Yomawari: Night Alone is a survival horror game from NIS America coming to PC and PlayStation Vita in October. Zach Welhouse had the chance to try it out at E3 and reported back on his experience.
A young Japanese girl's dog is missing, so her older sister agrees to search their hometown. The girl waits for her sister to return, but only until nightfall. At that point, it becomes apparent a dog and an older sister aren't the only ones missing: the only inhabitants of the city are creepy yokai. Running around in the dark in a town full of ghosts and spooktunes is a creepy prospect, which NIS America capitalizes on Yomawari: Night Alone.
The girl is not a fighter. Touching a ghost results in an immediate splash of red, black, and game over. Her survival depends on avoiding the yokai, learning their patterns, and hiding when they get too close. Hiding in the bushes gives the player a chance to focus on her heart beats and explore feelings of latent claustrophobia as she waits for the streets to become safe. With luck, the red haze of unknown creatures gets closer and closer until it begins to recede.
During my demo on the Vita, I didn't encounter any living inhabitants of the city. Ghostly cutscenes (or maybe it was just a mild-mannered hallucination) and a diary entry kept the lonely setting from turning into outright emptiness. Presumably, the game will continue the pattern of providing environmental clues that lead to creepy vignettes and tools to provide further exploration opportunities. The inventory screen displays these tools in the girl's childish, sketchy hand driving home the game's core fear: you are a small child, without resources, on your own.
Survival requires patience and care. Every section of the game has an automatic save point, but smaller save points also exist. The smaller save points require making an offering to a shrine, limiting their use. The town map is likewise obscured to promote tension: although the major landmarks are labeled on the status screen, navigating the individual streets is more challenging. It turns out one darkened street looks similar to another, no matter how atmospheric they are. A strong internal compass or hand-mapping may be necessary to thrive.
Ultimately, Yomawari may fall on the adventure, survival horror, or walking simulator side of the genre wars. However, its movement-based puzzles, compelling characters, urban exploration, and inventory management may make it worth the time of more traditional RPG fans. If not, we cover Zelda, don't we?