Glitched out texts, lush water colours and abandoned towns: Yurei Station, a visual novel that came out a few weeks ago on itch.io, uses these elements to create a horror game that lingers with you long after you're done with it.
Yurei Station was created by Atelier Santô, a French comics and game dev duo who make work based on their travels in Japan. You play as a young girl who is receiving creepy texts and decides to take a spooky, possibly haunted train to find their source.
Yurei Station was created with high school students during a two day workshop. The developers work mostly in water colours, and the game employs these kinds of hand-drawn illustrations beautifully. Everything depicted in the game has a charm to it, from the familiar rendering of a smartphone to the otherworldly drawings of ghosts and abandoned shrines. In particular I loved the drawing just before the main character gets off at the titular ghost train station. She stands at the precipice of a town long deserted, the only light coming from orange lanterns. It feels ominous, and a little sad.
A lot of short, indie horror games rely on grotesque imagery to create a scary mood, but Yurei Station draws on what lies in your peripheral vision, what you almost see but can't quite focus on. You know the main character is missing someone, and that they suspect that the creepy texts they're getting may be from him, but the game brings you right up the edge of understanding rather than laying it all out through its lush illustrations. You might not ever really know what lays at the heart of this short game, and that unsolved mystery sticks with you.
The game's light puzzles, which are sometimes obtuse, add to the sense of foreboding. Like the horror elements, the puzzles drew me in. It felt as if by completing the few puzzles the game offers I was straying further and further into a world beyond my control.
The kind of horror that Yurei Station creates lingers once you've finished the game. The main character of Yurei Station repeatedly mentions that she feels like she's being watched. Now, on a gloomy Monday in New York, I feel the familiar, unpleasant prickle of the hairs standing up on the back of my neck. My phone buzzed in my pocket, and for a moment I wondered, Is someone watching me too?
You can get Yurei Station for free on itch.io.