Halloween may be over, but do you think the residents of Yuzu’s hometown have their Christmas decorations out already? They do not. Rather, the town is plagued by ghosts and monsters…and that may include Yuzu herself.
Yomawari: Lost In the Dark opens with the young Yuzu being relentlessly bullied by her classmates. She endures this in a quiet, heartbreaking manner until we see her at the ledge of her school building’s roof. The camera pans up to the heavens, then back down to find only her shoes remaining. I know enough about Japanese culture to understand the symbolism of this gesture.
Moments later, however, Yuzu awakens in a forest with no memory of how she got there (or what she may have just done). A young woman appears to tell Yuzu she must fulfill a promise by 6am in order to break her curse, but Yuzu doesn’t even remember what the promise is. With nothing to go on, she must search her town for items that will hopefully jog her memory.
It’s a wonderful setup, and I was surprised at how impactful it was considering the simple graphics. The game is played from a top-down isometric view, and the inability to see Yuzu’s reactions to the bullying and the terrors around her had the odd effect of making me sympathize with her more than I otherwise may have. The game’s warning about its difficult subject matter is warranted and appreciated.
And yet, it’s all a little less stressful than you might think. Yomawari: Lost In the Dark is definitely a creepy game with a lot of well-placed scares, but it’s also a game that lets you work through at your own pace. Yuzu can take on the ghost stories in any order, so the player is not forced in a single direction with mandatory enemies to escape along the way. Exploration is very much a key component of the experience.
Of course, this being a horror game, quite a few obstacles are there to impede your exploration. Ghosts of various types have to be dealt with in specific ways (cover your eyes, hit them with the beam from your flashlight, etc.), and learning the proper method to get past them will result in many “deaths” along the way.
This adds stress to your search, sure, but you’ll always be able to pick things back up to try something else. Bosses take a little more work since they have to be defeated instead of escaped, but hints are often provided to let you know what to do. Paying careful attention to the environment and the clues you receive will prepare you for battle.
I mentioned earlier that the graphics are very effective at creating a haunting atmosphere. Lighting forces your focus away from the shadows, and the game uses those darker areas for some solid scares. Additionally, the amount of detail that went into the various neighborhoods of the town really helps make everything feel more realistic and, therefore, impactful.
Even still, the audio of Yomawari: Lost In the Dark is what pushes the game over the top. The developers recommend you play with headphones, and it’s easy to see why. The chilling effect of distant, disembodied footsteps or a baby’s cries are more effective when you can barely hear them, and it’s terrifying to realize they’re getting closer. However, I find that horror games are best experienced on a large TV. As such, I preferred playing in docked mode at night when the rest of the family was in bed and the only thing that interfered with the surround sound were the random household noises I couldn’t explain.
Obviously, I can’t talk about the ending. I don’t even want to reveal how I felt about it for fear of setting players up one way or another. I will say, however, that getting there becomes easier once you’ve opened up the full map. Unfortunately, that’s also when the game starts to lose impact. Repetition sets in, the scares dissipate, and the emotional introduction starts to feel less important.
Lost in the Dark is not the first game in the Yomawari series, it’s actually the third. It can be played on its own, however, and is likely good enough to warrant digging back into Yomawari: The Long Night Collection, also available for Switch. I haven’t played the games in that package, so I can’t say if they offer the same satisfying gameplay and emotional stories…yet. Talk to me next Halloween.