Barcelona, Spain. Not the location that most people will think of for the development of a psychological horror game with a strong Japanese twist, is it? Still, it is here that Endflame are based, the creators of a new entry in the horror genre that goes by the name of Ikai. Can a new entry to the genre be worth playing, or is it as scary as an episode of Teletubbies? Let’s head back to feudal Japan and find out.
The story of Ikai is definitely in there, somewhere, and while it isn’t immediately obvious, you’ll be pleased to know that the end of the narrative is just as vague as the start. I mean, who plays a psychological horror for the story right? From what I can gather, we are Naoko, a priestess or maybe a servant at the shrine that serves a village. Our uncle, the actual priest, has to leave and go to the nearby village, so that he can quell the threat of a new demon, as we are left alone to sweep the floor and do laundry, as well as play imaginary tag in our memories. We have to go to the river to wash the clothes, but while there, we are attacked, or have a fainting spell, or something happens, and now in the dark, all the traditional Japanese monsters have come out to play. Can we keep our shrine safe and cleanse it of the evil that seems to have infected it?
Ikai is presented from a first person perspective, as we gaze out from behind the eyes of Naoko. What this game does do very well is evoke the scary feeling, the almost claustrophobic vibe of being in a forest and a deserted shrine in the middle of the night, alone. However, despite being apparently optimised for Xbox Series X|S, the visuals are somewhat flaky, with texture pop-in happening far too frequently. Some textures have even refused to load at all; never a great look.
As we explore, we find notes that tell us about the various types of creatures we are going to be facing, such as Yokai, and weird bouncing heads that jump out of trees and try to squash poor innocent passers by. These creatures are depicted in a traditional style, and while not scary in the way that Nemesis in Resident Evil is, perhaps, they are still suitably creepy. The sound work is also not too bad, but a special mention has to go to the voice over work, which being kind, sounds like it has been phoned in by those who really couldn’t care less about what they were trying to portray. Basically, while the graphics help draw us into the game and instil a feeling of dread, as soon as Naoko opens her mouth, it is dispelled just as quickly.
What about the actual gameplay, how does that stack up? Well, in a word, it’s is very much okay. Naoko can’t fight in the traditional sense of the word, and certainly she isn’t going to go toe-to-toe with the creatures she meets. It appears discretion is very much the better part of valour in Ikai, and running away is a very viable tactic. So, with combat off the table, what can Naoko do? Well, she can indulge in a little light calligraphy, as if there’s something that Japanese Oni hate more than some neat scribbles on a bit of paper, I don’t know what it is.
This mechanic is introduced in the beginning, with Naoko having to draw some protective seals for the priest to take with him, and this is pretty much the whole game. Wander around a bit, do some puzzles in odd places, draw a bit, then move on. There are only two real areas to explore, the forest and the shrine/tunnels area, and so while the enemies do change as the game goes on, and new puzzles are added, this feels more like a walking simulator than a horror game. Having to light a lamp so you can see to draw is about as deep as the combat side goes, and while some of the puzzles are a little trickier, none are exactly rock hard. I really hated the gate puzzle to get into the forest, as it seems like such a faff to get a gate to open. Can you imagine having to do this every time you wanted to open a door? Craziness.
Any other issues with Ikai, I hear you ask? Well, the localisation is an issue, as the translation from whatever language the game was written in (I’m going to assume Japanese, due to the source material) is pretty ropy to say the least. The subtitles don’t make a huge amount of sense, but then Naoko pretty much says what is in the subtitles, so the dialogue doesn’t make much sense either.
Honestly, I really wanted Ikai to be good; like a flashback to the Project Zero games and the way they brought Japanese horror to life. But sadly it stumbles well short of those titles. The action is dull, and while the monsters are nice, you never really feel like you are in any danger; as such the horror part of Ikai falls flat too. There are some good ideas here, and a good atmosphere can be created, but overall it is just disappointing.
Ikai can be found over at the Xbox Store
- Good atmosphere can be made
- The Japanese creatures are traditional, which is nice to see
- Drawing mechanic is a newish touch
- Ultimately dull, and graphical issues don’t help
- No sense of peril is created
- Localisation is problematic
- Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - PM Studios
- Formats - Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS4, PS5, Switch, PC
- Version reviewed - Xbox Series X
- Release date - 29 Mar 2022
- Launch price from - £12.49