Overview – developed by Nippon Ichi Software and published by NIS America, Yomawari: Lost in the Dark is a survival horror adventure set in a lonely town filled with spirits. This is the latest chapter in the series of atmospheric horror titles, where the dark is the biggest threat to the young girl who must reclaim her memories and break a curse. This title is on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and Steam, with links to each version of the game at the bottom of this review.
Disclaimer: before I get into the review, I would like to thank NIS America for providing the copy of Yomawari: Lost in the Dark that was used for this piece. The provision of this software has not influenced the contents of this review, all thoughts and opinions contained within are my own.
Content Disclaimer: This title contains themes that may not be suitable for all audiences, with imagery and content that may disturb or upset some players. I would like to ask that discretion is used if content featuring bullying and allusions to suicide is something that makes you uncomfortable or upsets you.
Now with the introductions out of the way, let’s get into the review, starting with the story (taken from the official website). I will be covering the basic details of the gameplay during the review, this is because I don’t wish to spoil some of the surprises and elements of the game. I will be referring to the game as Yomawari 3 throughout the review for brevity.
Story – A young girl awakens in a strange, dark forest with no memory how she got there. The last thing she remembers was walking up to the school rooftop at dusk. Wandering through the forest, the girl meets a mysterious individual. This person speaks to her in a voice that she faintly remembers from somewhere in her past.
You’ve been placed under a powerful curse. In order to break it, you need to remember the important things you’ve forgotten. You have until dawn. And so, in search of her lost memories, the young girl ventures out into the eerie streets of her town at night.
Gameplay – Yomawari 3 is an isometric survival horror, that uses a dark foreboding atmosphere to instill dread in the player, using the darkness to hide the threats around the player. The player takes on the role of a young girl who is under a curse, with the objective to locate their lost memories. To do this, the player must explore the town that the girl lives, however there are spirits hidden in the shadows as the player moves through the streets.
The only way that the player can see where they are going in the dark is by using a flashlight, which can be moved by the right thumbstick. By shining the light into the darkness, the spirits that are hidden will be revealed, as well as items that can be collected on the ground. The items that can be collected include coins, keys and clues that will assist the player in solving the mysteries of memories. Items found will be added to a master list, offering information about each item found.
The coins that are found can be offered to special Statues discovered throughout the town, saving the game and offering a warp to other statues that have been activated. The flashlight itself isn’t the only way that the specters in the dark will make themselves known to the player. There are many that will appear in plain sight and at trigger points during the game. Another way to tell if a ghost is near is the heartbeat of the character, getting faster the closer the spirit is to them.
When a ghost is close to the player they have a few options depending on the Spirit encountered. Here are the core options that the player can use when interacting with malicious spirits;
- Close Your Eyes – some spirits can be stopped by the character covering her eyes, darkening the area around her and showing her heart beat in the center of the screen. Spirits will appear as red lights on the screen in the darkness to show their position. After a short time some spirits may disappear, but others will continue to pursue the player.
- Shine a Light – some of the spirits that are encountered will be affected by the flashlight, pushing them back while they are within the range of the beam. The player can tiptoe around moving the character while facing a single direction, keeping the light shining on the spirits as they move slowly away from them.
- Running Away – the most effective method of dealing with most spirits. The player is able to run for a limited amount of time by holding the run button, moving faster than just walking. The amount of time that the player can run for is shown by a meter on the screen, shrinking on from the edges of the screen into the center. There is a white spot in the middle that will change color if a spirit is close by.
As the player moves around the different areas, a question mark will appear above the characters head showing an interactive object is nearby. If the item is a consumable item like a coin, a star will appear when they can be collected. However, if the item is important to the story or has information for the player, there will be a single or even double Exclamation mark when near the item. There are also items that can be held, which will have a hand icon and the interaction button must be held down.
As the player explores the town, they will enter areas related to the memory they are trying to uncover, including the school and the Rice Field. These areas have their own unique specters that will appear, such as the faceless man with a sickle, which will chase the player down. Alongside sequences where the player must solve puzzles and overcome dangerous hazards, which will give the player access to a memory and push them further along in the story.
The intense sequences and obstacles are akin to a boss battle, as they bring together elements of the previous trials of the area to challenge the player. If the player is successful, they will be able to learn more and further expand the area they can explore of the town. This is due to the presence of Kotori, a bird spirit that blocks off access to areas that the character does not remember. When the player enters an area that they are not meant to be, Kotori will attack either killing them or chasing them away.
When the player wants to relive a memory to uncover clues, they must do this in their home. A space where they may change their outfit, save the game and rest between explorations. While in the home a book will be on the table, letting the player re-watch cutscenes that play out the memory for them, providing clues to solving the puzzles for that section. It is important to check this regularly if a refresher is needed for an item or memory set as the objective.
Death itself in this game is not a significant setback as there are numerous checkpoints that can be used, either in areas where a memory is located or where the game was saved. This means that failure is not a significant set-back to progress, but can be a frustration if a large area was explored and the player died before reaching a save. As the player does explore the town, a map will fill out that shows the location of local maps and activated save points.
The last thing to discuss is the way that the game itself plays out. There is a semi-flexible system where multiple objectives can be active at once, with two memories needing to be found at the same time. This allows players to approach the challenges how they wish, but there is still some rigidity to the overall flow of gameplay with the bird spirit blocking the way. It neither feels like a linear or non-linear experience, which works in the favor of this atmospheric horror.
It is important to remember however, that as a horror game there will be jumpscares, psychological tricks via the employment of sound and visuals that are intended to disturb the player. A warning is provided before starting the game, warning that it is not suitable for those with health conditions. This is stated because there are elements of the gameplay and presentation that may cause distress, with sounds may induce anxiety and imagery that could be upsetting when viewed.
Now with the gameplay covered, it is time to cover the other aspects of the game, starting with the controls.
Controls – the control method for this release are easy to pick up, with the movement and flashlight control tied to the thumbsticks. The interaction buttons and escape maneuvers are on the face/shoulder buttons, allowing easy access to them throughout the game. When playing this release in either handheld or docked on a big screen, the controls are comfortable to use regardless of the controller that has been used to play with zero input lag.
Difficulty – there is a gradual difficulty curve to this release, with some spikes in challenge when new spirits appear or the “boss” sequences are in play. It is a challenging experience that will put players at unease, using the jump scares and tension that the atmosphere to cause players to make mistakes. Death in this release is a common thing and will happen very often, but the checkpoints and save points that are throughout the area ease the pain of dying after a mistake.
Presentation – Yomawari 3 is stylized well, giving the game an uncomfortable sense of dread that permeates throughout the experience. The design for the spirits, the dark atmosphere and the creepy/grotesque appearance of some entities pushes the uncomfortable feelings further. The scale of character models also adds to the atmosphere on display. The camera makes the player look much smaller compared to many of the spirits, which further contribute to the unease of the game world.
Sound is greatest weapon that this game can use in its efforts to unnerve the player. With the anguished cries of babies, guttural groans of pain and ominous sounds in the dark coming together, creating a sense of trepidation for the player as they progress. The use of atmospheric sound and ambiance, combined with a score that is used sparing create a haunting soundscape that can evoke many emotions. These factors all combine to create something that can be genuinely terrifying at times.
Final Thoughts – I have not been one for survival horror in general, aside from a few titles that fit a specific niche. However, I found myself being pulled into the game, as it has the type of setting and themes that I enjoy which are reminiscent of Fatal Frame. The atmosphere is tense, with a foreboding sense of dread that permeates the entire experience. The jump scares were effective, with the scripted encounters causing me to jump as I played the game. But there is a lot of busy work and some cryptic puzzles that may put some players off.
There are moments that caused discomfort and unease during my time playing the game. The allusions to suicide, bullying and social exclusion of the player character elicited an emotional reaction as I experienced them. I can recommend this game to those who enjoy atmospheric horror, as there is a lot of depth to the world design, the spirits and the storytelling. However, this game is not for everyone and if you find the things mentioned or shown upsetting, please explore it with caution.
In the end, I give Yomawari: Lost in the Dark a final score of 4.5/5. This is a dark and atmospheric horror that uses the environment crafted for it to its full potential, with monsters/spirits that are unsettling, sound design that is unnerving and jump scares that could quickly induce panic in players. If you want to check this game out for yourself, a link to each version of the game will be below.
Link to Nintendo Switch version (HERE)
Link to PlayStation version (HERE)
Link to Steam version (HERE)