Minutes after starting a horror game, I’ll inevitably be found buried under a pile of blankets and Pokémon toys. Yomawari: Midnight Shadows earned me the usual chuckles from my partner as I squeaked and jumped my way through. Yet, in all honesty, it’s been a long time since I’ve enjoyed a horror game so much.
As the sequel to Yomawari: Night Alone, Midnight Shadows continues the blend of stealth mechanics, creepy cute art, and atmospheric sound effects. If playing the first game left you wanting more, then great; that’s exactly what you’re going to get. Improvements have been made here and there with cleaner visuals and more places to explore, while other niggly annoyances are apparently here to stay.
Midnight Shadows’ opening scene instantly puts you in your place. Everything seems to be going fine during the nice little tutorial. There’s even an adorable dog; this game isn’t going to be that scary. Wait. Oh. Oh no. Stop. I sat there blinking at the screen. The cute art style lied to me. In fact the whole story is pretty bleak.
Without spoiling anything, the basic plot involves Yui and Haru watching their last fireworks show before Haru has to move away. On their way home, the girls get spooked by a strange voice and an angry spirit kidnaps Yui. Both girls must now brave the blood, screams, and roaming monsters in their desperate attempts to reunite and return home. While most of the game is spent playing as Haru, the story is tied together through short interactions with Yui that keeps the story moving forwards.
Gameplay is about roaming the environment and avoiding monsters. Exploration is possible, but things are kept pretty linear. Despite this, the isometric viewpoint and constant atmosphere keep your eyes locked onto the screen. Haru and Yui may be cute, but the town, railways, and buildings are their complete opposite. There’s a discomforting eeriness to every location, which is only enhanced by the odd abstract designs of the monsters. Some actually made me laugh (hello Mr. Happy Spider), while others were seriously unsettling (wait till you see the final boss).
Working with the art style is Midnight Shadows’ choice to opt for sound effects over music. Every footstep slaps loudly, making you feel wary. Then you suddenly hear another pair of hulking footsteps lumbering towards you, or the whines of something inhuman in your ear. There’s also a heart monitor which gets faster the closer you are to danger. It tends to only go off when something particularly nasty is around the corner. And just in case that doesn’t make you tense enough, the more panicked you are the quicker your running stamina drains away.
Give in to the atmosphere and all that’s left is to wait for the jump scares to get you. Being little girls, there’s not much Yui and Haru can do to fight back. Items scattered around try to make life easier, such as rocks that can be thrown to cause a distraction. There’s a decent variety, although I only found a handful of times where I actually needed to use them. At one point, I even made things harder for myself by trying to distract library spirits. It eventually became clear that I could simply tiptoe past. Figures.
There are a couple of items that I never found a use for. I guessed that the fireflies, for example, were supposed to light up areas when I couldn’t use a torch, but things never got dark enough to test it out. It just struck me as a missed opportunity. Items being necessary for certain areas and used in more interesting ways could have given a bit more variety to Midnight Shadows‘ puzzles and gameplay.
Ultimately, running and hiding is the best strategy. Patrolling enemy in your way, or a spirit refusing to get off your back? Find a friendly bush, sign, or cardboard box. The screen will zoom into your hiding place while the surrounding area is blacked out. Whatever’s chasing you becomes a glowing orb of sound and will sniff around until it gets bored. Not being able to see can be super tense, but it’s normally obvious when the coast is clear. Although there were still times where I stayed hidden for much longer than necessary.
Midnight Shadows involves a lot of trial-and-error thanks to the one-hit-kill mechanic, and how most things seem to spawn in your face. Not every spirit can hurt you, but the majority will certainly try. Bosses in particular can get draining. Working out what to do is easy, yet awkward attack patterns force you to die a lot in order to learn how to avoid them. Throw in repeated un-skippable dialogue before fights, and fear of spooks can turn to frustration.
Frequent deaths aren’t too annoying as I swear there’s a place to save after every fiddly moment. Progress made on the map, or items picked up, are also remembered even if you die, so there’s some encouragement to go off, take risks, and explore. The only thing I will say is that some of the save points are a weirdly long walk away from bosses. It’s a stupidly small bugbear as the placement aims to hype you up for the fight, but instead just gave me time to grumble about being on my 4th or 5th attempt.
Yomawari: Midnight Shadows may look cute, but the dark narrative and focus on sound really keeps you on edge. The unique blend easily distracts from any niggles of annoyance in the frequent jump scares and trial-and-error deaths. Ultimately, it’s a great title for anyone looking to switch out distressing levels of gore and horror to that prickly feeling that you’re not alone.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which we were provided with.
Yomawari: Midnight Shadows puts cute girls in a dark soundscape to create a wonderfully unnerving experience.