not going for hardcore creepiness, weaving a tale so dark you will stay up at night. It provides a base story and watching the little girl come to grips with what she is facing is rather sobering. That may help me come back to it a little easier. Each individual game is shorter than most but as a a two pack provide plenty of entertainment. Another bonus is this package is just as expensive as buying the two downloads on the Vita. Usually a rerelease or collectors set will get a price hike, if not be victim to the "Switch Tax." This new release, with it's two-for-one purchase and the ability to go big screen or take it with you, is the definitive way to play the game. Yomawari provides a bizarre hybrid of cutesy and creepy and does exactly what it sets out to do. Repeated deaths may make for a few frustrations as you rehash an area you've completed before but the brevity of the game ensures that no particular piece overstays it's welcome. Fans of creepy tales will find a fantastic pair waiting for them in this release.
-Unique cutesy creepy atmosphere
-Tells a tale of growing up and learning
-Affordable two-pack of the series
-Quick jump-scare kills feel cheap
-Dying repeatedly means re-doing easy parts
Special thanks to NIS America and Nippon Ichi Software for providing a code for review.