I can’t claim to have been impressed by Yomawari: Night Alone during my recent playthrough, though I do confess that its story and aesthetic at least left an impact. That’s generally why I still play horror games; rarely do I find them legitimately scary, but usually, they have some of the most introspective stories within the medium, and that’s absolute candy to me.
I was curious to see what story would follow one about coming of age and learning responsibility, so I immediately jumped into the sequel; Yomawari: Midnight Shadows. It didn’t take long for Nippon Ichi to follow-up on the first one, so it’s unsurprising that there’s a certain sense of deja vu. However, it’s the small refinements that have the biggest impact.
TURN THE LIGHTS BACK OUT
This series has the most brutal tutorials, I swear. Without spoiling things, the game starts off by raising a lot of questions, then proceeds to raise more as it progresses. It involves two schoolgirls, Yui and Haru, who are in the midst of saying their final good-byes before Haru moves to another town. They get seperated and Yui disappears, leaving Haru to try and find her through the darkened streets of a small town.
That may seem extremely similar to the first game’s storyline, and it is. The differences in narrative reveal themselves more subtly, and Yui, the secondary character of the game, is given a lot more plot attention than the sister did in the first game.
The gameplay itself is hardly changed though. You’re still left alone to roam a small town in search of your friend. Like last time, landmarks are pointed out on your map from the start, but it’s up to you to find your way between them. However, to help make it more clear where you’re supposed to go, most chapters open up with a short stint of playing as Yui, which provides an idea of her location. Where ever she was, that’s where you want to go.
Aside from plot, there really isn’t that much that separates the two games. You still wander the lonely streets, avoiding spirits that appear in the beam of your flashlight. While it’s an entirely new set of adversaries (for the most part), they’re still about as single-minded and lethargic as before. I like the designs a bit more, but when it comes to actual gameplay, it’s still all about figuring out their behaviour and exploiting your way around it.
That said, there are a number of small improvements made that make things a lot more comfortable. The most appreciable is that the focus has been moved away from puzzles where you’re accosted by a more aggressive spirit. They’re still in there, but most are isolated to smaller areas. This means that there’s a nice division between moments of exploration and when you’re under duress. Don’t get me wrong, the actual confrontations still suck. Hit detection is still spotty, it’s too repetitive, and being able to clearly see the spirit still sucks all the horror out of them, but the way they’re framed makes them significantly more tolerable, for what that’s worth.
THE RED THREAD OF FATE
Where Midnight Shadows makes its biggest improvement is with the plot. To be clear, the plot was probably the first Yomawari’s most enjoyable asset, but Midnight Shadows manages to more deftly land its message. It follows the previous game’s allegorical take on storytelling, putting you through a horrific gauntlet while secretly telling you a narrative that focuses on the pain in letting go.
The approach between the two games is much the same. From the start, it overtly provides information about what is going on with the plot, then proceeds to leave you to question if what you saw was the honest truth. It expertly sows doubt wherever it can, which kept me guessing until the end, even if I knew what I saw. The conclusion wraps everything up, being absolutely clear in what it’s trying to say, but leaving a significant amount of ambiguity around the events. It’s the old trick of not over-explaining
What I didn’t expect was the ending to hit me so hard. I’ll be honest: I cried. It caused me some introspection, and while I’m not always looking to get misty-eyed, it’s exactly what I look for in a horror game.
INTO THE LIGHT
Once again, I found Midnight Shadows’ narrative to be a lot sadder than it is scary, but that’s exactly why I recommend the game. The video game industry is filled with cheap melodrama that attempts to exploit your emotions to add gravity to their stories, but both Yomawari games feel like sincere deconstructions of their subjects. Both delve into the harsh lessons we learn in childhood and layers it beneath the gameplay and horrific atmosphere. But while Night Alone had an excellent and efficient narrative, Midnight Shadows hits emotional paydirt.
It helps that the gameplay was tweaked just enough to make the whole game feel more polished and enjoyable. While the first game actually caused me to rage quit at one point, I had no such issue this time around. It’s a lot of subtle changes that clear away the clutter and make it easier to enjoy the higher points. It’s an experience that is much easier to recommend this time around; just mind all the times it decides to punch you right in the emotions.
This review was conducted on a Nintendo Switch using the Yomawari: Long Night Collection. It was paid for by the author.