We're stuck in a little pattern with these Nippon Ichi horror titles, I suppose. The Firefly Diary and A Rose in the Twilight (review pending) get coverage on Vita, the Yomawari games get coverage on Windows via Steam. Such is the way of Gaming Hell, mostly going for the cheapest possible way. So, just like last time, our screenshots were taken with the Steam interface's screenshot function in Fullscreen mode, with the resolution set to 1280 x 720. Again, it seems to be pretty much the same game across all three formats (this time there was also a PS4 version) and with no touch-screen nonsense. As ever, click our screenshots to make them bigger, stronger, more agile.
Also, in case you somehow skipped our warning...
POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD. AND SCARY GORY EYBALL-Y SCREENSHOTS TOO.
YOU WERE WARNED, PUNKS.
It is time, once more, to enter the Nippon Ichi Horror Game Murderdome.
We may have pushed our luck just a little too much this time, though!
Yomawari: Night Alone made a strong impression on me, it's fair to say. After getting burned so badly by The Firefly Diary I could probably sue Nippon Ichi for punitive damages, and just being generally OK with the existence of A Rose in the Twilight (review pending, honest) Yomawari was, in a way, what I wanted The Firefly Diary (and, to an extent, A Rose in the Twilight) to ultimately be- it fulfilled that game's promise and potential. It had a fantastic aesthetic that mashed together children's drawings with some truly unsettling spectres and spirits, a fairly simple and short story that dealt with mortality from a child's eyes, and a set of mechanics that weren't super-robust but did just fine for this type of game. So, as the playthrough of it was just wrapping up, I was delighted to see that a sequel was already out! Released as Shin Yomawari in Japan, Yomawari: Midnight Shadows was initially announced a few months after the Steam release of the first game, and was partly promoted by another unusual video, this time a 360-degree walk down a haunted corridor. Having just finished the first one though at this point though, I decided to wait a little before diving in... Specifically for the 2018 Summer Sale because if you've visited this site long enough, you'll know Gaming Hell will always go for the cheapest possible option!
Only got 20% off though. Shoulda waited longer.
Yomawari: Midnight Shadows does have ties to the original game, but this only becomes apparent after you've been playing for a while, as otherwise it's the story of a different haunted town. Elementary schoolers Haru (with the blue ribbon) and Yui (with the red ribbon) are two friends due to be separated as Haru's family is moving to another nearby town. For now both living in a town haunted by ghastly apparitions at night, they end up separated after watching a local fireworks display in the mountains. Determined to find her friend and keep her promise to stay together, Haru takes up her flashlight and, with the help of Yui's dog Chaco, searches for her at night, hoping to keep the spectres at bay until she finds her. Most chapters also show what's happening to Yui in much shorter segments, but generally this is Haru's adventure into the night. Can she stand up to the horrors that await her and reunite with her friend? Is it too late? Only the shadows know, until Haru fights back until the break of dawn against the monsters in her town.
Mechanics-wise, Midnight Shadows is very close to Night Alone, but there's a few things added here and there. For a start, both Yui and Haru can push crates and carry items like step-ladders and planks of wood to use them elsewhere. These mechanics aren't particularly fleshed-out and don't even get used that often, but carrying items means you can't use your flashlight, which is used very effectively in one particular area, where you're entirely reliant on sound to detect monsters as you carry something along. The usable items have also been shuffled about, with the shovel and matches being dropped in favour of paper airplanes and a black bag that can act as a hiding spot in a desperate situation, among other new trinkets. Finally, completing certain chapters awards Haru with charms she can equip one at a time for certain benefits such as being able to hold more coins or run for longer. These are generally small but welcome additions to the formula, but the backbone of the game- listening to your heartbeat, frantically shining your flashlight around to spot spirits when your heart's racing and the horrific noises are getting louder- is still in-tact. Improved a little, even- 'runner' enemies (in this town's case, flaming tyres) now spike your heartbeat to give you more of a warning before they strike!
The structure is generally very similar too, with each chapter sending you to a new area of town, including the mountains, the dump and the town's dam, but new to this one is indoor areas- specifically the library, the mansion and the sewers. That doesn't sound like a huge thing, but it actually allows the game to do things it couldn't before, specifically use doors and proper indoor lighting to unsettle and mess with you. Additionally, before most chapters properly start as Haru, you play a short segment with Yui that gives an idea of what's going on with her as well as a clue for where you'll be going next- surprisingly, these were some of my favourite segments of the game, as they often play with the established mechanics of the game to great effect. However, the game does fall into a trap that the first game had in regards to direction- early in the game in particular, you're not given too many nudges in which way to go. Chapters 1 and 2 especially suffer for this, because all you really have to go on is following Yui's dog, Chaco, and it's pretty easy to lose track of it, and a lot of of those chapters consists of you just wandering around town, completely directionless. I actually had to consult my screenshots and someone else's playthrough to remember what even happens in them, and while that's technically true for the first game, that's after not having played it for several months- for Midnight Shadows, this was a few days after playing those chapters.
Sadly, that's not the only way in which Midnight Shadows didn't make the same kind of impact its predecessor did for me. Mechanically the game is mostly alright- its additions aren't huge, but they don't get in the way too much or actively detract from the experience. What absolutely detracts from the game is the chapter design, the overall tone and the story itself, which are definitely downgraded. To start with the chapters, the quality is all over the place. As we said, Chapters 1 and 2 are almost completely forgettable, but in Chapter 3 you go into your first indoor area, the Library, and things improve- using doors and new spirits like the creepy owl things that can spot you and alert killer ghouls to your presence, it's fairly memorable and is just the right length. The upward trend in quality continues with Chapter 4, a haunted mansion with more clever use of doors (like getting locked in the toilets with the lights off) and a clever poltergeist boss fight. By a wide margin, these were the best parts of the game, with some great set-pieces and an unnerving atmosphere due to the change of setting.
Chapter 5, however, is just the game spinning its wheels a little (albeit with some neat tsukumogami-style enemies) and Chapter 6 is the pits. Initially a clever reprise of the factory area from the original game (but with easier encounters with the boss spirit and a neat grabbing puzzle), on your way out of town you're ambushed by the eye sphere, a gigantic screen-filling boss fight... Taking the form of an auto-scroller. An isometric auto-scroller where the boss covers most of the screen, uses attacks that can trap you in a corner very easily with no way out, and there are no checkpoints. The encounter from beginning to end is about five minutes long, so it is pretty maddening to get trapped and have to restart (including the walk up to the fight) but worse than anything, at the very end you have to make a sharp turn to enter a shrine (there are other turns you have to make in this fight, but they're telegraphed by a telephone ringing) and there's an enemy in the way you have to dodge and if you miss it, you have to restart the whole thing. Although not on the level of The Firefly Diary's spiral maze, this was almost the point I gave up, it's that rough. The rest of the game just plods along, with a few more annoying boss encounters (the skull hands by the Dam has really ropey collision detection) and difficult sections (the spider-den near the end has enemies that can spawn almost on top of you, the sewers have grabby-hands from the water that don't telegraph themselves very well)... Design-wise, it's just not as tight as the original game, with the chapter quality fluctuating constantly and wildly.
The other big issue is the story and tone. In many ways, it's like Midnight Shadows feels the need to prove itself to its audience, and push things further than its predecessor in terms of gore and shocks. To this end, there's a lot more jumpscares, including musical stings and images flashing on-screen with no warning. Night Alone did have its own jumpscares, yes, but it never quite relied on them to this extent, nor did it have the sheer amount of blood this one has (even the game knows- at one point Haru actually says "B-Blood... So much blood!"). Not that this is inherently bad, it's just in this kind of game, buckets of blood are never quite as effective as a more subtle approach that the predecessor did so well. Beyond that though, the story tries to go in much, much harder and fumbles. On the one hand, the intro is an effective double-bluff, making you think the dog's going to die just like the first game, but instead your character hangs themselves, setting the game up for being a much harsher, crueller affair. On the other, I don't think it works nearly as effectively. Ribbon-chan from the first game had a much more grounded story, that of a child learning about mortality through her pet, and while the case can be made here of Haru learning the same lesson in another form, it's handled much worse here, with the story being told in a weird, jumbled way, and it almost feels like it's trying too hard to 'one-up' the previous game. Night Alone had its own story foibles, but it mostly told its story fairly straight-laced and in a way that struck a chord with minimal dialogue. Midnight Shadows throws too much at you in a way, most annoyingly some confusing flashbacks near the end that don't really seem to connect to anything, and while the ending ties up at least a few of the loose ends, the story going in too hard and fast does diminish its possible impact.
All this is really unfortunate because when the game works, boy does it work. There's some absolutely fantastic little moments hiding beneath all this, and in particular it's a master of using game mechanics or your own expectations to just completely mess with you. Early on, for instance, there's one of the better jumpscares where Yui is prompted to look at her menu, only to be attacked by a spirit on the Collection screen. The Mansion area has some very effective uses of doors locking behind you and your heartbeat spiking as you have absolutely no idea what's going to happen, with the lights off and your flashlight no longer working. Many of Yui's scenes also mess with your expectations, such as using a wardrobe to hide from monsters actually making things worse as multiple spirits pile onto the screen enveloping her hiding spot. And while we won't go into too much detail, near the end it also has an outstanding reprise of the opening tutorial area used to great effect. My favourite of these, though, is by far a scene in a field about a third of the way through, where taking a wrong turn leads you trapped in a corner. You have to hide in a bush, at which point the game starts talking to you, telling you there's danger ahead, and you must stay where you are. As spirit presences start to appear, the game keeps talking, telling you not to move whatever you do... After a tense minute of the spirits disappearing and reappearing, the game assures you that you're safe now, and you can come out. It's a little thing, but damn is it incredibly effective, doing a lot with almost nothing at all.
The sad part is that field area appears to be completely optional. You can miss one of the best parts of the game.
I was really hoping the game could redeem itself with its post-game content- after a brief visit there during the hell-run of Chapter 6, you can go back to the town from the first game, which has undergone a few changes, to find missing items from your collection and maybe a new friend. However, perhaps because the developers figured you'd be visiting here after you've beaten the game, they decided to make it much, much deadlier than last time, and so the town is crammed with two of the most difficult enemies from the first game, the 'runner' spirits who give no warning of any kind, and the black scribbles that only move when not in your flashlight's sights. The black scribbles were a late-game enemy in Night Alone who eventually gave way to the giant hands in the final area, and served as an interesting and tense challenge, but encountering three of them on a single stretch of highway then facing more of them when you turn off is too much, and while the runner spirits were mildly annoying in the original, they were far less frequent than this. I really wanted to give this section a chance, but got frustrated after waiting for ages to get kidnapped and sent to the Factory for one of the new cutscenes, died before I could find the Jizo Statue, and got dumped outside, unable to get back in without being kidnapped by Mr. Yomawari again- a random chance. After that, I decided I was done.
So... This was a real heartbreaker. The first game did have its issues, but otherwise I was absolutely smitten with it, and had high hopes for the sequel. Perhaps it was a mistake to think that lightning could strike twice on this one, but with its muddled story, more aggravating difficulty spikes and extremely uneven chapter quality, Yomawari: Midnight Shadows is absolutely the worse of the two games. It's a real shame too, because there's some fantastic moments as we've laid out above... The uneven quality just kills it for me though, and the story especially dragged it further down. It does seem like two stars might be a little harsh, but with a game like this- something short and narrative-driven- I have to look at how I felt about it when it was over, and I did not feel the same level of satisfaction and terrified joy that I felt by the end (and throughout, honestly) of Night Alone. That said, if what you've read of the story here sounds more interesting to you than it panned out for me, you can probably add another star to our rating, but otherwise, please, play the first game instead. This doesn't fill me with confidence for the third game that's apparently on its way...
For being a torch-lit horror-show- again- Yomawari: Midnight Shadows is awarded...
In a sentence, Yomawari: Midnight Shadows is...
Trapped in the shadow of its sibling.
No Digital Art book for the Steam release this time, sorry!
And hey, just A Rose in the Twilight to go... For now.
Wow, we might actually complete a series of games for once!