By Anthony L. Cuaycong
NIPPON Ichi Software (NIS) has been known to push the envelope in terms of offerings for popular genres, so it’s no surprise to find Yomawari: The Long Night Collection eschewing the usual survival horror mechanics. The intent is clear: to rattle gamers and get them out of their comfort zones using hitherto unfamiliar techniques. Visually, for instance, the chibi-style characters don’t seem to fit in a setting designed to elicit fear and trepidation. And the fact that proceedings are perused from an isometric vantage point serves only to highlight the incongruity.
Yet, it’s clear from the outset that NIS succeeds in making what looks to be one square peg fit in the invariably round hole. Literally two and a half minutes are all it takes for gamers to become immersed in Yomawari: Night Alone, the first of the two titles that comprise the compilation. An unnamed girl takes her dog out for a walk in the woods. A pebble throw later, her pet is hit by a truck and then disappears, with a track of blood the lone evidence of the development. Her agitation leads her older sister to look for it, only to be lost as well. Her ensuing search for them propels the adventure, which involves evading monsters and spirits across suburbia armed with just a flashlight and a hopefully sustainable supply of wit to complete the ultimate objective.
The same premise and approach are taken by Yomawari: Midnight Shadows, albeit via two alternately controllable characters in search of a friend. Wandering in dimly lit streets heightens the feeling of dread, with gamers alerted to the presence of monsters by the sound of a heart pounding faster. As the threats come closer, the beats increase accordingly; absent any other audio inputs, they ramp up the anticipation. And because there are no means of fighting back, the scares are magnified.
Significantly, Yomawari: The Long Night Collection doesn’t cheat in this regard. Long on suspense, it keeps cheap thrills to a bare minimum. It places a premium on stealth, quick reaction, and, yes, flight for the lead characters to stay alive. Proper management of the stamina bar, which depletes quickly with frenzied activity, is thereby crucial. As careful as gamers may negotiate their way around town, however, death figures to be inevitable; it’s part and parcel of a learning curve that enables them to do better while coming from the last save point.
From the outside looking in, Yomawari: The Long Night Collection’s preferential option for subtlety comes across as a big risk. The norm for horror releases involves bombast: violent jump cuts, audio-visual cues aimed at eliciting startling reactions, larger-than-life depictions of relentless enemies, even Rambo-like payback. In stark contrast, Yomawari: Night Alone and Yomawari: Midnight Shadows deliberately go for the opposite. They initially calm gamers with cute graphics, then build up tension and sustain the suspense with hints of peril. They show just what the flashlight shines on, emit close to nothing save for ambient noise and a beating heart, highlight the reward of safety as temporal, and mete the penalty of mortality in an instant.
So, no, there are no out-and-out action sequences in Yomawari: The Long Night Collection. There are no rocket launchers to collect or elaborate traps to concoct. The setting is, on surface, idyllic, and the narrative unfolds at a pace that leans towards the purposive and is never forced. Still, at no time are gamers assured; rather, they stay on their toes throughout, uneasy about what comes next and apprehensive of the consequences. Nonetheless, both Yomawari: Night Alone and Yomawari: Midnight Shadows manage to shock and awe. Because the hazard is hinted at and because death results from a touch, every step is replete with anxiety.
Concomitantly, Yomawari: The Long Night Collection benefits from the simplicity of its interface. Movements and interactions with surroundings are intuitive, further encouraging exploration. And the gains are abundant; even as puzzles are few and far between, hidden gems abound for completists. If nothing else, they underscore the importance of experimentation, critical to moving forward given the uniqueness and variety of antagonists.
All told, Yomawari: The Long Night Collection is an outstanding addition to the survival horror category of games. It shuns the status quo and winds up fulfilling its purpose precisely because it defies expectations. Depending on mood and intent, gamers can be entrenched in its twin storylines for 15 to 30 hours, a stunning feat for a release that relies more on ambience than action to feature its value proposition. It’s unapologetic in what it sets out to do, and unfailing in its intent to flourish. Which, in the final analysis, is exactly why it does. Highly recommended.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (PlayStation 4) — Ubisoft’s Assassins’s Creed is, without a doubt, one of its most profitable video game franchises to date. What started off back in 2007 as an unknown title in the stealth/exploration genre has grown into a well-loved and influential series. And, as with all things, wisdom accompanies age; the franchise has seen fit to evolve with each new release, adding in newer and better features and, in the process, highlighting parts that hitherto made it enjoyable. Meanwhile, core aspects, including exploration and freeform design, have remained unchanged even with tweaks to approach and presentation.
As the latest entry in the series, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey features an independent storyline set in Greece during the Peloponnesian War. Players control either Alexios or Kassandra, mercenaries from the island of Cephalonia who find themselves slowly entangled in a conspiracy of lies and deceit. Embroiled in a war spanning the country’s entirety while challenged by a mysterious cult out to end their lives and those of their loved ones, they become compelled to use whatever means necessary to survive. In so doing, they craft, forge, and upgrade weapons, learn new skills, and travel across lands on foot or by sea, all while seeking to unite their family and expose and overcome the cult’s designs.
At heart, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is all about the journey, and it shows through the slow ramp-up of its story. Starting off on a small, secluded island, the chosen protagonist sets sail away from its shores and discovers a rich and bountiful land waiting to be discovered. Various landmarks, cities, and tombs dot the new world, offering a wide variety of rewards and often exuding a Tomb Raider-esque vibe during exploration. The main characters are able to climb, and cling to, practically every surface, making movement a breeze, not a chore. A new undiscovered point of interest is always another place to discover, another dungeon to explore, and another city to mark on the map.
Naturally, threats abound, and the main protagonists are more than prepared to take their measure. Armed with the Spear of Leonidas and combined with their natural agility, they are able to take down opponents through either stealth or combat. The former is brutally effective, often leading to situations where most opponents are put down with one strike. With later skills giving access to things such chain kills, poison attacks, and stuns, it becomes a vital tool when faced with multiple opponents.
That said, direct combat is no less effective in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. With a wide variety of weapons — from swords to daggers to tridents — on hand, and with the main characters boasting of unique skills and move sets and skills, players won’t be hard-pressed to fall back on blades if need be. Then, too, they can rely on their bow to gain a significant edge, engaging foes in long range and picking them off or even pulling out of sight to reengage under superior terms.
Parenthetically, it’s the wealth of options on offer that makes Assassin’s Creed Odyssey stand out. It doesn’t hold players’ hands; rather, it engages them right from the get-go. There’s a tutorial for their bearings to be set; after that, however, they’re left to fend for themselves, free to drive the narrative as they please and at their pace. Keen on tackling side quest after side quest? No problem. Partial to furthering the plot as quickly as possible? Sure. Amid the myriad options are such worthy diversions as ship combat, gear crafting, mercenary hunting, and conquest battles.
True, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey can be repetitive and feel recycled. For all its abundance of charm, a few options carry less potential to keep players engaged. For instance, hardly any side quests have actual impact on the main story, and while attempts have been made to make the players’ choices while on one more relevant, the design does tend to fall flat on its face in the grand scheme of things. The emphasis on quantity comes at the expense of quality, likewise evident in the grinding required to advance. Even as it specifies reasonable triggers for leveling up early on, it becomes progressively difficult to the point of being unfair; at some point, clearing entire areas of side objectives becomes necessary to gain the experience required for advancement.
Nonetheless, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey manages to acquit itself well en route to underscoring its status as the best game in the series to date, with much to offer to old and new fans alike. With its revamped combat system and fun exploration mechanics, it figures to have legs, slated to last far longer than other titles in the series did. (8.5/10)
Video Game Review
Yomawari: The Long Night Collection
• Simple but engrossing storyline
• Understated art and sound designs
• Intuitive interface
• Consistent in scope and intent
• Encourages exploration
• Definitive payoffs
• One-step-back, two-steps-forward approach frustrates on occasion
• Instantaneous death