Yomawari is a unique Japanese survival horror game; it looks very cute with adorable chibli style characters but don’t let that fool you! This game, played from the perspective of a child, is genuinely scary and it won’t take long to make you jump. It starts off innocently enough with you taking your pet dog Poro out for a walk. The day is drawing to an end and things seem peaceful with just the sound of the wind and crickets for company. Unfortunately it doesn’t take long for things to start to go wrong…
Within the first few minutes of the game you’ll cause an accident that will leave you feeling both shocked and somewhat guilt-ridden. This twist of fate sets the scene for the game amazingly well. You’ll return home alone and bump into your sister in the garden. After a brief chat she goes to look for Poro while you wait in the garden for them to both return…only they don’t come back, and it’s now up to you to be brave and seek them out in the dead of night. It will soon become blatantly obvious to you that the town is infested with spirits, and it seems that the vast majority of them want to kill you. You have no weapons to help you, so armed with just a flashlight you must explore the town.
If this was in real life, then I must admit that I don’t think I would be as brave as the protagonist. I’m more the kind to hide in bed underneath a blanket with my eyes firmly shut! But thankfully the protagonist is not me and, although weaponless, she’s brave enough to keep exploring this terrifying town! She does have one rather handy ability; she can sense when spirits are close. When a spirit is close you’ll be able to hear the girl’s racing heartbeat and the screen will pulse. The closer the spirit is to you the faster the girl’s heart will beat – and if you’re anything like me then your own heartbeat in real life will probably match it!
You really do feel helpless most of the time. The only way to avoid most spirits is to run or hide. While running you have a stamina bar which quickly reduces, but unfortunately when you’re scared this depletes even faster making it easy for some spirits to catch up with you. You can hide in bushes or behind some signs and whilst hidden the spirits can’t get to you. When hiding the girl has her eyes firmly shut so you can’t see anything around her, just blackness. You will however be able to tell how close the spirits are to you, as you’ll see a red haze which represents where that spirit is. Stay hidden for long enough and the spirits usually wander off, but unfortunately not all spirits do. This leaves you with an uncomfortable choice of staying hidden for a bit longer and just hoping that they will go away, or making a run for it – hoping that your stamina lasts long enough for you to escape.
During your adventure you’ll come across lots of different spirits and they’ll need to be approached and avoided in different ways. Some will be distracted by rocks that you can throw, or by giving them animal treats. Light can be a trigger for some spirits – they will be attracted to your flashlight so you’ll end up having to switch it off and wander around in the dark or throw lit matches to distract them. Also the sound of you running will attract some spirits so you’ll have to try to walk calmly past them, which as they’re walking closer and closer to you can be hard to do! You’ll come across a wide variety of spirits in the game and it feels quite rewarding when you work out how to avoid each type.
Everything in Yomawari gives off a really creepy vibe and this is helped partly due to the great sound effects. You’ll spend the majority of the time just hearing the sound of your own footsteps and the chirping of crickets in the background. The minimalist sound effects really help to emphasize just how alone you are. The fact that the protagonist is just a child is also driven home by a hand drawn map which gets filled in while you explore the town and any collectibles that you find will have handwritten notes filled into a scrapbook.
In some of the early chapters of the game you don’t get given much direction of what to do or where to go so you can sometimes end up wandering around aimlessly. I didn’t really mind this too much as the town is pretty (as well as creepy), and there are lots of random and weird things to see. Some of these attractions include giant babies appearing in houses, huge jellyfish floating in the air, or headless flaming horses galloping around town, and it’s safe to say that there are a lot of “What the hell was that?!” moments.
Beware when wandering around town though as spirits have an uncanny ability to sneak up on you, and even with your racing heartbeat alerting you to those nearby you’ll still die an awful lot. Thankfully you’re not really punished if you die, and you’ll just end up back at the nearest quick-save point. This lenient approach to death is great if – like me – you tend to struggle to get through horror games. You also won’t lose any of the items you’ve picked up, which greatly minimizes any feelings of frustration if there’s an area you’re struggling to get past!
Speaking of quick-saving, there are Jizo statues all over town, and if you offer a coin to them it will become your latest save point. This is somewhat of a misleading term though, as it’s really more of a checkpoint then a save, and if you close the game without saving at the girl’s bedroom then you will lose progress. Another very handy feature of Jizo statues is that you can warp between them, which greatly saves time when travelling across town.
Although the game is not particularly long there are a fair amount of collectibles to seek out, as well as some puzzles to solve. Many of the collectibles help to set the scene of the area that you found them in, or may even provide new mysteries to ponder. It would have been nice if more of the story had been revealed through these collectibles, but then again it’s also probably creepier when you fill in the blanks yourself.
Yomawari is an interesting mix of cuteness and horror, offering adorable graphics which can still create nightmarish scenes. I can’t fault the visuals or sound at all, they work brilliantly together to create a frightful experience which will leave an impression on you. I tend to jump and get freaked out really easily by horror games, so the fact that I managed to get all the way through it is testament to how good the game is; I was hooked the whole way through and couldn’t put it down.
The game preys on all the fears you had as a child, with ghosts standing under flickering streetlamps, creepy arms grabbing at you through manhole covers, and monsters swimming in the depths of the school swimming pool. I jumped and screamed out loud a hell of a lot while playing this, and enjoyed every minute of it, but it’s a pity that it didn’t last a little bit longer as it’s definitely left me wanting more. I really hope they make a sequel!