Following the critical success of the original game Yomawari: A Night Alone, and the hype surrounding the announcement of a sequel, I expected everyone to be talking about Yomawari: Midnight Shadows. However, when it snuck out in October on PC, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita, it didn't make the waves I thought it might. Instead, it became one of my favorite little known games coming out in a year of greats.
For those who are not familiar with Yomawari games, they follow the creepy, cute genre: horror games in a whimsical style. You play as Elementary school girls, Yui and Haru, who get separated in rural midnight Japan. They are not alone in their quest to reunite. Aside from the towns' many ghosts and yokai, Yui's puppy Chako also helps guide them on their adventure.
Yomawari: Midnight Shadows greatest strength is its use of world building through gameplay. As small children you are completely vulnerable. You cannot wield a weapon or attack. Your only defense is your run, though not far or fast, or to hide. You also wield a flashlight which can anger or intimidate different enemies. Or you can throw stones as a distraction. With just these few actions, it is amazing how versatile it can make you. Each spirit has its own strength and weakness, so experimentation is key here. Everything is a one hit kill and many areas can initially feel like endless gauntlets until you master them, and the save points become your salvation.
On the surface it may seem like a child's game, especially given its young protagonists. However, it contains a lot of adult themes such as loss, suicide, and grief. We connect with these protagonists simply because they struggle with the same things we all struggle with, such as gaining personal independence or learning to let go. They are small and they are weak, yet they face every situation bravely.
Everything works in tandem to build Yomawari: Midnight Shadows' tense atmosphere. The cute artstyle along with the childlike dialogue and text creates its sense of whimsy, while the lack of music, dramatic sound design, and limited field of vision keeps you on the edge of your seat. I've seen people argue that Yomawari: Midnight Shadows would be a better game if they had a way to fight back against the demons. I believe that this misses the point. It's scary because of your vulnerability. You don't feel like a badass because you blew some ghost's head off. You feel like a badass because you escaped alive despite everything being at your disadvantage.
Yomawari: Midnight Shadows was one of my hidden gems of 2017 simply because it offered me an experience so different from anything else I played in 2017. It's cute, it's scary, and yet it's heartwarming and honest. It's the sweet story that keeps you playing even when moments are tense. The bond between the two girls that drives you forward. In a year of so many great game releases it's east to see why something so unassuming as Yomawari: Midnight Shadows slipped out largely unnoticed. But it is one that I think anyone can enjoy. Especially those who still have that frightened child inside of them.