Yomawari--Midnight-Shadows-PS4-Review Yomawari: Midnight Shadows PS4 Review

   27/10/2017 at 16:43       Chris OToole       0 COMMENTS. - Score 4/5
 - PS4, Horror, Cute, Top Down

Review by Ror Brennan.

You know a game takes its scares seriously when the first thing it asks you to do is turn off all the lights and refrain from tearing your gaze from the screen. Yomawari: Midnight Shadows even implores you to promise not to break these rules. You might wish you did.

Much like last year's Yomawari: Night Alone, Midnight Shadows begins with a little girl and her dog. While we, unfortunately, had to witness the demise of the former protagonist's cute little pup Poro, here we're introduced to Yui, who has headed up into the mountains near her quiet little town to bury her beloved pet. I think Nippon Ichi might have something against dogs.

If you're new to the Yomawari games, you might find yourself somewhat mollified by the cutesy chibi character designs and beautiful hand-drawn art. Do not be fooled. This is a bleak world where bad things happen. Much like the first game, that charming art gives way to an oppressive atmosphere, exaggerated by some incredibly minimalist audio - which frequently uses nothing but natural sounds like the rush of a river or the wind through the boughs of a tree - and some severe vignetting that darkens the periphery of your vision, forcing your focus to the centre of the screen, and hiding the terrors of the night in deep shadow. This is not a relaxing game to play. Even before you've seen anything out of the ordinary it's put you on edge.

Of course, you'll discover very early on that things are not normal in this town. The opening of Yomawari: Midnight Shadows - which I don't want to spoil - might be the bleakest thing I've seen in a video game, and I honestly still don't quite know how to feel about it. Dressing this segment up as the opening tutorial amplifies its effect substantially; "Ok," you think, "the game's teaching me how to play. I just hold X to pick this up. I push this over there. There were go. Aaaand... Oh. Oh God." You're lulled into a false sense of security, because you're just being taught the controls, right? Nothing bad can happen in a tutorial. Yet with a few simple button presses, Yomawari: Midnight Shadows makes you complicit in a genuinely shocking act. And you're only ten minutes in.

Returning players will note many similarities beyond just a little girl and her dog. Indeed, Midnight Shadows both looks and plays almost identically to the 2015 original, and that's not a bad thing. What we have here is kind of an isometric 2D Silent Hill, where you're tasked to explore an apparently-normal town where things have somehow gone very wrong. After the opening segment, we're re-introduced to Yui, who has come to the mountain overlooking town with her friend Haru to watch a fireworks display. It turns out Haru is moving away and the girls are saddened that they will soon be separated. Haru, of course, doesn't want to leave her friend, and declares that she's not going anywhere. She's going to stay with Yui forever.

As darkness falls and the girls head home through the woods, they begin to hear strange noises. Eerie apparitions flitter in the corners of their vision, and finally they hear a voice. Armed with a torch, Yui volunteers to go and take a look, and instructs Haru to hide in the bushes. Heading through the woods alone, she comes across something lying in the middle of the path. Bending to pick it up, she realises it's the red leash she had used to walk her dog. We're instructed to jump into the inventory to view it, so we do just that, reading the little text description and OH GOD WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT?!

Christ. You're not even safe in the menus.

We cut back to Haru, who emerges from the bush to find Yui gone, her discarded torch lying on the ground nearby. She sets off through the night to find her friend.

As you make your way around town, investigating points of interest for useful clues, you'll note the cues Yomawari: Midnight Shadows takes from the earlier Silent Hill games. The inspiration is apparent too in that bleak, oppressive atmosphere, and there's the roaming monsters and spirits that appear to block your path and chase you down. In Yomawari however, you feel more vulnerable than in, well, the vast majority of games, to be honest. It's not just because you're a little kid that can't fight back, seemingly abandoned and alone in a town with no friends, no adults, no signs of normal life. Yomawari uses the children's innocence to underscore just how miserable all this is; there are no adults around, strange spirits are roaming the streets, and yet for all that, the town looks normal, and Haru doesn't even question it, doesn't wonder where her parents are. She just wants to find Yui again.

The foreboding mood is fostered by that crushing sense of creeping dread that the best of Japanese horror cinema does so well, where even mundane, every day things will set your teeth to chattering, like the rustling of litter or the buzzing of a sodium streetlight. And of course there's the scares. The majority tend to consist of jump scares, and I'm usually pretty immune to those, but there's something about this game, something that makes me jump out of my skin whenever some multi-limbed grinning horror bursts from a seemingly-innocent little alleyway and chases me down a dark street when all I want to do is get back to the safety of home.

Luckily, Haru can hide in some of the scenery around town. If you see a bush or an A-board, you can duck behind it to escape the night, and you'll see your chosen hiding place illuminated in the centre of a black background, the roving terrors that are following you picked out in red as they near your hiding place. You'll hear Haru's heartbeat pounding in your ears as they get closer, and even though you're sure they can't pull you from safety, your already-frayed nerves will be at breaking point until they start to move away, and you think it might be safe to emerge and continue your journey.

When you do, you're just back out in the night, with the monsters, the dark, and the rushing of the wind.

Stars
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