Review – Ikai

The subgenre of Japanese horror has been seeing a bit of a resurgence as of late, and that’s not a bad thing at all. We’ve seen it all: Fatal Frame made a small return, with Maiden of Black Water being ported over to modern systems. Ghostwire: Tokyo delved heavily into Japanese folklore, meshing it with a modern urban setting. One could even argue that Nioh made the cut as well, with some awesome enemy designs and really tense moments. Ikai, from Endflame and PM Studios, is the latest horror title to follow this excerpt to attempt to deliver a properly scary experience. Key word here being “attempt”.

Ikai Yokai

Some decent yōkai designs scattered throughout the game. Sadly, none of them actually felt like a threat.

In Ikai, you play as Naoko, a priestess of a shrine she is looking after whilst the main priest is away. Whilst doing one of her routine jobs, something goes incredibly wrong, and monsters start to invade the temple. You will spend much of the game’s runtime finding ways to seal these yōkai away, trying to return everything back to normal. Ikai is pretty light on story, with no big cinematics or important plot points. It actually delivers most of its narrative information during some really exposition-heavy segments.

Much of the gameplay is spent simply exploring the temple grounds in a relatively short two to three hour long story. Within this small single location, you will be solving puzzles, and running and hiding away from the aforementioned yōkai, who will murder you pretty quickly if you get caught. It’s a basic premise for a horror game, and it will do nothing to wow you. The controls aren’t that great either, especially when interacting with doors and other objects.

Puzzles are fairly standard, often ranging from something as simple (and brain-dead) as moving an object in the environment to things a bit more obtuse and exploration-focused. Those were the game’s “highlights”, as they forced me to comb through the map for a clue I needed in order to progress. They comprised the largest bulk of what Ikai had to offer, and certainly won’t be for everyone. Some will call them overly frustrating, while others will appreciate the sensation of accomplishment once finally getting the solution. Your enjoyment of this game may very well depend on how much you enjoy solving puzzles in general.

Ikai Icons

Those icons did a great job of ruining my immersion.

Ikai was pretty tense from the moment I booted it up, up until the very end. The shrine was very well-designed, and the yōkai roaming the place were actually way creepier than I could have expected from a game like this. With that being said, the game never managed to scare me, even once. I shrugged off and even laughed at some of Ikai‘s attempts at throwing a jump scare at me. The yōkai, while creepy, never felt like a threat, as it was pretty easy to run away from them. Other sequences involving stealth were heavily scripted, with the game telling you where I needed to go.

Visually Ikai isn’t that ugly of a game. It actually boasts some really good yōkai designs, leaning more closely to more traditional styles than those we have been seeing in more recent Japanese horror games. The central location, the aforementioned shrine, is also well-crafted. However, I couldn’t help but feel like the game was lacking in detail at times. Furthermore, I have noticed some framerate, input lag and loading time issues when playing game on my Xbox One X. The sound department was just average. The soundtrack and sound effects were decent enough, but the game eventually lost me with its underwhelming voice acting.


Ikai was occasionally tense, but never scary.

Ikai was a horror title I was actually really looking forward to. A game steeped in Japanese folklore in a self contained location could (and to be fair, should) have made for an absolutely terrifying and unique experience. However, it just didn’t manage to make the cut: its short runtime, generic gameplay loop and complete lack of scares resulted in a really underwhelming and, more often than not, frustrating, horror title you should avoid. 


Graphics: 7.0

Great yōkai designs in a wonderfully crafted shrine location. With that being said, the game more often than not just feels lacking in detail. The framerate wasn’t decent either.

Gameplay: 4.0

As far as horror games go, Ikai is very standard (aka unoriginal) in its core gameplay loop. It also suffers from input lag and really long loading times.

Sound: 6.0

Nothing memorable about the sound design, but its voice acting just doesn’t live up to modern horror standards.

Fun Factor: 4.0

Ikai is a collection of good ideas wrapped in a mediocre horror-themed package. Avoid this one. 

Final Verdict: 5.0

Ikai is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, PC, and Switch. 

Reviewed on Xbox One X. 

A copy of Ikai was provided by the publisher.