There is something undeniably creepy about ghosts who happen to also be children. Monsters? Pah. Crumbling zombie? Puh-leese. Small child ghost? Oh hells nah! Look at Alma from the F.E.A.R. games, the twins from The Shining; all have put the willies up me to varying degrees. Well, there’s now a new kid on the block with the latest game from Tricore – Yuoni. Taking a first person perspective and putting you in the diminutive shoes of a 10-year old protagonist, the scene is set for a good scare. Are you ready?
The child we play as is called Ai, and she is almost mute, nearly crippled by shyness. Despite this, when she moves to a new class in school, a group of children seem to take her under their collective wing, and she finds herself invited to go with them when they do things outside of school. One of the things they choose to do is pay a visit to a local haunted house, to try and summon up the spirit of a child who died there. The way to do this apparently is to find a doll and place it in a bucket of water. I mean, if I was a ghost, there’s nothing I’d fancy more than a soggy doll. Anyway, the rest of the gang do the ritual with nothing happening, and finally it is our turn. And wouldn’t you know, the ghost appears and decides that we are going to be playing together, unless we can break the spell.
And how do we break the spell? Well, it appears that the only way is to take the doll that summoned our little friend up, and then burn it. Seems simple enough, right? Well, it’s going to be anything but, I can tell you. You see, as the ghost tightens his grip on the world, more and more elements from the spirit world will bleed over into the real world, until we are left in a world of permanent dusk, with other spirits creeping around the halls we have to navigate.
Ai is no Ghostbuster, and if she sees a ghost, depending on its type, she has only limited options available. Some ghosts (the most common type) are blind, but have very good hearing. To get past these, Ai must hold her breath and move slowly, staying out of their paths. Other types of ghosts can see but are deaf; hiding in side rooms or lockers (like a mini Solid Snake) will see you past these. The main child ghost, who is coloured red when you spot him, can see and hear, and sneaking past him is a matter of learning his patterns. There are others though, including one that chases you back through the level once you finally have the doll. A top tip when being pursued by the “boss” ghost of the level is to avoid stepping on any red circles you see, as the child ghost will grab you; you cannot afford the time it takes to break free if you are going to escape.
This then is the sum of the gameplay on offer in Yuoni: sneak, hide, hold your breath and die when you get caught. Obviously, being 10, Ai cannot hold her breath indefinitely, and it takes a little while for her to get her breath back. You can speed up this process at risk of making noise, so the risk vs reward element is alive and well here. Planning your moves, making sure you know exactly what type of ghost is in the hall in front of you, and staying away from broken glass as it is the ghostly equivalent of ringing the dinner bell, ensures this is all quite a tense, claustrophobic experience.
The story of the game is told via the medium of flashbacks, with all of a sudden a blinding white screen appearing with some angry sounding Japanese voice over work. While it does take some piecing together, there is an overarching narrative here to find.
Graphically, Yuoni does quite a lot with relatively little. The environments are small – either condensed rooms or thin corridors – with various obstacles to surmount and ghosts to avoid. It does however do a very good job of capturing what it must feel like to be a defenceless child. Trying to sneak past to run away, remembering where the nearest hidey hole was, sneaking around with her hand over her mouth, Yuoni is also able to create the spooky atmosphere required. Throw in some equally chilling sound, and not since Project Zero (Fatal Frame overseas) have I not been able to hear the sound of Japanese chimes without getting a chill down my spine.
For the most part Yuoni sets out to be spooky – and it largely succeeds, with the first couple of levels being pretty frightening to play through. However, after this, a bit of deja vu begins to set in. It’s not long before you’ve seen all the ghosts, and know what to do, and this means the rest of the game then rapidly becomes just a grind to get through. It’s never a chore to play, but I have to admit that by the end a bit of tedium does creep in. It isn’t a bad game, but it just runs out of ideas quite quickly and begins to just repeat scenarios you have already seen.
There are a few graphical oddities as well, such as the camera freaking out if you hide with a ghost snapping at your heels. The best of the supernatural survival games introduce new mechanics and enemies throughout the play time, yet Yuoni doesn’t, and it suffers for it. If you fancy a bit of a scare, you could do worse than play Yuoni, but there are better games out there as well.
Optimised for Series X|S, you can grab Yuoni from the Xbox Store