Ikai, a new horror game from the relatively unknown developer Endflame and publisher PM Studios, channels Japanese folklore in its approach to the genre. It’s out for PlayStation, Xbox, PC and the Nintendo Switch – we checked out its PS5 version.
When playing Ikai, or even when just glancing at its promotional artwork, our mind went back a few years. Mostly to a time where we seemed to be obsessed with Japanese horror influences, and films like The Ring and The Grudge quickly became very popular, spawning sequels and making tons of money until the audience somehow moved on again. It also takes us back on a technical level as Ikai’s visuals feel like something out of the PS3-era rather than something that’s looking to compete with the likes of Resident Evil Village or The Medium, but we’re assuming that is at least partly due to the fact that Ikai was developed as a title that also runs on the Switch – a plus for those on that platform.
In Ikai, you control Naoko, a young priestess who works a shrine, attending to her duties which include cleaning and crafting charms. After she’s left alone by the elder priest who trains her, supernatural events start to occur, plunging Naoko into a nightmare of sorts – even though Ikai isn’t the scariest horror game of all and (thankfully) stays away from jump scares, instead focusing on a tense atmosphere and sense of dread.
Naoko spends the majority of the game alone, which only adds to the suspense, but makes the game low on story delivery – though dialogues are voiced and Naoko is keen to self-narrate her predicament as well. In some cases this is to help push the story forward, in other instances it’s a clever case of her pondering out loud about a puzzle you’re working on, trying to give you hints so you can keep moving in the right direction.
Playing out as a first person adventure, you can walk and run as you examine the environment. Naoko doesn’t have any combat skills, so your best line of defense is often to hide, and stealth is a good part of the story campaign here as a result. It’s fairly formulaic in how it plays out though – letting you crouch for cover as you avoid the gaze of entities that want to harm you and moving from hiding spot to hiding spot. In some cases, you’ll need to make charms in order to defend yourself while in a stealth sequence, which makes for some of the more tense moments in the game as you have to spot and manually trace characters in order to make them.
The other major gameplay elements here are puzzles, which are a lot more varied than the game’s stealth mechanics. Clues to how to solve them are often provided, and as mentioned Naoko has her own built-in hint system as well. And while some puzzles require on the correct timing of events, others will leave you scratching your head for a while. These puzzles also work in favor of the game’s pacing, padding out the experience a bit as the story campaign wraps up in just three to four hours.
It would be a stretch to call Ikai groundbreaking, but outside of the peak season for these games (October) it’s nice to see a solid new entry from a smaller team. For a game that’ll keep horror fans occupied for one or two nights, you could do a lot worse than Ikai – especially if you enjoy its Japanese brand of dread and fear.
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