Game Review #458: Yaga (Nintendo Switch)
Reviewer: Akio Kahoshi
Developer: Breadcrumbs Interactive
Publisher: Versus Evil
Category: Action, Adventure, Other, Role-Playing
Release Date: 11.12.2019
Buy Yaga from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
A Folktale RPG
Yaga is an action RPG based around the Slavic folklore of Baba Yaga. In it, you play as Ivan the Unlucky, while Baba Yaga and a trio of witches control the story. The game strives to make the experience feel like playing inside a folktale, and largely succeeds. Its art, story, and mechanics all blend together to maximize the effect. Unfortunately, it does stumble at times. Playing both in handheld and docked, I ran into no frame issues, and while the stylized art took some getting used to, I quickly grew to love it, enjoying the smooth animations during the game’s frantic combat. And for those who prefer to have them, the game does have built-in achievements. For people like me who do not care, they are easily ignored.
Having a Bit of Bad Luck
The setup of the story is that Ivan, a blacksmith of great skill, runs into the witch, Likho, and is cursed with bad luck (one of the game’s main mechanics is trying not to gather bad luck). Baba Yaga uses Ivan to get her revenge on the local Tsar. While the normal action and dialogue are played from Ivan’s perspective, moving between zones and choosing level-up perks is done from the point of view of the witches as they control Ivan’s fate. When starting a story quest, the witches would also give options to change things, such as the time of day Ivan left, or whether he ate or not, providing various buffs and weaknesses.
While I enjoyed the way this was done, for the most part, leveling up could only be done between zones. Leveling up also did not feel very rewarding all the time. Ivan’s stats did not increase, and while some of the perks gave interesting abilities or stat boosts, others affected how quickly Ivan gained experience or money he earned, meaning play did not feel any different afterward. Instead, what made the largest difference were the various weapons Ivan made, and the talismans you wore.
The crafting system, while simple, was one of the most fun features I found. Ivan’s main weapon is the hammer, which can either be swung or thrown in Thor fashion. Depending on which enhancements and ore are used to construct a hammer, it can have widely different properties. The most fun I had was when I combined ore to make my hammer fly further, while enhancements that increased damage caused me to throw three hammers instead of one and have them chain to nearby enemies. A single throw would decimate entire groups of enemies, which was easily the most enjoyable part of the gameplay for me. Other enhancements gave different interesting abilities, but also gave bad luck every time you used the weapon, making them ultimately undesirable.
No Blessings Please
The actual moment-to-moment gameplay is standard action fare, broken up by Ivan’s various tools, such as a cartwheel shield or chainfork (read: Hookshot) allowing the player to customize combat to their preference. Each zone has to be chosen before going to it, and until later in the game, requires a quest for it to be an option. There are five different zones, which are procedurally generated every time they are visited. While this makes the zones different every time, it also leaves the zones fairly unmemorable. I also noticed generating the zones caused some annoyingly long load times. A more handcrafted approach, especially given the short length of the game, would have been to the game’s benefit.
Within these procedurally-generated maps are random quests and items of interest, such as shrines to various Slavic gods. The quests were varied and all interesting. Never did I feel like I was repeating a task I had done before. Usually, the reward would be loot, but depending on how the player handles a quest, the outcome can change. Sometimes I received blessings, or sometimes curses instead, both of which steadily increase bad luck. Unfortunately, the bad luck system made me not want to complete these quests for fear of those outcomes.
This is the problem with the bad luck mechanic. When Ivan’s bad luck becomes too high, he is struck by it. This can take the form of breaking his hammer, stealing some of his talismans, or stealing his money. Losing my best weapon or a rare talisman felt so punishing that I became obsessed with avoiding bad luck whenever possible. I never chose to get a blessing if I could help it because blessings and curses last until bad luck strikes, making it inevitable. Part of the game’s replayability is built into different dialogue options, but typically only one option did not give bad luck, making that the only safe option. Feeling punished for completing a quest by getting a blessing did not feel good, making this core mechanic the biggest problem for Yaga.
All Tales Must End
While I am critical of some of the game’s systems, most notably the bad luck mechanic, Yaga as a whole is a fun game. A single playthrough will not take up much time, but given how radically choices change the story, it is worth replaying to experience the different outcomes. It is obvious that the developers at Breadcrumb Interactive are skilled, so hopefully, we will see a sequel of some kind where the flaws of Yaga are improved upon so that the game might live up to its full potential. In the meantime, fans of action RPGs will enjoy their time spent with this title, if they can look past its flaws.
Oh, and you can totally pet the dog.
Buy Yaga from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
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*A game code was provided for review purposes.