「 “Unwanted children” will be taken away by the Yotsumegami 」
Yotsumegami is a puzzle-solving, escape room styled game produced by SEEC. I picked this up on a whim while looking for mobile games that were more than just management or rhythm and this surprised me with its compelling storyline and moving themes. It’s also completely free-to-play with a total of thirteen different endings.
Saihara Mai is a young schoolgirl who’s returned to the village of her birth to pay respects to her late grandmother, accompanied by her single-dad Makoto. Having been raised in the city, she has never been to the village her whole life. While waiting for Makoto and her uncle to return to their shared room, Mai encounters two young children calling for help – their mother is in pain, she’s suffering. Mai is led to a shrine in the nearby hills – Yotsumegami Shrine, where the local deity (Yotsumegami, ‘Four-eyed God’) is worshipped. There, she finds herself unable to leave, returning to the same location over and over again no matter how many times she attempts to leave. Mai meets Imigo, a strange boy who’s so annoyed by her presence that he offers to help Mai find her way back to her family.
Structured like a visual novel, you progress through the story chapters each time you solve a puzzle. Along the way, there are numerous opportunities to learn more about the game universe and its mysterious, eerie inhabitants. This is a spoiler-free review.
CHARACTERS – Multilayered relationships, Colorful designs
I don’t expect much from mobile games especially those with a one-off story, so I. I regret everything now; Yotsumegami has some of the most interesting characters and a very strong aesthetic direction. ‘Family’ plays a very big part in this game, as a central theme for multiple characters. We meet others besides Mai and Imigo at the shrine – there’s the soft and handsome Tagata, Imigo’s mentor of sorts who also offers his aid to Mai. He’s my favorite because Reasons. There’s the two kids that got Mai wrapped up in this mess to begin with – Kuro and Shiro, who aren’t actually twins. And there’s also the unsettling presence of the Yotsumegami, whose true identity is a mystery to Mai. She’s warned repeatedly by Imigo to leave before the Yotsumegami takes notice of her, but Mai cannot stop hearing the deity’s voice in her head calling for help.
Mai can interact with the characters during the ‘exploration’ parts of the story, where she has to solve certain puzzles to progress to subsequent chapters. Each cast member has a very clear personality and established relationships, something I thought added a lot to the story. Mai’s family also gets more exposition later on – literally no one is forgotten. Despite the limits of the mobile app medium, Yotsumegami manages to produce a comprehensive plot into which its characters are fitted perfectly.
STORYLINE – An exploration of familial bonds
Make no mistake about it, Yotsumegami is a bittersweet game at best and a downright tragedy at its heart. I cannot offer spoilers for the story’s key points (unless interested parties request summaries of each ending) but I can at least say this for certain. There is nothing won without loss; the happy ending has to be earned, often through heartbreaking sacrifice.
Things like the real purpose of the Yotsumegami, the identities of the characters (ESPECIALLY Imigo and Tagata), the truth behind Mai’s family, the horrific nature of the village – the game hints at mysteries and questions, slowly revealing the answers to the player as the story progresses. Mai’s gradual exploration of the Yotsumegami shrine and the village’s ancient traditions bring out the game’s enthralling lore. Steeped in Japanese rural tradition and supported by a strong world-view, Yotsumegami wraps itself in layers of intrigue.
GAME SYSTEM – Clunky at times, but serves its purpose
The best way to describe how the Yotsumegami system works is something like this: think ‘typical visual novel’ choice-based branches meets Ace Attorney’s puzzle-solving system. You need AP to play each story chapter and have to wait for the bar to regenerate if you run out. The puzzles are a great challenge! I could only go so far before googling for help. To be precise, I only made it to Chapter 2 before going “okay where’s the guide for this game”. I’m bad. (´;ω;｀) There’s an official guide (in Japanese) for players in-game, and you can easily get hints.
Things like item-combining can take a little time to figure out – you sometimes have to access the items folder outside of search mode. It was a little confusing at first but it’s not very difficult to work out. The map system is relatively simple, you simply tap on locations to shift to them. Additionally, the more important routes in this game have their own ending CGs! There’s a very good amount of content for something basically free-to-play.
OVERALL – Recommended for those who enjoyed the following:
- Natsume Yuujinchou
- Akaya Akashiya Ayakashino
- Kirisame ga Furu Mori
- Fatal Frame series (particularly Crimson Butterfly)
- Call of Cthulhu roleplaying games
- Anything related to youkai, ayakashi and rural legends!
As a fan of the genres listed above, Yotsumegami was well within my personal strike-zone of interests. For those a little squicky about horror, don’t worry – the game really isn’t that scary. It’s more mysterious than anything, and the characters also have funny interactions that help lighten the mood! Since it’s using a VN format, there’s little opportunity for the type of scares that a 3D environment can provide but the game utilizes its medium well. (I got a slight shock when my phone started vibrating on its own during the story segments’ more intense parts.)
The characters and their words are a very central point of Yotsumegami, since it’s largely a text-based visual novel with some puzzle-game mechanics. Imigo and Tagata hint-drop multiple times about the true nature of the story universe. Kuro and Shiro say some awfully out of place things that make sense only as you progress through the game. It’s terribly fun being able to piece together the mysteries of Yotsumegami based on what you’re able to learn. Also, everything from the repeat four-eyes motif to the higanbana spider lily flower is designed to be symbolic of something much larger.
Just a personal note; ED9 is purportedly the ‘true’ end, but there were other endings leftover that couldn’t be cleared until I had finished ED9. So I did, and the game treated me to the ‘hidden’ part of its story-world, the other truth behind Yotsumegami. I couldn’t stop crying until I’d read all of it. I think that’s the beauty of this game – that there’s so many perspectives in its story. It has volume and depth that I never expected from a ‘small’ mobile game app.