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Yuoni Review

Yuoni

Going back to school is one of the most melancholic feelings a kid can experience. You get filled with anxiety and dread as you wonder “where did all the time go?”. Every kid eagerly waits to get out of class and rush back to their comfy home, but what if you were stuck in school for an eternity?

Ai, a 10 year-old, while oft unnoticed by ghostly eyes, will not be forgotten by history. A simple girl with but a single purpose; to hide and seek dolls for a phantom child. Trapped in a labyrinth made of memories of school and hospitals, Ai must play her way out of an eternal game.

Yuoni is a first-person horror adventure game- one of many in the vast ocean of options. Like other games like it, there is no combat options and most of the gameplay revolves around exploring environments, finding key-items and evading threats. How is Yuoni different from the rest? Find out in our Yuoni review!

Yuoni
Developer: Tricore Inc.
Publisher: Chorus Worldwide Games
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch (reviewed)
Release Date: July 28, 2022
Players: 1
Price: $15.99 USD 

Yuoni is a case of a developer having a solid idea but lacking the means to fully realize its potential. The developer’s strengths lie in art direction and writing, but beyond that is where the game falters and the limitations hit Yuoni hard.

The first thing gamers will notice is that Yuoni looks very good for a Unity game made by a small team. There is a lot of attention to detail in the 3D models of the environments that make them feel lived in and great care was put into the lighting. Even with the low-spec Switch, lighting effects look convincing.

The lighting makes many of the environments glow with an inviting warmth that contrasts with the harrowing circumstances. It feels hot, heavy, and humid; especially with the loud chirping cicadas filling the dead air and the caws of distant, panicking crow. It is the kind of ambiance that makes your skin feel itchy and oily- dirty, yet real too.

The opening moments just impressed you with its visuals. You just did a simple tutorial stage where Ai must go find some hidden dolls and bring them back to a bucket of water while sneaking past some paralysis demons and now you are ready for the game to ramp up. The next stage begins and it is almost the exact same thing.

Same objectives, same assets and room layouts, but shuffled in different arrangement. The threats are remixed and players will still find themselves hiding under beds, lockers and crouching while holding their breath to creep past sensory deprived gangly ghosts.

This is also probably why the game is also so intensely brief. There is just not enough content to fill out a varied and balanced enough experience. Within an hour, players will have seen almost everything Yuoni has to offer. Bearing in mind- the game is not an hour long, it just takes an hour for Yuoni to show its entire hand.

This is not like Fobia: St Dinfna Hotel where the environment is packed with meaningful details and there are various cheeky puzzles to solve. Yuoni is a game where players have to find an object and bring it back to home base every time while exploiting the enemy’s senses.

There are a few enemy types and each one reacts to Ai in different ways. Some are blind, some can’t hear, and then there are boss phantoms that can move through walls during the end stage chase. The trick is to manage Ai’s breath gauge for maximum silence and tapping a face-button to quickly catch her breath between safer areas.

This balancing act of tug-of-war is the most exciting aspect of Yuoni’s game mechanics; not finding a doll and chucking it in a fire or bucket. Stealthily moving through the various hospital and school halls and dipping into a room quickly as a vengeful spirit closes in to investigate is exhilarating.

A lot of the excitement is due to the excellent sound design and pounding breathing from Ai that further emphasizes the tension. It is a shame that not much else is done with the game’s premise. What Yuoni needed was some actual puzzles and more thoughtful level design instead of haphazard and interchangeable hallways.

Between each gameplay chunk, the story unfolds in the form of static images and text. This is disappointing since the imagery is not stimulating and there is no interaction. Thankfully, the writing is strong enough to capture the player’s imagination.

Everything is written from the POV of a 10 year-old and it feels authentic. Sentences are very descriptive and are emotionally charged as one would expect from a preteen girl who is facing the prospect of potentially being trapped in purgatory with a ghost who torments her.

When completing the game, the reward is more text and lore that expands Yuoni and has connections to Yuoni: Rises. This is apparently a franchise centering on 1990s era Japan, when there was still some mystery left in the world. Anyone who is a fan of this series will probably get a kick out of this, but everyone else won’t care.

At the very least, Yuoni does manage to feel scary at times and the spirits do have a strong creep factor. Catching a glimpse of these things will make hair stand on ends and make your blood run cold. It is too bad that the consequences for failure are not punishing enough. After dying to these things and respawning a few times, their effectiveness does wane.

Yuoni is a very standard example of the hide-and-seek variety of first-person horror games. It has decent graphics, even on Switch, but the gameplay is stretched incredibly thin and is over before you know it. For its price, Yuoni is a decent diversion. It lacks depth and has a few cheap thrills that make it a casual play for when Halloween rolls around.

Yuoni was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a copy provided by Chorus Worldwide Games. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. Yuoni is now available for Windows PC (via Steam), PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S and Nintendo Switch.

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The Verdict: 6

The Good

  • Unsettling ghost designs
  • Effective writing that sets the mood and atmosphere
  • Tense hide-and-seek gameplay and breath management
  • Well-earned scares

The Bad

  • New game plus narrative content does not amount to much
  • Copy pasted assets are overused
  • Too short, yet spread too thin
  • Lacking consequences diminishes threat and fear

About

A youth destined for damnation.