GAME REVIEW: Ikai

Developer: Endflame

Publisher: PM Studios

Initial Release Date: 09/22/2021

Platform(s): PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One and Series X/S, PC, Nintendo Switch

MSRP: $14.99 (USD)

Synopsis:

Ikai was developed by an indie studio, using a standard first-person approach to horror. It is set in feudal Japan and steeps you in a world filled with Japanese folklore. You play as a priestess taking care of a shrine, and the priest is your uncle.

Villagers are increasingly worried about evil, supernatural beings crossing onto the human plane. There are even rumors of a new demon that occupies the afterworld and desires to tread among them. Your uncle, the priest, must prepare for his trip to the village–and the game begins here. You paint extra calligraphy seals for him, then you resume your chores while recalling a memory of hide and seek with your sister.

While walking toward the river to do the laundry, you stumble upon a bloody knife and then your lose consciousness. That is when the drama ramps up–the shrine you take care of has been taken over by evil spirits, and it’s up to you during your uncle’s absence to seal them away.

Image Courtesy of Endflame via Rely on Horror

Analysis:

The foundation of what makes Ikai a horror game are:

  • First person perspective
  • Run and hide mechanic
  • Jump scares
  • Dark, chilling visuals and sound effects

While it has the basics down, Ikai struggles with execution. Once your character wakes up after seeing the bloody knife, supernatural evils dog your steps, even before you return to the shrine. The majority of ways these yokai (supernatural entities) appear are through gratuitous jump scares. The yokai slam down onto the ground or pop into your screen with minimal warning. It almost seems that characters were plucked from a Japanese folklore manual and sewn into the game. Unfortunately, the character’s voice acting is jarring and didn’t seem to fit into the mood of Ikai.

Once you re-enter the shrine, it’s game on. You navigate your way to encounter your first cursed object–one that emits terrifying whispers as you draw near. In order to access the cursed object, you need to unlock the cabinet by obtaining a key. It involves tossing a coin and saying a prayer, all of which are not really intuitive.

During my play-through, the only way I was able to proceed was when my character finally narrated what she needed to do. I don’t necessarily require hand-holding, but this is the first of many puzzles that came across as obtuse. Now, to seal the evil away, you must sit at a table and create a seal. However, a yokai–a kijo–is after you. I personally didn’t know that if you took too long drawing the character for the seal, the kijo will pop out of nowhere in a shriek…and you die. After several trial and errors of finding a pattern to this kijo, I eventually placed the seal on the cursed object and banished it.

Screenshot captures. Image credit: Endflame

This process continues three more times. Eerie sounds or your character will hint where to go next, and each following cursed object comes with another yokai. By the third seal, the flood of jump scares waned to only when you take too long to write your seal, and I felt more confident to the point where I was sprinting everywhere.

Screenshot captures. Image credit: Endflame
Screenshot captures. Image credit: Endflame

The story also ramps up significantly as you pick up letters between a samurai and the priest–and it hints that your character was supposed to have married the samurai. And of course, if your character is a priestess in a shrine and not a wife, the samurai likely had to have a family member replace her role…and I’ll leave it at that.

Ikai ends stronger than it starts. The discovery of who the new demon spirit is traces back to your character and provides a satisfying end. The total time it took for me to beat it was approximately two and a half hours–and that seems to be average, spanning from an hour if you know what you are doing to five plus hours. Length of play time would mostly be dependent on how long it takes you to solve the puzzles, which, again, I unfortunately find obtuse. The worst part is that sometimes, something is stalking you, not allowing much time for rationale thought.

Final Score:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Here is what Ikai does well–the graphics, sound, rich Japanese folklore, and “hook” toward the end are outstanding. What detracts from my enjoyment are the excessive jump scares, vague puzzles, and cringe-y voice acting. The foundation that Ikai built is that of a standard horror video game, and there is nothing wrong with the standard–and I give kudos to the indie team that poured their blood, sweat, and tears into this experience. Unfortunately, the game had me grinding my teeth the entire play-through, and I was quite happy to learn how short it was. Now, bear in mind that the price of this game is very reasonable, so although it is not a title I am chomping at the bits to recommend, if you like horror games, Japanese folklore, are very patient, and have extra dollars in your pocket, give this developer your support and buy Ikai.


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Source: Endflame

Featured Image Source: Endflame

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