This year’s Steam Next Fest had a ton of great pickings, ranging from quirky visual novels to charming puzzle adventures and bullet hell fun. Despite the many exciting genres, I still found myself back at horror. This was my chance to test out the next spookiest game, and being a fan of Fatal Frame and Kuon, I knew it had to be Ikai.
“There’s a new demon in town, and it’s threatening to cross the thin veil separating the living and the dead.”
Trees grow red with blood-stained leaves. The air feels thicker and more suffocating each day. There’s a new demon in town, and it’s threatening to cross the thin veil separating the living and the dead. Naoko, the local priestess, is left in charge of her uncle’s shrine while he tries to expel the looming evil. But it seems that even he can’t stop the evil from spreading up the mountain and defiling the sacred grounds. Defenceless, Naoko must face the spirits alone.
This demo is short yet so, so sweet. Completing it without exploring all the rooms takes only 5-10 minutes. But in that 5-10 minutes, Ikai still manages to contain all the terror of a full-length game. The gorgeous scenery, dim lighting, and absolutely bone-chilling sound effects help to increase the feeling of impending doom. Each creaky floorboard, whimper, and hushed whisper makes you consider hitting alt + F4. Fans of Japanese fairytales are justly rewarded for taking the time to look around, though. There are tidbits of hidden lore on Japanese demons scattered about, and there are even some extra story-building elements to find as well.
“I found myself feeling helpless — but in a good-horror-game kind of way.”
As for gameplay, Ikai focuses on neither fighting nor fleeing; the player is fully expected to sneak around spirits like Metal Gear Solid, and it works. There’s no mashable knife or shotguns to blast. I found myself feeling helpless—but in a good-horror-game kind of way. The sneaking works well, and running actually feels fast. Other than terrifying groans and cries, there’s no overbearing music to tell you that danger is near. Thankfully, if you do happen to get caught by the wandering demons, autosaves are in healthy supply.
Something new and interesting Ikai introduces is scroll creation. Naoko uses passed-down knowledge to make purifying scrolls and seal evil. The player doesn’t need to grab crafting supplies for this, though. The player needs to find a table, sit down, and physically draw the protective seals.
I was pleasantly surprised to stumble upon this. But, getting a perfectly drawn scroll is not easy. It takes time to make exact strokes, and the demons don’t stop lurking in the halls while players draw. I’ll be the first to admit, I died a few times during the segment. However, I really enjoyed how nerve-wracking it felt trying to make clean lines while hearing shuffling and scratching in the background.
“Those looking to be scared will love the creepy sound effects and build-up of fear.”
The Ikai demo is a short, but an excellent taste of what the full game will have in store. Fans of a good Japanese feudal-era setting will appreciate the well-crafted atmosphere and hidden lore, while those looking to be scared, will love the creepy sound effects and build-up of fear. The drawing mechanic is fresh, and what little story I saw was enticing. Developers have also promised puzzle-solving elements in the future.