Yomawari, in Japanese, means "Night Watchman" and, according to the Spanish language dictionary, it means someone who watches, protects and ensures the safety of a person from any kind of danger, internal and external, unforeseeable or expected. But leaving aside the linguistic and etymological meanings of the words, Yomawari: Lost in the Dark is the third installment of the Yomawari series, which has been focusing since 2016 on uncomfortable nightmare tales from the Rising Sun. Brutal, never predictable and full of distressing stories, they represent interesting challenges for many players to experience by putting themselves in the shoes of a child at the mercy of darkness, of creatures from the places of the unconscious and from other beasts that seem like stories when they grow up.
Or maybe not, because there is always a need for something spontaneously scary out there, in addition to the many stories with the classic happy ending that you can't do without, and which are always good, especially if decorated properly. If in the West there are those who were frightened by the witch of poor Hansel and Gretel who ended up by chance in the Gingerbread house, in Japan stories of spirits of the past are told directly, very often even of old ancestors, and sometimes of Shinto demons who they come back to threaten those who haven't been good. And other than black man under the bed, other than monster of the closet and many other amenities of the kind. Terror has always been the engine that feeds the very soul of man, not distorting it or even belittling it, but considering it just like any other who is in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Yomawari: Lost in the Dark is not a Friday the 13th and it is not a horror classic meant to scare, but it is an intimist video game that conveys anxiety and anguish.
As I mentioned before, the Yomawari series is considered special by a very large number of usersa. His first two video games, which came within a few years of each other, are remembered especially for the contexts, the density of the story and the effectiveness of the gameplay. Yomawari: Lost in the Dark, however, represents a concrete step forward for Yu Mizokami and Nippon Ichi Software, who have been working together for years now, packing small successes and many great satisfactions. Fear is a primal feeling as are hate, love, sadness and anger, and each proves to be unique in its own way. How important it is, precisely, wanting to be different? It's the same question that Kira asked himself – the name I chose when creating the character -, the protagonist of this survival horror coming out on October 25th.
The series, which is famous to anyone who loves the productions that come from the Land of the Rising Sun, in recent years it has boasted of an enviable number of players. If I have to make a comparison with a recently released video game, Yomawari: Lost in the Dark reminds Omori of what he intends to convey. The latter, another Japanese title that speaks of horror in a different way, digs into the personality of the protagonist to discover his secrets. If Omori treats fear as inevitable, Yomawari: Lost in the Dark takes another kind of approach. But better proceed in order.
The story of Yomawari starts from school desks
Kira, like many other children of her age, attends middle school. She lives for the day, studies and has fun with her friends, goes out and hides her crushes, devoting himself to study to meet the expectations of his parents, who expect the most from him. A day like any other, however, Kira is annoyed with throwing paper, food and water balloons: she is a silent victim of bullies. He avoids reporting them, tries not to consider them and only follows the lessons, because he is convinced that sooner or later they will stop.
Brutal words are written on his desk, such as incitement to suicide and insults of various kinds. Kira is used to it. He changes unexpectedly, from one moment to the next: he becomes insecure, not inclined to dialogue, always on the books and no longer speaks to his parents. Those menacing gestures, increasingly insistent and dangerous, they take the little one to reach the highest balcony of the school, because he thinks he's done with it. The prologue, which lasts a few minutes, introduces the game world and the context. Suddenly, the screen goes black and the boy, opening his eyes, finds himself in the middle of a clearing. He rubs his eyes, unaware of what is happening and why, but it is certain that by now all is lost.
Here he meets a girl, which welcomes him to an unrecognizable world, inhabited by nightmare creatures of all sorts. Talking to her, Kira discovers she's in the middle of a bad dream, and that the only way she can break her curse is to piece together her mind strands. A mission which, however classic, is nonetheless fundamental. The only way to leave that nefarious place, in fact, is to reconnect to her memories. And yet, the little one forgot everything, as if the good things he experienced no longer existed, as if the only solution in the end was his death.
The narration, which literally focuses on the events of the little one, is well blended and represented in context. As I played Kira, I understood how she felt and why she decided to call it quits. His mission, which is of vital importance to him, is the only way he has to return to the world of the living. Not making spoilers that could spoil the experience, just know that the game world, unlike the other productions dedicated to the series, is centered around a small Japanese town with its neighborhoods, its shops, its parks and a modest school which educates children of whatever rank they belong.
In this regard, it is precisely the writing of the protagonist and its nuances that struck me: even if he does not utter a word, his feelings and anxieties are felt. Said like this it seems like a joke but it's not at all, because Kira is a character tormented by the past and by bullies. As I mentioned before, in Yomawari: Lost in the Dark nothing is as it seems. If in the past the settings seemed bare and of little inventiveness, in this third episode everything has a logic, because each element has been built in such a way that the player will find any area of the game familiar, even those in which he has never been. There are also the classic protagonists of the experience, such as a mysterious girl who has come to my aid or the sweet cat Muji, which represents a salvation in complex moments.
The tale of Yomowari: Lost in Dark is dark and sinister, and talk about one victim with a horrific and heartbreaking past, which sent me a boundless sadness. And during the discovery of him, as I advanced in the darkness, I realized that, indeed, the real world and the fictitious one I've come across are the same, but at least one of them is fake. In addition to these dark presences, there are also monsters and creatures of Japanese culture, which return in this third chapter as they did with the previous productions of the series. There are faces that suddenly appear from an alley, there are creatures armed with hovering nodachi and there are even huge beasts that recall the Yokai of NioH 2. If hell is without flames like that of Scorn, in Yomawari it is dark and full of terrors.
An effective and fun gameplay
The game view, as always from top to bottom, allows the player to move his character in the level design of the game. While not that intricate and in fact highly driven, it's still well implemented and fun. I often got lost in the alleys to collect a coin, which is useful for saving at the Jizo statues. The video game, in this sense, places its save points in areas adjacent to the places that it is necessary to explore during the experience. New is Kira's notebook, which she can read to figure out where to go based on the clues she collects, such as in the school and in the park. Her memory, whipped by the past, it is hazy and in need of repair. Armed with a torch, his only lifeline, it can illuminate what is hidden in the dark, continuing the story.
The only objects that allow it, precisely, are memories, to be addressed directly during the experience. In total there are ten of them on the two pages of the notebook, and the objective of the game is therefore to get to possess them all to advance in the experience. Nothing that complicated, of course, but a hallmark of the Yomawari series was its level of difficulty. If during the tutorial I found some difficulties, during the game I often came across even more complex situations. To deal with them I had three options: prevent my eyes from seeing, throw a stone previously collected from the ground to attract creatures elsewhere, or give me the hell out of here. As tempting as the last option was, I've often thrown the pebble in such a way as to capture the attention of nightmare fairs, and it has often gone well.
But the dark and what came from it disturbed and disturbed me to the point of being annoying. Then what did I do? I put my hands over my eyes and walked, never stopping and, above all, never turning back. It is a game system that, compared to the past, works fluidly and is fun because it offers different ways to interface with situations. I walked, I didn't stop: even if there was an enemy within walking distance of me, I paid no attention to it. My heart was pounding like I was running, but instead I was slowly taking one step after another. Terror was everywhere, panic could kill me and the silence was far more deafening than anything else around me. Even more than enemies.
Net of this, Yomawari: Lost in the Dark perhaps takes too much from previous video games and does not dare enough in terms of gameplay, while offering a well-implemented one. The environmental puzzles are not complex and, above all, the interaction is almost always clear from the beginning, every time you enter an area to explore to collect the memories and objects necessary to advance the adventure . Nothing, however, that is not absolutely calculated: although imperfect, it is a work of the heart, with a well-defined soul and a game structure that convinces, although it does not surprise. In short, he could give much more and take full advantage of his excellent ideas.
An author's artistic direction
As I progressed in the experience, around me there were always places delineated in such a way as to have once been lived in and distorted by the course of events. The streets, once teeming with life, now they are nothing but the elusive image of a bygone time now lost. As I progressed, entering the school or following the intricate city streets, I always had the impression that every place had a story to tell.
In this sense, the work is drawn completely by hand, consequently offering a pleasant art direction of the world that is explored, filled for the occasion with neighborhoods, playgrounds and many other pleasant additions, which consequently expand the world of Yomawari: Lost in the Dark and the entire series. Each element has been inserted carefully, so that it was easy to approach even the less accustomed, giving the player clear points of reference. If in the past it was difficult to find one, now the maps, scattered throughout the town, they give you the possibility to understand where you are going.
And what about the audio sector, another point in favor of the production? The footsteps, magnified by the terror of the night, beat on the uneven asphalt of the street or inside the perfect pavement of the school, never so realistic as on this occasion. The music, excellently composed, exudes hope and emotion, transmitting disarming sensations to the player, as if those notes were the only foothold to move forward. In short, Yomawari: Lost in the Dark is a Japanese production that arrives in the West, certainly not making a great stir. There is a child's journey, played by the player. There is darkness, which is to be defeated. And there is loneliness, which is far worse than darkness itself.