Yomawari: Midnight Shadows (Review)
Like its predecessor, Midnight Shadows
begins with a shocking, confronting opening scene, quickly allaying any assumption that cute art means a cute game. After that, our dual protagonists – best friends Yui and Haru – find themselves separated, setting them on a journey to find one another. It’s late at night, and theirs is a haunted town where spirits roam the streets after dark, but the girls’ friendship is one worth the danger.
With that setup, Midnight Shadows puts you in the shoes of Haru and Yui, alternating between the two as you try to help them find each other. Each chapter of the game has you exploring a different part of the town, avoiding spirits and following clues. Yui’s chapters tend to play out in confined spaces (often indoors), without access to the map, so you can’t really know where she is when you switch to Haru.
However, Yui’s environment gives you hints about her location; when she’s trapped in a building full of bookshelves, you can probably assume it’s the library, and make that your goal come Haru’s turn.
At this point, you might be wondering how Haru knows where Yui is, given that information is shown to the player, not the character. I’m not going to tell you, but it is dealt with – albeit somewhat implicitly – as the story develops. So too does it explain why Yui’s chapters are always in these small, contained places when Haru has free run of the town.
The girls have no way to fight the spirits haunting the town, so the only option when you encounter them is to run and hide. Some ghosts have unique mechanics that you need to exploit to get past safely – like not moving when you aim your torch at them, or quickly rushing towards your character as soon as they make eye contact – but for the most part, it’s all about running, managing your stamina, and avoiding attacks.
You will die, suddenly and unexpectedly. Spirits often come out of nowhere, and when you encounter a new type there’s some trial and error to figure out how to deal with them. It’s occasionally frustrating (though generous checkpoints help), but it also builds up the tension and atmosphere. Just walking from one place to the next is tense, because you never know when something might jump out at you.
Midnight Shadows also cleverly twists its mechanics to add a level of psychological horror. Much of the game’s progress revolves around simple adventure puzzles, like finding a key to open a locked door. There’s almost always a solution to each puzzle, so that’s something you can rely on… until you can’t. Trying to avoid spirits while looking for an answer that isn’t there is a tense, terrifying experience. Other parts of the game distort mechanics to great psychological effect: your trusty flashlight, simple dialogue choices, even the game’s tutorial.