Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: PM Studios
Developer: Endflame
Release Date: March 29, 2022


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Switch/PS5/PS4/PC Preview - 'Ikai'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Jan. 14, 2022 @ 10:00 a.m. PST

Ikai is a first-person psychological horror game set in Feudal Japan steeped in poverty.

Ikai is set in a small Japanese shrine near a village. Players control Naoko, a priestess who lives there with her uncle, the head priest. Community stories speak of demons who are trying to find a way into the real world, causing the people of the village to grow fearful. The priest goes to quell their fears, leaving the shrine in Naoko's care. Of course, the moment he leaves, things start to go extremely badly, and Naoko must face the horrors of the present and the tragedies of her past if she wants to survive.

Ikai is a first-person horror title much in the vein of other similar games in the genre. You control Naoko directly and must explore the shrine and surrounding areas to figure out what is going on and how to stop it. This means cautious exploration, solving puzzles, and trying not to get so spooked that you quit the game and leave poor Naoko to her unpleasant fate — you know, the usual horror trappings.

The demons who roam the shrine are not something Naoko can truly fight; you need to sneak or run away from them. Naoko isn't an Olympic athlete, though, and running away isn't much of an option in most cases. Movement is slow, as it's an attempt to mimic more realistic movement. That means you're going to need to figure out ways to sneak past danger rather than avoid it. The stealth mechanics will be familiar to those who play these types of horror games, but they are still thrill-inducing.

Perhaps the most distinctive element of Ikai is its purifying scrolls. Naoko can create special wards to repel the monsters that roam the land, but the wards must be hand-drawn. You need to sit down and draw the proper ward, an act that requires genuine precision. A few sloppy brush strokes are as good as worthless. Of course, the game doesn't freeze while you're doing this, so you have to balance being precise and careful with the fact that something could be preparing to murder you at any moment.

It's weird to say that Ikai makes it a thrill to slowly draw lines, but it really does. It's very easy to get startled, make a mistake, and start over, realizing that each time you start over, you're more vulnerable. It's such a nice and simple way to add tension to the game that I'm genuinely surprised I haven't seen it more. It gives Ikai a distinctive feel, so an occurrence as simple as an object suddenly running across the paper can be more terrifying than any demon.

Ikai's environment feels nicely detailed, with a lot of effort put into its surroundings to add a sense of realism. There are lots of hidden drawers or secret items to find. Some provide some extra lore or backstory, while others are a strictly necessary part of solving puzzles. The sound effects are the real star of the show. Every creak, shuffling noise and small sound come together to increase the tension to a ridiculous degree.

Overall, Ikai is shaping up to be an effective horror game. The setting lends itself extremely well to the spooktacular antics of a horror title. There's a ton of effort put into the details both visual and audio to boot, and if a game can make it scary to draw on a piece of paper, it's doing something right. I look forward to seeing more of Ikai when it comes out in March 2022 for the Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5.

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