Yomawari: Lost in the Dark Review – Thrills, Chills, and Spills

    Title: Yomawari: Lost in the Dark
    Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
    Release Date: October 25, 2022
    Reviewed On: Switch
    Publisher: NIS America
    Genre: Survival Horror

Recently there has been an abundance of horror titles hitting shelves to delight and disgust players worldwide. However, rarely will a title let the horror breathe by itself instead of leveraging action combat to appeal to a broader demographic. Yomawari: Lost in the Dark manages to do just this for the genre. The delivery of atmosphere, tension, and jumpscares will have players at the edge of their seats while admiring the inherent beauty of the environment surrounding them. Further, the expertly executed sound design will immerse players in the loneliness of the night.

Yuzu is an elementary student subjected to harsh bullying by her peers after one especially nasty prank pulled by some classmates. She finds herself lost in a forest with no way out. Her only hope is a young woman who states that Yuzu needs to fulfill her promise. Otherwise, she won’t be able to break the curse and save her life.

Despite this, Yuzu can’t remember ever meeting the woman or making such a promise. Disheartened, the young woman tells her that Yuzu must find her lost memories before 6 AM, or the curse will take hold forever. So now, Yuzu must search her small town for objects that might joke her memory and save her life before she becomes a shade fated to walk the streets at night like many others.

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Yomawari blends a series of ghost stories using the single plot thread of the curse. Due to it, spirits seem to be attracted to Yuzu at an alarming rate causing her peers to ridicule her. These tales vary from the classic seven wonders of the elementary school to a pack of spectral dogs hunting the streets seeking revenge on their killer. While each story feels complete, it also feels like a natural thread for Yuzu to follow as the objects she is searching for have all been taken by a spirit seeking help or entertainment. It all works well, and players will want to finish another shade before putting the game down.

Players’ freedom of exploration bolsters each moment, allowing them to tackle the next specter that interests them the most. Each memory that Yuzu needs to hunt has an introductory cutscene that gives players a hint at the location of that memory. Each one hints at the ghost that has taken root in that area. As players explore, they will naturally find another item showing where another memory is. Exploration all felt natural, and never once did I feel like I was being handheld or forced to see any of the events I came across. This natural progression is one of the most substantial aspects of Lost in the Dark, alongside its sound design.

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Rarely in a game do we think about how sound can immerse us in a product, whether film or video games. Like other contemporaries in the horror genre, Yomawari suggests that players use headphones while exploring around. Usually, this would be to have jumpscares scream out to surprise the player. However, I noticed a vast difference between playing on my TV speakers to record footage and playing in handheld mode with some headphones plugged into the Switch. Tiny elements like the way Yuzu’s footsteps sound going from a hardwood floor or subtle creaks get lost when played over speakers.

These subtle differences also use audio to tell players what direction a spirit is coming and how close they are. Everything from barely audible whispers to the wind rustling the trees feels intentional to draw that player in for a more significant scare later. Of course, there are moments when the sound dies down to have a big pop to scare players, but these are few and far between, making them effective when they eventually happen. Instead, players will usually hear something in the distance that slowly gets louder or changes pitch to be lower, giving players a slowly mounting feeling of dread as they approach whatever is making those noises.

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In particular, one entity was that of a baby that would start crying in the distance, only to get louder as players continued through the area. Players will never see it until the final encounter, but it will always make sounds until, finally, players will feel and hear a rumbling as the cries get louder and more profound. Thus, implying that what should have been a tiny infant was no longer small or easy to destroy. These moments give a vast amount of charm that will stick with players long after their initial playthrough, coupling this with the open-world aspect. Players will come back for seconds and perhaps thirds to find everything around town.

Finally, dealing with errant spirits feels more like puzzles than anything else, as each enemy has a specific way of dealing with them. These methods range from shining a flashlight at them to having them back away from Yuzu or covering your eyes and walking past them. Slowly players will have a small ghost-hunting manual to deal with each ghost in their head, making exploration more accessible. Bosses tend to have a specific mechanic that the area they reside in teaches the player by showing them what to do to smaller similar entities. The school wonders have players dealing with each wonder in the school in a specific context to defeat the boss.

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Failing to do so on the first try will have players restart the encounter. However, these challenges don’t change upon a retry letting the player make mistakes and learn patterns without punishing them by returning to the most recent save.

It felt natural, and every time I screwed up, I knew better the next try until I could get through each section without needing to think about it. As a result, these encounters feel rewarding, and each memory recovered feels heavily earned, as if players themselves survived each ordeal.

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Yomawari: Lost in the Dark gives a refreshing horror experience that doesn’t rely on any combat, instead opting to turn encounters into puzzles players need to figure out. In addition, it creates a unique and memorable experience through sound design that will entice players to experience through headphones and exploration, giving them complete freedom to complete the game in any way they want—allowing players to dictate their own pace through the narrative that feels earned the entire way through.

Yomwari: Lost in the Dark promises much in its presentation and delivers on every aspect, and will assuredly become a cult classic among horror veterans

Score:
9/10
A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Nathan Mejia

The guy who will play anything you throw at him. Will talk your ear off about anything and everything Video Game, Music, and Anime related. You have been warned.