Yaga tells the story of Ivan, a down-on-his-luck blacksmith who finds himself sent on a myriad of impossible missions by the Kingdom’s Tzar. Why is he sending a humble blacksmith on these missions, I hear you ask? Well, because a Witch has informed the Tzar that Ivan’s bad luck will bring poor fortune to the Kingdom, but if the Tzar kills Ivan himself he’ll lose all of his power. With the help of Ivan’s grandmother and the mysterious Baba Yaga (no, unfortunately Keanu Reeves doesn’t appear in this game too), Ivan has to complete these missions and try to bring an end to his burden of bad luck.
It’s a neat little tale that’s based upon Slavic folklore, so it definitely has a unique vibe to it. What makes the narrative most clever though is the way that your choices can change how it plays out, with the player having to decide how to approach almost every different narrative-driven sequence in the game to have their own unique Yaga experience.
The choices you make throughout Yaga’s tale are shaped by four different things: righteousness, selfishness, aggressiveness and foolishness. They’re all pretty self-explanatory so I won’t explain what each one does, but the decisions you make and the repercussions are based upon each one. This sort of thing has been done before in video games, but Yaga really takes it to the next level with its abundance of endings, different conversation branches, and the scale of events that ensure no two playthroughs have to be the same. I’ve gone through three times now, and each playthrough gave me a different experience.
It’s a fun feature that I appreciated in-game, though it does tie into Ivan’s luck too. See, out of the four options available, you’ll choose one that shapes Ivan’s personality to begin with – you won’t be locked to that choice throughout the game, but whenever you make a decision that doesn’t follow that mind set, you’ll see your ‘bad luck’ meter increase. When it’s full… well, something bad happens (duh). Whilst this may encourage some players to stick to a particular set of choices throughout the game, I actually found it oddly satisfying that there were extra repercussions to the things I did differently. It’s another clever idea that ties into Yaga’s narrative nicely.
Whilst the narrative is certainly at the forefront of Yaga, the gameplay experience itself is decent too. You’ll explore different areas and interact with different NPCs to unlock quests and so forth, but you’ll also explore a variety of locales, take on enemies in quick-paced combat, and then face fiercer bosses in challenging showdowns. Ivan is equipped with a hammer that can be used to smash at enemies in close-ranged combat or thrown Mjolnir-style (which somehow never stops being satisfying). Ivan has also a quick-roll ability to avoid danger, whilst you’ve also got to keep an eye on his health, stamina, and the aforementioned luck meter. You can equip different items to give Ivan some magical boosts, unlock curses or blessings that can change up your luck, whilst some additional side-weapons give you a few extra tricks to use mid-battle too.
It feels a whole lot like your typical dungeon-crawler, with anyone who’s familiar with the genre able to pick up and play Yaga with minimal fuss. It’s competent at everything it does though, with no aspect of the game ever feeling bland or boring – it just doesn’t necessarily do anything too special or unique either.
You can upgrade Ivan’s hammer to unlock new abilities, improve your selection of side-weapons (although I didn’t find myself using these much thanks to the efficiency of the hammer), and even improve Ivan’s stats to give him a fighting chance against the game’s more formidable foes. Yaga can certainly be challenging in places, so making sure you’re prepared for whatever may come is vital. All of the different upgrade mechanics are fairly simple in design, but they’re still enjoyable to play around with – interestingly, the upgrades you have access to are shaped around your playstyle too, which adds a neat twist to the formula and ensures that you’ll be improving the aspects of Ivan that are most important to you.
Unfortunately, for a game that encourages multiple playthroughs, Yaga can be a little bit repetitive as far as the gameplay is concerned. Whilst you’re given an abundance of quests to clear, a lot of the time it just feels like you’re going through the same cycle of exploring an area, fighting some baddies, and repeating. The hammer is great to use, but with certain moves proving more effective than others it’s easy to find yourself in a loop of doing the same things over and over. It’s not that the gameplay isn’t well-designed or anything, but I felt I had seen all it had to offer after just one playthrough. Fortunately, the narrative and the way your choices shaped it made subsequent playthroughs worthwhile for me, but it might not for everyone.
Visually, Yaga looks great, with the attractive environments and well-designed characters really helping shape this unique world. My only problem was that the dungeon-like areas you explore could begin to feel a little bland, with nothing really there to individualise a lot of them. Sure, there might be a slight change of aesthetic but they were often pretty bare, with no unique hook making them stand out. The frame rate could be a little sketchy at times too, particularly in busy areas – it never felt unplayable, but there was some noticeable slowdown.
From a gameplay perspective, Yaga is just alright. It doesn’t do anything bad and I did have fun playing, but after a few hours it was easy to see that it can be very repetitive in places. Thankfully, the myriad of narrative-driven choices at your disposal and the way that the game handles them to present a unique tale really won me over – I loved making each choice to affect the story, whilst the way that they tied into Ivan’s bad luck was clever too.
It’s a shame that Yaga’s gameplay couldn’t be a bit more exciting because it’d elevate the experience to utter brilliance. As it stands though, Yaga is a very unique game that I enjoyed playing, whilst the creative opportunities to shape the story keeping me coming back for more.
Developer: Bredcrumbs Interactive
Publisher: Versus Evil
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Check out the official website through this link.