Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
It seems rather appropriate that one of the options for buying Yomawari: Night Alone includes getting htoLNiQ: The Firefly Diary as part of a package deal. After all, for better and for worse, the two games seem like two halves of a whole. Even if Yomawari isn't officially a sequel to htoLNiQ, it certainly feels like a spiritual successor from the same developer.
In terms of aesthetics, this is undeniably a good thing. Much like htoLNiQ, Yomawari excels at creating a dark, mysterious world. Right from the get-go, the game lays its cards on the table in a way that can't help but feel shockingly compelling: a vulnerable heroine, a foreboding path, a shocking death. It's not spoiling anything when I say that the tone here is set early on.
Not only that, the game builds on that creepy beginning by utilizing all the atmospheric horror tricks you could ask for. The visuals are claustrophobic and unsettling: darkness crowds around the edge of the screen, lights are constantly dimmed (save for a few that are just far too bright), and ghostly shadows flicker into existence and fade out just as quickly, leaving you wondering if you really saw what you think you saw. On top of that, the game has a soundtrack that's sure to leave you feeling ill at ease. The music is sparse but unrelenting, the kind of droning noise that's sure to set you on edge. Whenever threats appear, you hear a heart — your heart — beating faster and faster, a guaranteed way to raise your tension levels. To paraphrase what I said about htolNiQ, if looks and sounds were everything, Yomawari would be a slamdunk GOTY (or, at least, a very strong contender).
Alas, there's also a game to be played here, and that's not nearly as exciting.
Unfortunately, that's the "for worse" part of Yomawari's similarities with htolNiQ coming into play. Just as that game was basically one long escort mission, this game consists of a lot of wandering around aimlessly, looking for clues and hoping you don't need to run (or hide) for your life. There are the odd objects with which you can interact, but generally, you'll spend most of your time here tiptoeing around corners and hoping you can hide before ghosts catch you.
Admittedly, writing that down, I can see how it could be kind of cool, at least in theory. And seeing as I like a lot of other games that consist of little more than walking and interacting with things, I'm certainly not going to begrudge or question those people who love doing that in Yomawari. But, sadly, it does nothing for me, and no amount of nightmarish visuals and spooky sounds can change that fact.