Ikai is a first-person survival horror game developed by Endflame and published by PM Studios.
You play as Naoko, the head priestess of a secluded shrine. As the game begins, your uncle leaves you in charge of the grounds. However, you are not alone. Yokai begin to haunt the grounds, forcing Naoko to produce kanji and defeat the evil spirits. With no weapons or attack abilities, you’re limited to running for your life or using stealth to escape your enemies. The only way to suppress yokai is by solving puzzles, staying agile, and avoiding danger at all costs.
The story is quite weak and forgettable. There isn’t a load of cutscenes or major information provided, which creates a disconnect between you and the protagonist. Players simply dive into the world with a bare-minimum tutorial and are expected to piece together the narrative as they progress. There’s a wealth of context and background to explore in the form of collectibles, if the player is on the hunt. However, it’s very possible to skip or miss out on them during your playthrough.
The gameplay is deliberate and methodical. Whether you’re sprinting in fear or creeping at a snail’s pace, the tension is sharp and forces the player to prepare for the worst. Kanji characters and puzzles only add to the sense of anxiety. Kanji purifies the area and can be used to defeat enemies. Tracing kanji requires a surgeon’s hand and nerves of steel. Having an enemy approach during these key moments added tremendous pressure and multiple deaths due to my own errors. I felt I was always one bad stroke away from death. However, these moments of chaos stop as soon as you tackle puzzles.
The puzzles in Ikai are a chore for a multitude of reasons. They drastically interrupt the pacing of the story – which I found disappointing. Puzzles range from standard to difficult, and there aren’t any hints, which can be troubling. For example, there was a puzzle where you have to trace a pattern while a zombie-like figure moves around. I was stuck for quite a while, as there were no additional clues. However, the creature didn’t attack me, eliminating the sense of urgency and creating a tonal clash with the horror gameplay. Collectively, this led me to hate the puzzles in this title.
Visually, the graphics are bland. Even at the highest settings on PC, it’s an extremely underwhelming experience. Everything looks decent at a distance but gritty and murky when close up. This becomes especially noticeable when examining the yokai, as the enemy model lacks detail and looks like an unpolished last-gen render. I had no major issues with the sound design as creaks and footsteps sound natural, adding to the sense of fear. I’m hoping the title receives a patch as Naoko tends to repeat lines way too much.
Although Ikai is dripping in Japanese folklore, the story is forgettable, the non-puzzle gameplay is monotonous, and the puzzles need to be reworked for a cohesive package.
Ikai is available now on Xbox Series, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC for $14.99.
Watch the Review in 3 Minutes for Ikai.