I haven’t always been a fan of the horror genre, but I can tell you the exact moment that I developed my affinity for it. It was a chainsaw-wielding enemy with a sack over their head, chasing me in Resident Evil 4. Somewhere in the midst of saving the president’s daughter, my fondness for the horror genre was kindled. Since then, I have been hunting for any horror game I can find, so it’s no surprise that I needed to get my hands on Ikai.
This is a first-person psychological, horror-adventure game. You play as Naoko, the head priestess of a secluded shrine she is in charge of while her uncle is away. However, it becomes immediately apparent that she’s not alone. Traditional Yokai and Oni start to overtake the shrine, drawing inspiration from Japanese mythology. Alone, your job as a head priestess is to draw magical kanji to suppress the evil Yokai that are terrorizing the shrine.
Numerous mechanics come together in Ikai’s desire to remain faithful to the genre. The choice to not include any weapons or attack abilities enhance the tense action. Movement is slow and methodical, forcing you to confront all situations head-on. Audio is delicate while remaining powerful, adding to the atmospheric intensity. The wood of the shine creaks underfoot as otherworldly noises scratch against the walls in dimly lit rooms. Stealth also becomes a factor, as you must sneak around not to be detected by some stalking Yokai.
The graphics reinforce the horror elements. The dark and moody lighting creates a sinister tone to the historic shrine. The game’s opening handles the tutorial well by not holding your hand. Subtle tips are given to you by Naoko regarding objectives. The shrine itself feels expansive and encourages exploration. A troublesome and unpleasant forest lies just outside the shrine, increasing the playable area.
Without weapons, gameplay primarily consists of surviving supernatural environmental puzzles and heart racing, adrenaline-filled chases. I found the unique mechanic of drawing your own kanji innovative. You need to draw these kanji and attach them to cursed objects in order to banish the Yokai. You would think tracing kanji should be easy, but try and do it correctly while being chased down by demons.
From what I was able to play, Ikai is looking to be an exceptional example of a great indie horror experience that sometimes feels like a found footage movie. Intricate puzzles, collectible Yokai cards, and great jump-scares round out what is going to be a decent adventure.
Ikai releases on PC, PS4, PS5, and Switch in March 2022.
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