Like comedy, horror is subjective. Some people prefer the thrills that come with a jump scare, whereas others prefer a slower and more psychological horror. In that sense, Yomawari: Lost in the Dark can satisfy both camps. The majority of it is atmospheric, building up dread as you explore eerie locales. Then, right when the tension starts to reach a fever pitch, it throws you into fast-paced action sequences during which a second of hesitation can cost you your life. As soon as the game started and I saw the warning, I knew I was in for a good time. With a relatively short play time of 20-30 hours, it’s a well-paced horror game that never overstays its welcome.
Fear the Living and the Dead
Yomawari: Lost in the Dark deals with some pretty heavy themes, such as bullying and suicidal imagery. When you first meet Yuzu (whose name you can change), her classmates are bullying her for reasons that become apparent later in the game. Yuzu finds out that there is a curse on her, and she must recover her memories about a mysterious girl in order to break it. However, she only has until sunrise. You need to explore the town and collect seven different items to help her remember everything.
Unlike some horror games, Yomawari: Lost in the Dark never loses its edge. Even classics such as Silent Hill 2 and Forbidden Siren eventually plateau. This could be because you become more focused on solving the puzzles or only so many different kinds of enemies appear. Meanwhile, Yomawari: Lost in the Dark throws new spirits at you at every turn, and the puzzles are not so difficult that you become frustrated. There are also lots of hidden secrets and spooks around town to occupy your attention if you want a break from the plot.
The areas you have to clear in order to retrieve your memories are the standout moments. Not only are all seven locations stereotypically “scary,” but they all feature different pursuers. This means there’s a high chance you’ll encounter something you find nasty. For example, the Slenderman-like spirit in the school didn’t scare me. However, the starfish in the cave and the dolls in the bamboo forest unnerved me enough to turn on a light. Like a goodie bag of scares, there’s something for everyone.
Beauty in the Darkness
A key theme of Yomawari is courage, and this is reflected in the gameplay. Closing your eyes and walking in between spirits — all while Yuzu’s heartbeat thumps deafeningly through the speakers — constantly tests that. It also feels like the development team calculated the spirits’ speed in the more intense chase sequences so that there is perpetually a pixel of space between you and them. If you hesitate or are unsure for even a second, you lose. Intentional or not, games that integrate their theme in a way that is unique to the medium is something I love.
Another thing that is pretty immediately apparent about is that it’s beautiful. Not only are the backgrounds lovingly detailed and the characters move with incredible smoothness, but the music is lovely. The main theme reminds me of a Ghibli movie, which is perhaps an odd comparison to make considering the subject matter found in Yomawari: Lost in the Dark. Like a horror video I once saw, the game consistently repeats the warning to avoid looking at the sky. But if it doesn’t want us to look up there, then why make it so pretty?
Not Everything Can Be Perfect
However, staying alive is tricky when janky Nintendo Switch controls can get in the way. I will say that I’m not sure how much of this is due to my Joy-Cons, but I have never encountered problems like these in other games. Yuzu has some trouble walking downward. For some reason, she will slow down unnaturally, but only when moving in that direction. A lot of key moments in the latter part of the game heavily rely on ringing a bell, which you can accomplish by shaking your controllers. However, no matter how hard I shook them or held the controllers, the bell simply would not ring. At first, I thought this was supposed to be symbolic of Yuzu slowly working up her courage, but even in boss fights that use the mechanic, it took forever.
Yomawari: Lost in the Dark is the third entry in the deceptively cute Yomawari series of horror games and continues an effectively frightening tradition. Fans of J-Horror will likely appreciate the slow and atmospheric situations, but there are plenty of jump scares to keep you on your toes. The story is simple, but effective, and the unique way it goes about conveying the tale will keep you glued to the screen. Just make sure you don’t look away, though. There’s no telling what you’ll see in the dark.
Yomawari: Lost in the Dark is available on the PS4, Windows PC, and Nintendo Switch.