After the Tzar reveals his cruel nature to the local witch, a prophecy of his demise leads to the village blacksmith, Ivan, crossing land and sea in a quest to save himself from the Tzar’s wrath in action RPG, Yaga.
Yaga, from Breadcrumbs Interactive, draws heavily on Slavic myth and legend in both its characters and narrative, as you take Ivan on a quest to save himself after he is named as a key component in the cruel Tzar’s downfall. Although Slavic in design, the fable draws parallels to more commonly known stories such as Disney’s Beauty & the Beast. The lowly hag asking the privileged ruler for help or charity and then being tossed out for asking only to show supernatural power and cursing someone to some horrible destiny.
As an action RPG, movement, narrative and combat all take place in real-time played out on a 2D playing field. Ivan has access, at any time, to both an attack with his trusty hammer or fists in addition to a selection of tools which expands as you progress. There’s a quick item slot for storing certain healing items, or deploying buffs, in the midst of battle although it can be swapped at your leisure with the inventory which also pauses the game.
Items which are collected drop into two categories, ones that heal or buff Ivan, and ones which are crafting components which can be utilised at Ivan’s anvil back at his house, at camp, or at randomly generated locations within some levels. The anvil allows you to craft new variants of the weapons and tools that you have, and add enhancements to each. Use iron ore to add extra damage to your hammer or use gold or for an increase in luck and money drops, it’s up to you and your playing style.
Yaga gives players two energy bars to worry about during combat. The first is the health bar, if it empties then you are defeated. The second is the Willpower bar which is used to power Ivan’s actions with his tools. If it’s depleted then it takes some time to recover and can only be recovered through standing or running away from monsters — as any dodging resets its cooldown timer. More importantly, the Willpower bar powers Ivan’s defences. If you get hit when it’s full (and depending on the attack) then it will first deplete the willpower bar rather than health. Combat tends to be a frantic dance between enemies, timing attacks and managing willpower to ensure you have both an adequate “shield” and enough remaining to utilise tools.
As Ivan completes quests or defeats enemies his experience bar fills and at the end of each level he is offered an upgrade, this could be a buff to an actions, such as ‘extra willpower on a successful parry with the shield’ or as simple as ‘Body +1’ (increasing hitpoints). Filling the bar mid-level doesn’t offer any advantage and only completing the section will allow Ivan to level up, any other experience gained on that level will simply not be added to his cumulative total. Some players may not bother but others will — at camp — potentially choose to take a small side-quest knowing that a major quest completion may be wasted.
Initially sent out on a quest for “Strength beyond Measure” by the Tzar, the blacksmith tells the tale of how he has lost his hand in a battle with bogey monster Likho and was cursed with bad luck. This underpins Ivan’s struggle throughout the entire game, as good or righteous actions can bestow a blessing on Ivan. This however is not a good thing, given his curse, it instead fills up the Bad Luck meter and bestows a random ailment. The main problem is that whilst the ailments are usually just annoying, filling the bad luck bar summons the ghost of Likho who strikes at you with bad luck whilst bestowing an even worse condition on you.
The majority of the time this tended to be the breaking of his hammer leaving Ivan with only his fists until you find the next anvil or completed the level. With crafting items only gained through combat and random drops this can actually be pretty debilitating — especially since ploughing your “increased damage” enhanced items into a hammer only to then lose it puts you on the defensive for the remainder of the level.
Where Yaga really shines however is in its narrative, and the way in which the story is decided by the player. Remember back to the “Choose your own adventure” books where at the end of each page you would get an option as to where to go next, selecting the swamp over the mountains only to find the swamp is filled with traps and wishing you had taken the mountains.
Yaga delivers the entire story in the same way. Ivan can react in a number of ways from Angry, Righteous, Dumb or Selfish to most (if no -all) of the dialogue choices he needs to make, these in turn effect the story and the relationships he builds with the characters. Not only that but levelling up is done with multiple choice options and quest circumstances change dependant on your selections. Choose to go at dawn and the morning dew helps Ivan regenerate Willpower faster, but maybe go in the evening and his foes are weaker. It’s not all positives though, and sometimes the result is always negative. It’s up to you to choose the lesser of evils for the way you play it.
The entire ensemble of characters are voice acted and the music is suitably Eastern European, with a modest amount of remixing to keep the sound current. Levels are colourful and the only concern would be that even when selecting the evening for a quest the lighting or environment doesn’t change. That said, the levels are randomly generated and given the different endings on offer (there are five), the options to upgrade and play differently and the differing narrative quest paths, there’s some great replayability in Yaga.
With an interesting story, great narrative & quest dynamics, and hearty combat, there’s a lot to like about Yaga and plenty to have you return for at least a second helping.