If you are a supernatural, psychological horror junkie, this game will fill your cravings. I did not know what to expect going into this game, whether it was going to be a simple enclosed space with some sort of demon that chases me like in Alien: Isolation or if this was more linear and exploration heavy like Layers of Fear. Ikai seems like it is going to be a beast of its own because it made me recoil away from my monitor and made me yelp a little. Of course, I played it at night for the full immersive experience—why did I do that?
One fun fact, the English voice actress for Naoko is played by Filipino voice actress, Vanille Velasquez, who is also voicing the two newest characters in Riot Games’ popular online games, League of Legends and Valorant. Her work in this game does not sound cheesy and really helped sell the fear factor. All her voice lines kept me immersed in every gut-wrenching scene of Ikai, even adding to the jump scares (so many scares) with her own moments.
In terms of some background behind the game, the team at Endflame have created a first-person psychological horror game which draws inspiration from a lot of traditional Japanese folklore. If you are an anime fan like me, you will probably know the Japanese term yokai thrown around a lot in various shows. A yokai is simply a ghost, a spirit or a demon. What Ikai has is the latter of the two, and it is not just one or two yokai, it is a lot!
I really did not understand the title before getting my hands on the playtest and that in itself was foreshadowing. Ikai roughly translates into English words like “warn” or “prohibit.” I got hints of warning at the beginning of the playthrough, but it was a heart-pumping time—learning about the environment, the story and the yokai. Everything went from zero to 60 very quickly.
Speaking more about the world of Ikai, the setting takes place in and around a temple or shrine in the mountains set in feudal era Japan. The main character and priestess, Naoko, is tasked with taking care of the grounds with her uncle, who seems to travel a lot around the nearby village to bless the town and ensure they do not give in to the fear of demons. At the beginning of the playtest, there are many hints that Naoko is more of a groundskeeper for now, while she trains to become a full-fledged priestess.
With no weapons available in the game, this means there are no Ghostbusters gadgets or Demon Slayer swords to help fight these ghosts or demons. However, the main protagonist is not completely defenceless. She is able to draw or write talismans or protective seals on pieces of paper that can help settle the vengeful spirits that try to harm her (and my heart!).
“I can confidently say that Ikai shows a lot of promise…”
More on the gameplay, I was able to experience the different challenges Naoko faced as I tried to avoid the various yokai trying to kill me. There was the drawing of protective seals as mentioned before; there were moments where stealth and learning the yokais’ movement patterns were crucial; and there were puzzles to solve for Naoko to enter locked spaces. Running away is not really an option as the yokai are ruthless to sounds. It is like a Resident Evil game without guns—just ink, a brush and some paper!
One of the biggest stand-out elements I enjoyed (and hated) was how good the sounds of the game came through. Every distinct noise or audio cue was loud and multi-directional but made sense when my adrenaline was pumping a million beats per second. There was the loudness of Naoko walking around in her traditional wooden geta footwear. Also, the creeks of every plank of wood I walked on made me wince with every step. It is like the moments when you try to sneak up into your room as a child without disturbing or waking up your parents. At least your parents are not trying to kill you when you are caught though…at least not literally like these demons.
I can confidently say that Ikai shows a lot of promise to be a very intriguing and fun game…in the scary sense. I really enjoyed the puzzle and drawing elements of the game. There is a strange educational component too, with collecting the different drawings of the yokai as it explains each of their stories based on known folklore—but I would not recommend this game to kids or the faint of heart. Honestly, I can attest to the fear-inducing nature of the game since I am still trying to find my heart somewhere in my house to put back inside my chest.
Ikai is planned to drop on Nintendo Switch and Steam (PC) on March 31, 2022. There is a demo out now that anyone can try for free to get a taste of the game. Additionally, there is also a trailer out to see a bit more than what the demo shows off. But for the full experience, definitely check it out on release day.