Review - Yomawari: Lost in the Dark
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Publisher: NIS America
Available On: Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, and PC
Review Console: Nintendo Switch OLED
YO MA TERRIFYING MONSTER! - Introduction
It’s the season of frightful confection, and NIS America is celebrating with a brand-new horror title. Yomawari: Lost in the Dark is the third entry into a niche trilogy that unconventionally stars a child as the Protagonist. Before beginning, the player is asked to pick a girl or a boy and then is allowed to name them, giving a tiny touch of personalization. I’ve looked at the previous two releases, too, and my opinions back then were somewhat favourable. Sure, frustrating parts had me raging internally, urging me to calm myself with several deep breaths, but they were mechanically tight. As I’ve gotten older, my tastes have shifted. I’ve fallen in love with the heart-pulsing adrenaline from anxiety - a sentiment that was amped up by Fatal Frame 5. The question is if my broader horizons will be advantageous or if my views remain lukewarm here?
SPOOKY! SCARY! - Writing
They say a picture's worth 1,000 words, and with the way Yomawari: Lost in the Dark begins, I'm a believer. Before even jumping in, a warning appears on-screen. What lies ahead is a deep dive into a handful of disturbing and hard-to-watch scenarios. For instance, bullying is a core component, as is death. It nonchalantly plunges into the dark waters of a pool filled with morbid ideologies and explores creepy situations. Now, the narrative itself isn’t extensive by way of the dialogue. After all, you take control of a little girl that’s predominantly lonesome, wandering these eerie streets. Whenever she speaks, it’s often to herself, though there are moments when it’s with another - problems start here. It doesn’t indicate who talks, and for a brief second, tension weakens as I struggle to understand who says what. It confuses me, and while minor, it wounds a relatively crucial facet.
DO YOU REMEMBER?! - Writing
The main incentive for parading down roads, through paths, and confronting a bunch of messed-up entities is amnesia. Your character, in my case Katarina, has been cursed. It’s up to her to salvage her memories by reliving poignant points of her past. In doing so, she discovers the cure needed to dispel said curse. It’s a naive concept but remains fascinating. The mystery is enticing enough to hook me, motivating me to push to the bitter end. Upon reaching it, it felt gratifying and weirdly relatable. See, as someone that faced many of the themes tackled by Yomawari: Lost in the Dark, I was affected on an intimate level. There’s more as the items acquired have short blurbs of flavour text. It isn’t grandiose by any means and doesn’t infuse much to the overall lore, but is appreciated to try and solidify the world.
WAIT, COME AGAIN?! - Writing
Mixed in with the endless wandering as you search for answers is a healthy number of puzzles - these range from being cakewalks to obtuse as hell. While clues are usually easy to digest, a subset relishes ambiguity. The best example is during one portion; the hint notifies me to look at lanterns. Because the surrounding area has a whole mess of these, it resorts to a numbering system. The thing is, I’m not sure how the game decides on which direction marks the first. When the hint says to seek out the eighth out of the entire group, it’s no better - I stare back with a bewildered look. Simply put, there’s zero inclination on what’s what. Luckily, this odd inability to convey notions isn’t a widespread one, but it’s present enough to cause a smidgen of grief.
GHOSTLY PREMONITIONS! - Gameplay
As you carefully traverse the empty town, there’s a slight chance of stumbling on disfigured, deformed, and downright demonic-looking fiends. Because I’m assuming the role of a child, weapons will not be utilized to defeat these ghoulies. Instead, the vast majority has to be avoided with a limited arsenal of tactics, and I mean minuscule. Either I hightail it past as they try to give chase, or I shut my eyes and pray it all works out - seriously, praying is a mechanic. There aren’t tutorials that outline the proper action to take, meaning there’s a hefty bit of trial and error. Fortunately, checkpoints are generous, and it’s just as well - dying is a regular occurrence. To help further alleviate that fact, any items I get moments before succumbing stay in my inventory. There’s no need to backtrack. I can focus on always progressing forward.
CALM DOWN, KATARINA! - Gameplay
A possibly divisive feature is the inclusion of a stamina bar. To be transparent, I was fully prepared to lop some harsh choice words detailing how horrible it is. That was until it finally clicked, revealing itself as a genius form of immersive bliss. See, Yomawari: Lost in the Dark toys with the idea of fight or flight. Since I’m but a wee lass, her natural reaction to encountering a phantom is panic - her heart races as she breathes heavily - to replicate that feeling, her sprinting capabilities are manipulated. If you notice, whenever she’s calm, Katarina can run for quite a reasonable distance. If a monstrosity is chasing her, though, her heartbeat intensifies, and her speed spurts lessen since she’s expending more energy. This nice extra wrinkle infuses a semblance of strategy. For survivability, I must be wary of the frequency of my jogging.
JUMPSCARES GALORE! - Gameplay
First and foremost, the optimal way to start a session is in pure darkness. When the brightness of the OLED screen is the only light source in a bedroom of black, the potency of scares is boosted. I admit I legitimately had chills running down my spine at times. All of that is due to the jumpscares. Sure, they’re the cheapest form of generating such a reaction from the player but Goddamn, if they aren’t effective. It also reemerged an old fear I thought was buried - I’m not too fond of porcelain dolls. It didn’t matter that they were small and pixelated because the gist of them was evident and sufficient. The caveat to all this is when I booted Yomawari: Lost in the Dark in the morning, it lost that lustre. Sure, I still had fun, but it was missing half of what makes it so stimulating.
BE SURE TO GRAB THAT! - Gameplay
If the map size is a worry, then do away with that nonsense thought. I was pleasantly surprised by how massive it is - Yomawari: Lost in the Dark desires you to explore every nook and cranny. Of course, given an assortment of ghosts will be placed sporadically and act like obstacles, it’ll be slow going but never at a snail’s pace. Instead of a reckless rampage, it’s a leisurely romp with the possibility of yielding to a bloody demise. Never fret, though, because as an encouragement to partake in such a daunting task, there are collectibles. Dispersed throughout the area are white rats. When located, a player has to chase them into their home, where they then leave behind a puzzle piece. I’ll be honest; I’m not sure what finding them unlocks, but I’m intrigued, especially since there are dialogue options strangely not accessible at certain times of the game.
THAT FILM LOOKS! - Presentation
Yomawari: Lost in the Dark has a solid Japanese Horror aesthetic that’s difficult to ignore. It’s just as well because it adds so much magic to the experience. The pixel art, albeit not to everyone’s taste, is crispy and elaborate. I love the presence of childish doodles on the map, too. It nails that sense of innocence that this title strives for by having a little girl, in my case, be the main Protagonist. She’s going through the wringer, and having these reminders makes me all the more immersed. It felt like she was diligently working towards locating her memories, jotting down notes. Hell, as you adventure, more of the town layout is revealed through, you guessed it, her drawing in the additional sections. It’s almost as if Katarina is taking records in real-time. For as small as that is, it fleshes out the world.
WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT!? - Sound Design
Upon booting up Yomawari: Lost in the Dark, it recommends wearing headphones to get the full impact. I’m here not only to parrot the suggestion but to say it’s imperative and the critical difference between subpar and engrossing. The speakers on the Nintendo Switch don't do it justice. The instant I wore earbuds, I was swallowed up in this dreary universe. There’s an ever-so-slight use of directional sound effects to emulate depth, too. Just the method it utilizes nursery rhyme music, blood-curdling screams, and the atmospheric ambiance is a fine recipe for creepiness. Yes, it definitely hits every cliche under the sun but does so satisfactorily. Again, the overall effectiveness relies entirely on the time of day you play, though. Unless it’s dark with zero light, the session will feel watered down. I tried, and no matter what, I couldn't get as invested.
AND THE CHIBI HORRIFIC VERDICT IS…
Yomawari: Lost in the Dark targets a specific niche and succeeds - there’s an undeniable charm here. The narrative, while simple, is adequate, keeping me enthralled to the finish. Of course, I must reiterate that this game only managed to hook me when I was wrapped in a blanket of darkness. The tension is not only heightened, but the sound design sees a nice boost, as well. Hell, the screams of women as their bodies fell to the ground before coming to life caught me completely off-guard. It genuinely surprised me and had vulgarities flowing from my lips. An extra big shoutout goes to the visceral splatter that echoes when Katarina dies - it's deliciously squishy. I fear the over-utilization of jump scares limits replayability as they lose their oomph in subsequent runs. Once you know it's coming, the scare factor vanishes. Still, it remains a purchase and at the total price.
YOMAWARI: LOST IN THE DARK IS RECOMMENDED
Special thanks to NIS America for providing the code used for this coverage.