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Yaga Review: Charming And Disarming

While it's not exactly reinventing the RPG wheel, Yaga proves to a fun, fairytale adventure.

Yaga is a Diablo-esque action RPG about an incredibly unlucky blacksmith named Ivan, who is cursed with the absolute worst luck a person could possibly have. He loses his arm after escaping the clutches of an evil cannibalistic witch named Likho, the weapons and tools that he crafts for the local townspeople tend to break in disastrous ways, and he suffers from the worst, most accursed affliction of all: male pattern baldness.

While it's not exactly reinventing the RPG wheel, Yaga proves to a fun, fairytale adventure where you try to help a sad little man become a Slavic folk hero.

Poor, Unfortunate Soul

As the story of Yaga begins, a witch known as the Baba Yaga has laid a curse on the greedy Tzar - which is a fancy Slavic version of a king - declaring that Ivan's bad luck is so terrible that his mere presence will be the downfall of his reign and will bring him to ruin. However, if he kills Ivan, his empire will turn to sand, so he's basically stuck with the unlucky blacksmith. The only alternative is to send Ivan far, far away. So, the Tzar dispatches Ivan out on impossible quests in an attempt to get rid of him once and for all. Unfortunately for the Tzar, Ivan's Baba (aka his Grandma) somehow knows the perfect way for him to fulfill the Tzar's insane missions and tells him to seek the aid of the one person who can truly help: the Baba Yaga herself.

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Yaga's world and lore are incredibly interesting, especially considering my unfamiliarity with the material that it draws inspiration from. The game is centered around tales from traditional Slavic folklore, incorporating characters and themes from those old stories. Everything from the ancient crones, to the downtrodden townspeople, to the twisted monsters you fight feels like they were yanked out of the uncensored Grimm's fairy tales, in which adults and children usually meet grisly ends. This also means that a majority of the dialogue is spoken in rhyme, which doesn't really work for the most part, but it's not overly egregious.

Choose Your Own Misadventure

You also get a surprising amount of choices to make throughout the game that affects both the story and the difficulty of Ivan's journey. You can choose dialogue options for Ivan that can make him seem angry, selfish, righteous, or just plain dumb. This informs what kind of a personality Ivan has, and can determine what rewards he receives, even altering the direction of the story. There are also side missions where you can choose whether to fight, spare, or make friends with various NPCs. Before the start of some adventures, you get to choose what day or time Ivan sets out, which offers different buffs or perks depending on what you select. These are excellent additions to the game and make it feel like you're having an effect on Yaga's world.

You'll also come across little side quests, such as a giant chicken that won't get out of your way until you feed it some magic corn or some dumb drunks that get slaughtered in the woods and need a proper burial. These were some of the goofier or darkly humorous portions of the game, and they're often worth doing just to see what weird misadventure Ivan's about to get dragged into.

Throwing The Hammer Down

Your journey begins in your small village, where you gather quests and then head out into a procedurally generated map to fight enemies until you find the items you need to progress forward. The combat feels good, and it has one of the better dodge rolls I've seen recently, but it's not so outstanding that it made me go wild over its mechanics. It's simply a solid RPG; nothing terrible, but also nothing innovative or unique.

You start out with a basic hammer, but since Ivan is a blacksmith, he can craft his own weapons on the fly with the right supplies. You gather various ores that each imbue your hammers with unique stats and abilities. To make up for the fact that you're going on this deadly trip missing an arm, you can craft different tools that you graft onto your right side to help you survive your sojourns into the wilderness. You can fashion an old wagon wheel into a makeshift shield, attach a sickle so you can cut through thorns, turn a pitchfork and chain into a homemade grappling hook and so on.

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Ivan's bad luck isn't just a plot device. It's actually a pretty important part of the gameplay. Actions that you take will slowly or rapidly fill up a purple bar with bad luck. Once the bar is full, Likho, the evil hag who chopped off your arm, finds you and screws you over in the worst way possible. This could mean destroying your current hammer, your equipped items, removing your blessing, and other obstacles to impede your adventure. This could be annoying at times, but it offers a unique risk for the player as if they want to obtain more experience, money, or certain buffs, they need to gather bad luck.

Yaga is a pretty good RPG, but there are a few missing quality of life features that could have helped it feel a little more fluid. For some reason, you can't access the map to see where you are and where you've been, so you can only rely on the mini-map in the top right corner. This might be because the maps are randomly generated, but it means you sometimes have to do a bit of blind backtracking to find out where you need to go to complete a side mission or figure out where to go next. The maps aren't huge so this isn't a dealbreaker, but it seems like an oversight. I also wish there was a way to quick-select weapons and items, as having to constantly go into the menu to switch equipment during battles tended to interrupt the flow of the game.

Give The Man A Hand

If you're looking for a good action RPG, Yaga won't let you down, but it's not going to blow you away. It's got solid gameplay, a unique world to explore, some pretty interesting choices to make, and some intriguing side missions to discover. It just feels like a lot of other good action RPGs, and aside from its folklore setting, it doesn't stand out all that much.

Still, if you just want a wacky, dependable game with few issues, Yaga will quench your thirst for RPG action. Let's just hope you have better luck than Ivan.

 

A Nintendo Switch copy of Yaga was purchased by TheGamer for this review. Yaga is available on Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, Xbox One, PC and Apple Arcade.

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