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Yomawari: The Long Night Collection Review

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1471937313_Yomawariboxart.png.4006dc5f12be67a463eb9e9c1e3f707d.pngYomawari: The Long Night Collection brings together two creepy horror games in the tradition of Japanese ghost stories. Both games feature young girls that must navigate towns full of dangerous spirits, armed with little more than a flashlight and an ability to run and hide. Despite a promising grasp of horror game conventions and eerie Japanese ghost designs, neither game ever truly captures an engaging sense of survival tension.
The first game, Night Alone, features a young girl whose dog goes missing in the night. Her older sister goes out to find it, but when the sister doesn't return, the little girl braves all manner of supernatural horrors to find her. It's a strong start to a horror game but the writing never quite finds the right balance to keep you hooked. The details about the protagonist and her sister end up feeling a little bland, while the broader story about why ghosts are plaguing the town is so hidden in the myriad collectibles you can find that it's never all that satisfying either. Night Alone offers a strong spooky set-up but never fully delivers on it.
In Midnight Shadows, the personal story of the protagonists feels a little better realized. This time you're actually playing as two little girls, two best friends. When one goes missing the other sets off to find her, again dealing with a dangerous population of evil spirits in town. The story here does a better job of drawing you in, though it also fails to make the overarching mystery of this ghost infestation feel like anything more than set dressing. Still, the personal journey of the girls at least makes you more emotionally invested in the climax.
Both games have fundamentally the same gameplay formula: you need to explore while avoiding ghosts, and your only option is to simply run away or hide from them. There's no way to fight back in this game—at best you can sometimes use an item as a way of distracting a ghost, but this is inconsistent enough that it's not really worthwhile most of the time. No, all you can really do is run away while keeping an eye on your limited stamina meter and hope you have enough to escape.
This focus on escaping makes for a wonderfully tense exploration adventure—at least for the first hour or so. The problem is the gameplay just doesn't have enough variety to keep it interesting or even all that scary for too long. Soon enough you'll develop a habit of dodging ghosts, and the game's tension just kind of ebbs away. Midnight Shadows at least spices things up a tiny bit by having more challenging obstacles to dodge, but even that's not enough to really keep the experience engaging after a couple of hours. The larger size of the game world in Midnight Shadows also just makes the experience feel more tedious since you now have even more ground to cover while routinely dodging ghosts. And neither game does a great job with puzzles—generally it's just a quest to find a key in order to progress, that's all.
In addition, both games have a very minor penalty for dying. If you're caught by an unfriendly ghost you're dropped back at the last place you saved or the last checkpoint, both of which are pretty frequent (you do need to spend a coin in order to save, but coins are so commonplace that saving them up isn't much of a concern). Oddly enough you'll keep whatever items you picked up before dying, so sometimes it's even advantageous to pick up a key item and simply die in order to return to an earlier location where it's needed. It's nice of the developers to keep the penalty for dying so light—some areas would definitely be annoyingly frustrating if you had to replay huge swaths of the game—but it also kills a lot of the tension and suspense, again only making the game feel like a fairly repetitive quest of just reaching one checkpoint after another.
Both games use the same art style, which features an oddly cute sprite for the main character while all of the spirits are creepy and occasionally grotesque monsters. These are all set against shadow-heavy and somewhat more realistic-looking background art, and it's the incongruence of these elements that gives Yomawari a pretty unique and stylish look. At the very least, it's effective for making the game feel creepy and haunting. It is a little disappointing though that Midnight Shadows reuses a lot of assets from Night Alone, though some of the new ghosts certainly stand out. In both games the soundtrack is kept to a minimum to emphasize spooky sound effects, which is also plenty effective, even if a stronger original score would have been nice.
Neither game is particularly long: Night Alone should only last about five hours, while Midnight Shadows is a little longer at seven or so. Of course, a big part of each game's length is going to depend upon how much you get lost while exploring, but an in-game map at least helps you keep your bearings a little. Both games also feature tons of optional collectibles, but the lack of payoff on them kind of makes them feel like pointless busywork. If you're going to have players go through the tedium of slow exploration to find all of these knick-knacks, a better reward would be appreciated.
With an emphasis on exploration through creepy environments over more action-packed survival challenges, the Yomawari games take a slower, more contemplative approach to the horror genre. But that focus on exploration can only take a game so far, and when the thrills of dodging ghosts wears off in Yomawari you're left with two fairly repetitive adventures that kind of seem to be going in circles. Horror fans might appreciate the meandering gameplay anyway, but anyone that's not already a dedicated fan of Japanese ghost stories will likely lose interest here.
Rating: 5 out of 10 Long Nights

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