Yuoni – developed by Tricore and published by Chorus Worldwide Games – is a first-person, stealth-oriented, survival-horror game framed as a Japanese urban legend. It’s also another horror game featuring a defenceless protagonist, forcing you to sneak, run, and hide if you want to progress. Unfortunately, Yuoni is also a game with a distinct lack of signposting, inconsistent enemy AI, and poorly placed checkpoints that lead to plenty of frustration.
The premise, while not uncommon in film, feels fresh for a video game. You take control of “Ai”, a 10-year-old student in a small Japanese town. She’s reserved and deliberately quiet around others, but still keen to participate in outings with her motley group of acquaintances. After a brief prologue set in an abandoned hospital – which also serves as the tutorial – their attempt to summon a ghostly, wish-granting child, “Tsun”, backfires. Ai finds herself dragged into a hellish alternate world, trapped in an endless game of hide-and-seek unless she can break the curse to save both herself and her friends.
The narrative is, of course, not a simple haunting story. What are Ai’s and her companions’ backstories? What brought the group together? Why is this young group spending their evenings exploring abandoned buildings outside of the town instead of going home? Yuoni delves into all these questions over its brief runtime, with each chapter focusing on one member of her group. Frequent flashbacks – often played as jump scares – reveal their upbringing, current circumstances, and how real-world events have shaped their thoughts. The writing feels reasonably age-appropriate for the protagonist, but also suitably respectful given the topics covered. However, the reliance on simple static images, no voice work, and a wall of text feel jarring.
Ai is pulled into an alternate world by Tsun and given the task of finding the dolls each of them used during the summoning ritual. If she can find and burn them all without being caught by the “shadow people”, she and her friends are freed from the game. You’ll guide Ai through a twisted amalgamation of the real and spirit world, hunting for keys to open doors that lead to the dolls. Once found, she needs to return to the starting location – typically by way of an extended chase sequence – and burn it in a brazier. This level structure is both effective and unsettling as you shift from hauntingly empty real-world locations – their school, the abandoned hospital, and a traditional Japanese house – into their rundown, haunted variants.
The gameplay loop is simple, with only a few mechanics you need to consider. However, the confusing level design and enemy placement – static or patrolling – forces you to remain observant, time your movements, and react quickly during chase sequences. You can crouch-walk, walk, and run, lean left or right to check around corners, and hold your breath for a limited amount of time (before taking deep, noisy breaths). How you use those basic skills is dependent on the foes you face.
The most common creatures you encounter are translucent shades – harmless and blind but, if you don’t stay low and quiet, capable of obstructing your path and making noise that’ll draw a deadlier foe. A glowing red Tsun patrols some areas, also half-blind but with acute hearing. You need to move while crouched, hold your breath, and never get too close if you want to avoid being spotted. He’s also harmless but dashes up to grab and slow your progress, once again leaving you vulnerable to deadlier creatures (and he appears as a “trap” to avoid during chase sequences). The most challenging creature – aside from one I won’t spoil – is a throbbing red humanoid with weak hearing but keen sight, capable of chasing you down and dropping you in one or two blows.
As you may have guessed from that roster of creatures, Yuoni is a game in which progress requires alternating between keeping quiet, managing your breathing, staying out of sight, and running like hell. The greatest challenge is when multiple creature types patrol the same area and you need to respond quickly, going from staying silent to legging it for a hiding spot (think lockers, cupboards, and beds). Once you get a feel for reaction times, it’s not impossible to outrun most threats and find a convenient hiding spot, but there’s always the chance you’ll have missed a key item. You see, Yuoni has plenty of dead ends (problematic when retracing your steps under pressure) and locked doors, but often places key items in arbitrary locations that force you to systematically search each area.
It’s an approach that was all too common at the start of the last console generation, especially in run-and-hide horror games with procedural levels, and it’s rarely fun. Now Yuoni isn’t anywhere near as random – outside of some patrolling creatures that can ghost through doors and objects – but there’s often no clear signposting as to where a key item is located. This resulted in multiple frustrating sessions of searching dark rooms, inevitably triggering creatures as I grew impatient, going back to the checkpoint at the beginning of the area, repeating the process until I found the key item, and finally progressing to a new area and story beat. Checkpoints trigger when you enter new areas or pick up key items, but all too often they force you to repeat rote stealth sections for several minutes before you get to a challenging encounter you failed.
The environments, the creature models, the story panels – Yuoni’s visuals feel budget but are by no means bad and create an unsettling atmosphere. The world is either shrouded in darkness or drenched in the red glow of sunset through distorted glass, creatures move in an erratic and unsettling manner, Ai has a sense of weight to her movements, and the performance was solid on an Xbox Series S. On the audio front, it feels minimal to the point of being absent (I checked the headphone cables several times), though this ensures you can always hear patrolling creatures before you stumble upon them.
Yuoni has the potential to tell an intriguing story about several troubled children, their anxieties, and fears but relies on brisk pacing and frequent narrative beats to offset the simple gameplay loop. However, key hunts, frustrating stealth sections, and inconsistent checkpointing all drag down the pacing and break the flow of the narrative. Discovering the backstories of all the children was a definite hook and kept me pushing forward, but the aforementioned problems meant I was rarely enjoying myself. I hope a few patches can smooth out the gameplay as there’s a narrative reason to tackle the game again, however, with the prospect of more difficult encounters – and therefore more frustration – I walked away.
A review code for Yuoni was provided to Gameblur by the publisher.
Yuoni (Xbox Series S) ReviewYuoni (Xbox Series S) Review
Story7/10 GoodThe highlight and major hook of Yuoni, sadly stifled by frustrating gameplay that ruins the pacing.
Gameplay4/10 PassableThe basic gameplay is simple but still requires observation, planning, and quick reactions. Unfortunately, too many tedious key hunts and frustrating stealth sections make it unenjoyable in the long run.
Visuals6/10 NormalBudget to be sure, but still effective and atmospheric.
Audio5/10 NeutralYou can always hear the creatures shuffling around in the dark, but you'd swear it's absent half the time.
- Intriguing, slowly unravelling narrative
- Interwoven real-world and haunted environments
- Tense chase sequences
- Simple, repetitive gameplay
- Tedious key hunts due to minimal signposting
- Frustrating sections that drag down the pacing