Yaga has more twists than Chubby Checker sucking on a lolly while riding the Twisted Colossus. Not only is that reference barking up the wrong tree for gamers, but it took me much longer than you’d expect to come up with it.
Aside from being dissatisfied with that analogy, I’m also a bit on the fence with this game. On the one hand, it has created a world that begs to be explored, but a few mechanics hinder that freedom.
For the narrative side of things, we follow the tale of Ivan, spurred on by Baba Yaga (The Teenage Witch), from Slavic folklore, who is a little unpredictable. Somehow, the gameplay doesn’t quite mirror the excellent production values for this outing by Breadcrumbs Interactive.
Yaga PC Review
Yaga is a classic fairy tale, only one that western audiences may not be utterly familiar with. You play Ivan, a blacksmith who’s been dealt a bad hand – in fact, he’s lost one after facing a demonic creature. Luck is not on his side, which functions as a mechanic of the game.
The Tzar tasks him to run a few errands (read: perilous quests) or face exile, death, syphilis – that sort of thing – if he doesn’t. Without giving too much away, the titular Baba Yaga is pulling strings here, often misleading both Ivan and the peripheral characters.
The story and characters are fantastic, and in many respects, you do feel like you’re playing an animated children’s picturebook. There’s no question that production values are stellar throughout, it’s just a shame that the gameplay lets it down.
As Ivan, you navigate the local village, picking up side quests, then head out into the wilderness. Between each labyrinth to explore, you have a camp area where you can befriend a crow and bribe it with bread, as well as craft instruments for your journey.
Next, you roll into action, often quite literally, and face a plethora of beasts that need to taste your hammer, or similar. Now, this is the issue: the frames for Ivan when he strikes an enemy is minimal, giving the illusion that it’s lagging or in slow motion. It doesn’t make for an inspiring style of play, and it’s just as easy to use a ranged attack.
A cursor remains on the screen, and while you directly control Ivan, you can aim freely and throw your weapon at an enemy. This works wonders as it attacks on its return, like a Slavic Mjölnir. It also works great against the bosses, who can join your side after being defeated.
Weapons Made Of Cheese
Other than health and stamina, Ivan has a luck gauge. Each time you consume a magic item (including bread), your bad luck will increase. Once at its max, the weapon you’re holding will break and be gone for good.
I suppose a bonus point is the weapon’s destruction can trigger an attack on enemies, such as a lightning strike through runes, but it’s a minor consolation as you’ve now lost your custom gear.
To counter Ivan’s bad luck, you can get blessings from characters and shrines, as well as additional buffs from Baba Yaga and crew, but it would have been nice to have a more stable weapon system.
I Am Yaga
As for Baba Yaga, she’s fantastic. It’s quite likely that you’ve at least heard the name, even if you’re unfamiliar with the story as we’ve seen her appear in several horror films as well as referred to in John Wick.
She’s a bit of a nightmare, not just for her appearance but also due to her uncertainty. Sometimes she will be embodied as an individual; another time represented as three sisters. Is she on your side, or is she the antagonist? This unpredictable nature is unsettling but enticing.
Whether she appears on her own or with her ‘sisters’, the character designs are brilliant. Situated in a house that stands on chicken legs, this game could have been devised by Terry Gilliam after reading the works Hans Christian Anderson, washed down with some questionable mushrooms found in the wood.
A Picture Paints A Thousand Words
And so we come back to the presentation. As mentioned, it’s like an illustrated picture book. The first time I played Yaga, I had the sound off as streaming music. Imagine my surprise on hearing the soundtrack: it’s an eclectic piece of folk, infused with electro, techno and lots more.
Yes, it sounds very authentic, and I would genuinely listen to this outside of the game – it’s a highlight. However, it overpowers the gameplay in some respects and far more dynamic than what is happening on screen.
There’s no question about it, the music is superb, I didn’t like it with the gameplay. It’s like having a beer with your cornflakes. I like both, but they don’t go together. If you think otherwise, now might be the time for that intervention they are always talking about.
Using A Rhyme Is A Bit Of A Crime
Aside from the score, the voice talent is also excellent. It’s all voice acted throughout, and in some scenes, the dialogue and narration are in rhyming couplets.
There’s often a sacrifice to the story for the sake of the last word rhyming, and it comes off a bit corny. That said, all of the character interactions are brill. You even have a dialogue tree that aligns Ivans personality path; aggressive, righteous, foolish et al.
If you make decisions that don’t appear to be his traits, you’ll get penalised for it. I loved this mechanic as it means you’re consistent. If you opt for the righteous path as I did, you can still sneak in some aggression without consequences.
Yaga Review Summary
Yaga is a stunning title. The visuals, superb score (despite my reservations) and voice talent make it unique. However, the quirky characters and folklore are even better. Unfortunately, it’s marred by the uninspired combat and breakable weapons/luck system, which could be a deciding factor for some.