Release Date: August 19, 2021
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Chorus Worldwide
Genre: Horror Adventure
I’m a scaredy-cat. At the same time, though, I’m a fan of jump scares. The feeling is indescribable, and I can’t seem to get enough of it. So with the rise of first-person horror games where all of the attacks are removed, and your only option is to run, you can bet that I played most of these releases. However, I understand burnout, and I drifted away from this style of horror game only to get wrapped back up in with the Yuoni. However, the biggest difference here is that you’re a 10-year-old, so the idea of weapons isn’t even an option.
Yuoni begins with a group of children daring themselves to a challenge. There’s a rumor that if you can gather a doll without being seen and return it to a bucket of water, Yuoni will ask to play a game with you. While not many believe it to be true, our young protagonist named AI steps up to the plate and, sadly, the next day was invited to play the game of Yuoni.
The narrative plays out between stages, but it never overstays its welcome. Interestingly, it dives into the lore heavily at certain moments as that nightmare becomes a reality for Ai. She deals with events the best way she can, but stranger things find their way into her world and overwhelm her mental state. It’s an interesting way to tell a story, but the stages also include short spots of narrative that give you an idea of the spirit you are facing off against. Most of the in-game spirits have somehow affected children, and that tone is true throughout.
Each day is a different maze-like map that grows increasingly difficult, but the core structure is the same for each level. Once the level begins, you’re tasked with heading out, finding a doll, and make your way back to the beginning as quickly as possible.
It’s easy in concept, but getting to the doll requires slow movement throw the halls of a school, which makes you forget exactly how you got to it in the first place. This is kind of where the running back becomes difficult because you’re being chased and expected to recall hot to get back to the beginning of the map.
Further, I think every stage is made up of the same assets, makes them blend and causes some confusion when navigating the levels. This is also an inherent problem because the stages look like every stage should be explored, but there’s nothing to find outside of some keys. Sadly, doors are typically just locked, and there’s nothing that says “Find a Key,” so you should be adept at progressing through games with minimal handholding. Luckily, you aren’t on a time-limited when trying to find the doll, but enemies are scattered about that hinder advancement.
Enemies come in a variety of different types, and they should all be avoided. Some enemies have limited sight or enhanced hearing, but they each have their strengths as well. The best way to ensure you don’t get caught is to crouch and hold your breath when they’re near or hide under a bed or in a locker. Strangely, some hiding places don’t have a way to see if the enemies have passed, such as a cupboard, but that’s where the sound design comes in handy. Once you retrieve the doll, you must run back as you’re chased by a strange eye creature yelling at you. It’s a fun experience but can get old in concept.
Yuoni knows how to scare you. Even with its minimalist design, the developer does their best to offer some unique scares. However, all of these are typically jump scares that constantly startled me. I know many may get tired of this type of horror, but given that this is a 4-hour game, I don’t feel like it overstayed its welcome. In fact, I applaud what the developers were able to do with what they had, but I would have appreciated different settings.
I couldn’t help but want more reason to explore or more items to interact with, even if it’s just added lore about the spirits that I’m avoiding. Further, the maze-like stages can often lead you in the wrong direction, which causes getting caught by the same enemy while you’re simply trying to find your way through. Thankfully, checkpoints are numerous. Still, the added scares of each level had me believe that the developers were trying new things. They didn’t continuously re-use elements outside of the flash of white story sections during a stage. Regardless, I jumped and screamed way too many times to count.
Yuoni doesn’t break new grounds in the first-person horror genre, but it offers an interesting premise of folklore that will definitely have you engaged for its short runtime. Its sound design is at the forefront of its jump scares, which is the crux of the most heart-racing moments. Still, repetitive level design, confusing direction, and limited exploration elements dampen the overall experience.
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