If you are looking for a being older and wiser than Old Man Mordaith, look no further than Baba Yaga. The old crone and her chicken-legged hut has been a long companion of mine through the decades. She has alternately been a foil, a sage, or an outright villain in various fantasy games and settings for longer than I have been able to read.
Now, I ain’t one to kiss and tell, but Baba Yaga and the Old Man may have had a thing going on back in the other realms. No need to ask her about it, it sure was a heck of a time. I was a much younger feller and she was, well, she was still unfathomably old and ancient. We had some good ol’ times. I’d ask her to a dance or two. She’d try to throw me in her cauldron and eat my bones. Oh to be young again.
When I heard of this game by Breadcrumbs Interactive, one that took stories of Baba Yaga and built them into an Action style RPG, I was very interested. Published by Versus Evil, Yaga can be found on the Epic Game Store for 24.99 USD.
In this folklore-rich game, you take on the role of Ivan. So, right off, no – there is no character creation or customization. You play as a one-armed blacksmith with terrible luck. Which is fine, I wasn’t expecting as many role-playing options as I got with this game, but there are enough that one could slap the RPG tag on this title and I wouldn’t grumble. (I tend to complain about fantasy games with levelling systems getting dubbed RPGs when you have no control over what the character says or how they interact with the world.)
So without spoilers, Ivan is a very unlucky fellow with a disposition that is up to you to shape. His mother wants him to get married, the Tzar is trying to get rid of him thanks to a pesky prophecy, and some spooky witch is using him as the instrument of her efforts. The plot is right out of a fairy tale with all the whimsy that implies.
My take on Ivan was that of a lovable, dull-witted loser. I quickly discovered the game had one of my favourite features of RPGs where the game encourages me to keep your RP choices consistent. As I chose more and more ‘Dumb Ivan’ responses to interactions, I noticed that if I were to choose something that defied my dumb persona, I would get a small punishment in the form of the accumulation of more bad luck.
Bad Luck is generated in various ways in the game world. When it maxes out, something bad happens – it could be a minor inconvenience or something that completely messes up your current efforts. The game gives you just enough rope to hang yourself with, and I often found myself shuffling my unlucky feet and saying, “Thank you Fates, may I have another?”
Ivan has a hard time in life. He is trying to get on with one arm as a blacksmith; not an easy task in that era. But he makes good with a variety of craftable upgrades and magical or divine blessings. Thankfully for Ivan, this is not a high-octane action game. Even in the more furious combats, there is lots of room to breath, dodge about, and focus on what you are doing. The controls are clear and responsive, which is always a plus for games like this.
There’s no stamina bar, which is fine. But this means there is absolutely no reason not to roll everywhere. Rolling around in this game is just slightly faster than running around normally. It’s a little bit silly (and a common problem to games like this), but it doesn’t ruin the game.
There is a great deal more player control over the character, the story, and the setting that I would expect from a typical game of the genre. As you take your Ivan from scene to scene, you can determine things about where you are going in small cut scenes where you see some of our… Uh, shall we call them narrators? Yes, Narrators. Talking about poor Ivan. The decision to have Ivan tromp through a section of the world at a different time of day will impact the risk and reward aspect of the game.
Sounds of the Past
When done right, people don’t often say too much. When done wrong, people won’t shut up about it. That’s right, I’m talking about the audio of the game.
The long and short of it? Yaga has one of the best soundtracks for a fantasy game I’ve heard in a long while. I know I’ve said this before, but for the price of the game, it’s worth it for the soundtrack alone. Beyond the music, the sound effects and voice acting are excellent as well. In lots of indie games, sadly, the voice acting is a place they have to cut corners. Voice actors are expensive – good ones more so. I am happy to say that all the voice actors in this game hit their marks wonderfully.
Standing back and looking at the artwork, it’s delightfully cartoony. The animation might be jarring for some, but I find it evocative of puppetry. While puppets give me the willies, it works very well in this game. But for those that don’t like their world looking like it is filled with marionettes, be aware.
Forging something new
I’m going to be blunt. I was expecting to be disappointed with this title. Games of this genre tend to try to hunt down the trends of the larger, bigger budget ARPG style games. There are only so many times you can boot up a game to find it wearing a skinsuit made of Diablo II or Path of Exile. However, Yaga does new and different things. From a largely untapped setting to giving the player more narrative control of the destiny of their character, Breadcrumbs Interactive managed to do something that many other companies failed to do: They risked the bad luck lurking in the shadows of the internet, and forged themselves an enjoyable new experience in the domain of the ARPG genre. Not an easy task.
Final Score: 7/10 – The game is lovely and should be a sure pick for indie fans, folklore fans, or people just wanting something a little different in their ARPG.
Review by: Josh Smith (Old Man Mordaith)
Edited by: Jesse Roberts