Tutorials, although necessary in many games, are usually boring and/or interrupt the flow of the game and its story. Yomawari -- aka the cutest little horror game ever -- plays on this fact to make a tutorial that both shocks you and teaches you all you need to know to play the game.
[Note: This article spoils the first 10 minutes of Yomawari. You have been warned.]
Yomawari sets the stage showing our player character, a little girl, standing at sunset outside an ominous looking tunnel with her dog, Poro.
"Poro, a-actually let's go back."
"We're going, Poro"
The game then gives us its first on-screen prompt: How to move by pushing the left thumb stick. Already, you feel your eyes start to glaze over and your mind check out as you enter "tutorial mode."
From there you continue down the path and the game informs you that you can press R to run.
As you do, something dashes across the path behind you -- but nothing else comes. Just an ominous jump scare.
When the road turns, the screen brightens and the haunting ambient noise abates. Clearly you are safe now and so the game teaches you its next trick, how to strafe. At this point, this ability is completely useless and it is taught now for one reason only: to lull you into a familiar sense of tutorial monotony -- reinforcing the idea that the little girl you are piloting is out of danger.
As you walk down this new road, a rock falls from above. And a question mark appears above the girl's head -- letting you know when she sees something she can interact with.
The tutorial takes this chance to tell you how to pick up items.
And now that you've picked up the rock, the tutorial forces you to equip it.
Well, now that it's equipped, all that's left is to have you press the square button to throw it…
Nice going Player 1, you just killed that poor little girl's dog.
You just had to press the square button, didn't you?
Why weren't you paying more attention? Did you think that throwing a ball-sized rock into the middle of a road wouldn't cause the dog to try and get it?
Of course, the real reason it probably never crossed your mind is that tutorials in games are safe spaces. You often can't even lose as the game teaches you its basics. But in Yomawari, your casual, unthinking button press in the tutorial is the impetus for the entire game.
While that's the big shock right off the bat, the rest of the tutorial is excellent in another way. Now that the tutorial text prompts have served their purpose -- to trick you into killing the poor dog -- they are largely absent from the rest of the tutorial.
When you return home -- forlornly dragging the now empty collar -- you meet your older sister.
"Welcome ho -- …huh?"
"What happened to Poro?"
"Did he get loose…?"
"I'll go look for him for you."
"You wait here."
"I'll definitely bring him back…"
"It will be ok. Even alone I'll be able to find him."
When the game fades back in, it's full night.
"Big Sis is… late…"
"Let's go look for her."
One of the cool things you've probably noticed is the use of fonts. The game never gives names to its characters (other than Poro). Rather, you can tell who is talking by the font. For the tutorial, it's a standard computer font. For the sister, it's nice hand-written letters. For our tiny heroine, it's shaky, crayon-drawn letters.
Now for the first time, you're free to explore -- but not really. The game has street barricades set up to at least herd you in the right general direction.
"It's looks like I won't be able to go through here."
As you move down the street you come to a street lamp with a ghostly figure standing under it…
…that disappears as you approach.
Yet, as you travel further down the street, your heart starts pumping -- beating faster and faster as you approach another figure under a street lamp. But this one doesn't disappear.
After the jump scare, the game forces your girl to run a few steps away before returning control to you. The message is clear: run!
As you gain distance between you and the ghost, one helpful fact becomes clear: The further you are from a ghost, the slower your heart beats.
But before you can feel truly safe, you approach the next lamp post -- only for a ghost to become visible as he dashes into the light. You're only hope is to try to run around him. From this encounter, you learn two things: 1) Ghosts are invisible if there is no light shining on them; and 2) the closer you are to a ghost, the faster your running power depletes.
Past this ghost you follow a narrow street till it dead ends at an empty lot.
Good news, you've found your sister! Bad news…
"You surprised me! Did you come looking for me?"
"… Come here."
"Hide in this bush and close your eyes."
"No matter what happens, don't open your eyes."
"No matter what! Do you understand?"
This scene introduces hiding, your only defence against ghosts. As per your sister's warning, from here on out, you'll close your eyes whenever you hide -- leaving it up to your ears to decide whether it is safe or not.
"I wonder if she just went home."
"Let's go home and see."
Here the tutorial voice reappears to show you how to pull out the map.
A map drawn entirely in crayon. (The cuteness!) Well, the path is basically clear, so it's time to head back the way you came. Just one thing first: What's that sparkle?
"I picked up a flashlight."
"I wonder if it's Big Sis'…"
"Let's see if we can turn it on."
OK, it's big but slow moving and… oh no. A shadow man, right in the middle of the road. You won't be able to get around him. So it's time to use what you just learned.
In the bush with your eyes shut, your heart beat now acts as a sort of radar, showing you the general direction in which the monsters are located and alerting you to their approach by your quickening pulse.
Alright, you got past that one but it looks like your way is blocked. You have no choice but to lure the shadow man to the side and run past.
As you near home, you come across, a 10 yen coin on the ground.
A few steps further on you find a small Jizo Buddha statue -- the game's save points.
"Shall I make a 10 yen offering?"
After saving, you're only a block from your house. There are some conspicuous trash bags -- and there are items inside.
Half a block from home, a hand comes out of the sewer and grabs you. However, while your heart beat is going crazy and you can't move, you aren't dying either. After a moment, it fades away. This is the tutorial's final lesson to you: Not all the ghosts you see will kill you.
But home though you might be, you are alone.
"Big Sis isn't here…"
Indeed. Your long night is just beginning.
Yomawari was released in Japan for the PlayStation Vita on 29 October 2015. There is currently no word on a Western release.