Review – Yuoni
If there is one thing that Japan does pretty well on a tight budget, it’s horror. Just look at their catalogue of captivating low-budget horror movies, like The Ring (Ring) and The Grudge (Ju-On). We don’t see a lot of low-budget games coming from Japan, though, as their indie scene is still in its infancy when compared to other parts of the world. If you want a Japanese horror game, you’ll get a big bloated AAA like Resident Evil, or a remaster of a cult hit like Fatal Frame. Yuoni is here to bring a new take of horror to the masses, but ultimately it ends up falling flat because of its low budget.
Before you raise the pitchforks, no, I’m not saying that I don’t like low budget games. That would be absurd. In fact, the hindrances caused by a limited budget are usually what causes developers to get more creative in their endeavors. It’s a limitation that promotes creativity. The difference is that Yuoni did not take advantage of this hurdle in order to stand out. It basically accepted its limitations when it came to the quality of its visuals, scare factor, and how it delivers its story. Please note that I’m mostly pointing out to HOW its story is told as an issue, and not the story itself. In fact, the latter is probably the game’s highlight.
Yuoni is a game about a group of students trying to summon the ghost of a kid by drowning a cursed doll into a bucket of water. This ghost then “invites” the protagonist to the titular game of “Yuoni”, which is basically a demonic version of hide-and-seek: win the game, and the ghost boy will grant you a wish. Lose the game, and… well, you probably know what will happen. In between chapters you are presented with more detailed information about your main character and the ghost boy, as well as the world around you. But here lies the problem: it’s all a bunch of text with a static background. Most of the story isn’t told in a natural manner during the game itself, which would have made it much spookier.
The story is great. I like the detailed explanation regarding the ghost kid, as well as the troubles the protagonist faces. Too bad I would have preferred to see this unfold in any other way besides a borderline visual novel presentation in between levels, as Yuoni doesn’t exactly excel in its level design or in its bare bones gameplay. It’s yet another “hide from the bad guys because you are defenseless” kind of horror game popularized by Amnesia and Outlast, albeit without the good level design or intriguing presentation that made these games so popular.
Most of the game’s environments are cramped corridors which are either way too dark for their own good, or lambasted with an excessively strong bloom effect, all while running on an uneven framerate. You’ll constantly have to face dealing with a ghost in a corridor, but that isn’t a tense situation at all. You’ll need to press down the “hold your breath button”, then for some reason mash R1 and L1 repeatedly in order to not lose your breath, all while maintaining complete silence against these ghosts that act like bats. I ended up making a LOT of noise with my controller on what should have been a silent stealth section, ironically enough.
There are other bewildering issues that should have been fixed prior to launch, especially since they are so simple to tinker with to the point they shouldn’t have existed in the first place. One of these issues is the fact that you cannot use the D-pad on menus. You’re limited to the analog stick and its sensitivity is jacked up to eleven, making the sole act of choosing an option way harder than it should be. The other issue is the really poor sound mixing. I get that the game wants you to be as slow and quiet as possible, but my steps are louder than a Manowar concert and I have no idea why.
I don’t even think that technical issues and poor level design are Yuoni‘s biggest issues. It’s just not scary at all. It doesn’t have a bad story, but the way it’s told neuters it potential potency. It’s less of a horror game and more of an underwhelming stealth adventure through dark corridors, where you have to occasionally get past a few shiny children and unkillable enemies. I appreciate that the developers were trying to come up with a new take on the genre whilst having to deal with what’s clearly a very low budget, but it’s still far from being even an average-at-best horror game in a borderline saturated genre.
Even if the assets used in the game aren’t underwhelming, the lighting effects and uneven framerate sure are.
Yuoni is your standard “hide from the ghosts” kind of horror game. Its controls aren’t terrible, but the enemy placement and level design left a lot to be desired. There are other glitches and poor design decisions scattered throughout the game as well.
Poor sound mixing and an average-at-best soundtrack remove any semblance of horror and tension that Yuoni is so desperately trying to sell.
Fun Factor: 4.0
There is a nice concept in here, at least story-wise. Sadly, Yuoni suffers from a boring gameplay loop and a very underwhelming way in which its story is told, making it one of the least scary horror games I’ve played in a while.
Final Verdict: 4.0
Yuoni is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, and PC.
Reviewed on PS5.
A copy of Yuoni was provided by the publisher.