Yomawari: Night Alone Review

Yomawari: Night Alone reads like a demented fairy tale straight out of Japanese folklore with a modern twist. The survival horror, from creators Nippon Ichi Software, immediately sucks you into its grim, dark world within moments of booting the game up, and continues to throw twisted monstrosities at you for the several hours it will take you to complete it. From its isometric view, Yomowari seems deceptively cute, as you play as an unnamed young girl with a lovingly animated red bow in her hair. This game is anything but, however, as it deals with heavy themes such as mortality, loneliness, and the supernatural.

Right out of the gate, the player is treated to an emotional gut punch in the game’s tutorial. I wont spoil it here, but suffice to say, I don’t think a tutorial has ever invested me in a character or a world so effectively. The premise of Yomowari is simple: A young girl loses her dog, and her older sister goes out to look for it. When she never makes it home, it is up to the young heroine to venture out to save them both. And they need saving, as the surprisingly expansive town they hail from in rural Japan is inhabited by scores of demons straight from the depths of hell.

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Gameplay is a fairly simple affair, and will not surprise anyone familiar with the survival horror genre. The game is broken into chapters, and each chapter sends the player to different corners of the map in search of keys and other items that will allow them to progress to the next. What makes Yomawari unique is that virtually the entire game world is open from the start, and while some areas are gated, there is a lot to see and do. You wander dark, deserted streets with nothing but a flashlight as your only protection from the evil spirits that roam the night.

And I think this is where the game really shines (pun intended). You are completely unable to protect yourself, so all you can do when confronted by an enemy is either run or hide. Some of these creatures will react (violently) to the light of your torch, and others come running at the slightest sound. You can sneak past groups of enemies, and distract them with thrown items. Its not an incredibly in-depth stealth system, but its varied enough and doesn’t wear out its welcome. Progress can be saved at Jizo statues that are spread fairly liberally across the map, and they also function as the games fast-travel points.

A flaw of this was that I never felt very punished by death. It really just meant I would be greeted by a blessedly very brief loading screen, and a short run back to where I had met my demise. Some of the games mini boss like creatures could be frustrating, though, requiring dozens of attempts, and perfect memorisation of their attack patterns. But that never took away from the genuine fear I felt after encountering some of these creatures. And I think that was because of their uniquely Japanese design. From massive tentacled beasts that would sweep entire streets with their appendages, to the souls of dead children who would attack only when you showed your back to them, the variety was quite impressive.

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But what really sold me, was realising that Yomowari has side quests, and semi unscripted events. Wandering down a particularly dark street, I came across a headless horse that galloped past me, off into the night. I would encounter the same beast again several chapters later, and while I never figured out its purpose, the horse was completely benign. I took to feeding stray cats  with some pet food I happened across, until I fed the wrong cat. After that, I swore I wouldn’t feed any animals that I encountered. I also engaged in a particularly creepy game of hide and seek with a ghostly little girl that really did just want to play. Then I came across a ringing cell phone, left abandoned in the street. What followed was probably the most chilling of my encounters, and the most memorable.

It probably took me around 5 hours to complete Yomawari, and I did it in a single sitting, but I think you could probably spend at least that long again scouring every nook and cranny. Thankfully, after rolling credits, you are able to explore the entire map (which seems to have been hand drawn by the protagonist, and suits the aesthetic perfectly) at your leisure to snap up any remaining collectables you might have missed. And you will probably miss some, as they can be fiendishly well hidden, or heavily guarded. I considered attempting the platinum trophy, it certainly seems doable, but would require a hefty amount of exploration.

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I’m very happy  with my time spent with the game. Its narrative is fairly open ended, and I immediately went online to see other peoples interpretations of certain events. And it has stayed with me, its the kind of game that creeps up on you. I will be keeping a very close eye on the recently announced sequel Yomawari: Midnight Shadows, as I cant wait to see what the team does next. All in all I would recommend Yomawari: Night Alone to anyone looking for something a little bit different. Its a short experience, but memorable, and it played exceptionally well on the Vita.

Now if you will excuse me, I need to double check my door is locked.

K.

 

 

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I am one with the Hype. The Hype is with me.

Strap in, everybody. Not only are we getting a mainline Star Wars movie this year with The Last Jedi releasing in December, but we are also getting Star Wars Battlefront 2 on November 11. This is crazy to me! I’ve been a huge fan of basically everything Star Wars for as long as I can remember, and the high quality of content the franchise has been putting out has just been incredible. Lets just take a look at some of the features of Battlefront 2, shall we?

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  • A single player campaign penned by Mitch Dyer (formerly of IGN, and a good dude) and Walt Williams (Spec Ops: The Line). Really excited about this in particular, as Williams’ work on Spec Ops was truly fantastic, that game made me feel a whole lot of feelings!
  • Story will follow the captain of an elite Imperial commandos known as Inferno Squad, at least initially. Looks like both Luke Skywalker and Kylo Ren will be playable in the single player campaign!
  • This will be a canon story line, set just before the destruction of the second Death Star, all the way up to the events of The Force Awakens.
  • Of course, the entire multiplayer suite of the original Battlefront is looking to return, with a new class system and a stronger focus on space battles

I’m sure we will learn more about Star Wars Battlefront 2 at E3 in a couple of months, and I for one cannot wait! now if you will excuse me, I have to re-watch The Force Awakens and start watching Rebels to prepare myself. Might even pick up some of thos new canon novels, I hear Scoundrels by Timothy Zahn is quite good. I’ve included the link for the full length reveal trailer below, check it out and let me know what you think!

And may the Force be with you, always.

K.

 

Final Fantasy VI Review

Squaresoft, 1994.

“I’ll never let go. I promise.” Locke

I love video games, I have for as long as I can remember, and reviewing them is something that I have always wanted to do. Shouldn’t be too difficult, right? Wrong. I racked my brain for days, trying to decide on the perfect title to dissect. I wanted it to be an RPG, that was obvious. It had to be something that I had enjoyed personally, and what i would consider to be a classic. Something that had a memorable cast, engaging game play, and that told a story worth telling. Actually, looking back, once I had those parameters set, it shouldn’t have been as hard as it was.

Final Fantasy VI, released as Final Fantasy III in North America, is not my favourite game in the series. That honour belongs to the much maligned, and admittedly somewhat angsty Final Fantasy VIII. No, it’s not my favourite, but I do think it’s the most important. Its strong focus on narrative, and character arcs would be aped by RPG’s for decades to come, and its more character specific take on the ATB (Active Time Battle) is something I wish the series would return too, where an individual party member is more than just a blank slate.

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VI is the story of the mysterious, amnesiac Terra. Or arguably of the turncoat Imperial commander, Celes. I’ve even heard claims that the actual protagonist is the self styled treasure hunter/thief, Locke. And while today it’s tale of a ragtag rebel outfit resisting a nefarious empire might seem overplayed, but back in ’94 it was quite fresh (at least in video games). It’s a unique Final Fantasy game in that it’s hard to decide whose story it actually is, you could argue that XII is somewhat similar in that regard, but I digress.

Our story begins in the small mining village of Narshe, where an “Esper” is unearthed. Sent to claim it for the Empire, is the aforementioned amnesiac and initially brainwashed, Terra. Mounted on the imposing Imperial Magitek armour, slogging through the driving snow, and flanked by the ill-fated Biggs and Wedge, the opening cinematic is one of VI’s most iconic image’s, and should be instantly recognisable to any true RPG fan.

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It’s full of touching moments, too many to list. My favourite, though, would have to be the iconic ”coin” scene. Edgar, atop the battlements of Figaro castle who would, with the toss of a coin, seal his own fate and that of his twin brother Sabin… and that of an entire kingdom. It’s a scene that’s bound to tug at the heart strings of anyone with siblings, doubly so when you learn that the outcome was a foregone conclusion. And of course, the whole scene is set to a stand out tune on what is a truly extraordinary soundtrack – The Coin Song, a melancholy re-arrangement of the unforgettable Edgar & Sabin theme.

And speaking of soundtracks, Nobuo Ueamatsu’s work on VI may (in my humble opinion) just be the finest collection the great composer has ever produced. While I think other games in the series may have stronger tracks, (To Zanarkand, Those Who Fight Further, and The Man With The Machine Gun come to mind, from Final Fantasy’s X, VII and VIII, respectively) VI’s score as a cohesive whole is quite simply masterful. It feature’s rousing anthems, like the aforementioned Edgar & Sabin’s Theme and Cayenne, to more sombre piece’s like The Mystic Forest and Forever Rachel. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the games boss battle theme – The Decisive Battle. My personal favourite track, I once heard a street performer play a stripped down acoustic version on my very first visit to Akihabra, making it both a song and a day I will never forget. It never failed to get me pumped up for a boss fight, and really, what more can you ask of a boss theme?

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“The Reaper is always one step behind me” – Shadow

Gameplay is very much traditional Final Fantasy, which is to say, it utilises the ATB system, and is very story focused. For those unfamiliar, the ATB system is a turn-based combat system in which the players characters are able to attack when their action gauge is full, with some attacks/abilities taking a little longer. The speed at which a characters turn comes around is tied to their speed stat, and can be influenced with spells such as Haste. Its a tense system, as it has a feeling of randomness to it, and you cant see your foe’s gauge so you never know what attack you will be hit with next. The basic gameplay loop consists of narrative scenes and dungeon crawling with a surprising amount of side-questing, which is truly impressive considering this was released as a 16-bit game. And of course, random battles. One of my favourite aspects of VI’s battle system is that each of the games fourteen playable characters have a unique skill that makes them feel truly different, making the choice of what party members to bring alone feel less arbitrary, and more like choosing the right man (or woman, and whatever Gogo is) for the job at hand.

Like most games in the Final Fantasy series, VI is a game that needs be experienced to truly understand why it is more than just the sum of its parts. Sure, it has an engaging narrative, a cast free of the many tropes found in the genre today, and an incredible soundtrack. It has an engaging battle system and tons of replay value. Its art style is original and instantly recognisable, and it has a truly evil arch villain (Kefka) that actually achieves his goals, and the better part of the game is spent trying to deal with the consequences of that. How many games can you name where that is the case?

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You think a minor thing like the end of the world was gonna do me in?” Sabin

Any of those qualities alone would make for a great game. But its the way these elements are woven together so effortlessly that truly makes VI such a timeless game. Its that, and its so much more. Developers are still trying to recapture VI’s magic,for the most part unsuccessfully. It has so much heart, and it’s full of real emotion. Its a story of growth, and of redemption. It’s a tale of longing, and of timeless love. Its an epic of adversity, and of friendship. It’s a fantasy based in reality….

And it’s a journey I would recommend taking.

K.