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Yaga Review: Babaluck

/ Dec 26th, 2019 No Comments

Yaga Review

You ever have one of those days where you feel like nothing is going your way? What about one of those lives where nothing goes your way? Probably not. However, Yaga puts you in the shoes of Ivan to find out what it’d be like to be cursed with extraordinarily bad luck.

Yaga is a gorgeous game with fantastic combat and an engrossing story. It is brought to life thanks to its little touches.

Without Bad Luck, I’d Have No Luck

It was simply a test… a way to measure the character of the Tzar to see what kind of man he is. What is a small scrap of bread to someone so rich and powerful, when it would mean the world to such a poor old woman?

Yet as the rich and powerful are scum (and should be eaten), the Tzar fails. As he refuses the old woman’s request, she reveals herself to be none other than Baba Yaga. She tells the Tzar of the fate that will befall him: a man of bad luck will he present when his reign ends, and he can’t kill him by his own hand or his kingdom will end all the same.

Yaga Review
The Tzar is driven by greed and fear resulting in a lot of arduous tasks for Ivan.

The fear of this man with bad luck consumes the Tzar until he finds out it is Ivan the Blacksmith. Ivan has such bad luck all his weapons fall apart and he lost his arm to Likho. Knowing he can’t kill Ivan intentionally, the Tzar tasks him with completing impossible tasks. Sadly, Ivan must find a way to accomplish them or else he’ll be exiled permanently.

Yaga’s narrative is told like a fairytale, and uses Ivan’s ordeals to explore Slavic folklore. Told through rhyming couplets, the story is absolutely charming. It’s story is a great example of less is more to deliver a memorable tale.

Yaga Review
Ivan’s bad luck is paramount to the story, but it plays a major angle in the gameplay with serious consequences.

It also keeps with the tradition of oral storytelling because each playthrough the story changes. Your decisions and actions determine how the story unfolds. In a beautiful way, it uses the procedural nature of its gameplay to mimic the way a story changes with each telling.

Fighting for your Life

At the core of gameplay, Yaga is about exploring various dungeon-esque areas. Everything is covered in a fog of war to add a layer of verisimilitude to the proceeding because if how would you know the lay of the land? It gives a feeling of danger and unpredictability to navigating through toward your goal.

Enemies are lurking at any turn and pop up randomly as you explore. The only warning you have is a barrier popping up behind preventing your exit. To escape you have to dispatch every enemy on screen. This adds a risk/reward angle to diligently exploring.

Danger is ever present and death is very real. Whether you’re squaring off against thieves, wild beasts, mythical creatures, or bees! You are always one mistake from taking a L. The cool part of dying is you get a second chance thanks to Baba Yaga, the spinner, weaver and reader pulling the strings of Ivan’s story. However, if you goof again than you are truly dead and the punishment for dying is high. So don’t die for real, for real.

Fortunately, Ivan combines a strong offense with his hammer & tools with evasive maneuvers. The hammer doubles as a melee and ranged attack with the ability to throw and call it back a la Marvel’s Thor. He also can dodge generously to avoid damage and open up opportunities for attacks.

Yaga Review
The crafting system in Yaga is a delight. It is relatively simple to use, but the permutations add a lot of depth.

It is Ivan’s tool where things open up. He gains the ability to utilize new tools as the story progresses. These secondary weapons act as a prosthetic limb for his missing hand. They give him the option to maul enemies with a bear claw or hook shot them with a claw hand. These useful secondary weapons are rewards for completing side quests, which makes it worthwhile to complete them.

Since Ivan is a blacksmith, there is a robust crafting system in Yaga. By utilizing and upgrading Ivan’s anvil you can forge much more powerful and useful versions of his hammer and tools. Crafting isn’t needlessly complex. 

It comes down to selecting the weapon you want to smith then selecting a material and special item to imbue it with additional properties. Depth comes from the sheer variety of combinations you can craft. With a good amount of different ores and a ton of RELICS you can crate a wide range of weapons with varying effects.

Besides being a blacksmith, Ivan is extremely unlucky. He is so unlucky he is not good at being a blacksmith or at all charming. His bad luck is more than an overriding character trait, it plays heavily into the gameplay.

Yaga Review
Boss fights in Yaga are tough, but rad as hell.

Yaga features a bad luck system. Ivan’s bad luck is measured by a meter. When it fills up, all manner of bad things happen…mostly you lose a lot of your valuable items and equipment. Yet a high bad luck has its benefits as your gain experience faster the higher it is. There is a lot of risk and reward to having bad luck much like exploration.

Ivan’s bad luck is influenced by a few different factors like receiving blessings and using magic. However the more interesting metric that affects bad luck is the decisions Ivan makes.

In a beautiful instance of synergy with the narrative, Ivan’s decisions influence his luck as every decision Ivan makes determines his disposition. When he makes decisions out of anger, selfishness, foolishness or righteousness it aligns his personality to one of those temperaments. 

Thus if Ivan is foolish his decisions and responses naturally should be gormless. If a foolish Ivan acts out of aggression or selflessness than he will be cursed with bad luck. It is a nice touch to deepen Ivan’s character and the roleplaying aspects of the game while informing the gameplay.

Overall

Yaga is a treat! If you are looking for strong hack-n-smash gameplay with clever systems elevating the experience, and a great story brought to life by the wonderful voice acting than you can’t go wrong.

Yaga was reviewed on Nintendo Switch with a code provided by the publisher.

Kalvin Martinez

Kalvin Martinez

Senior Editor at Gaming Illustrated
Kalvin Martinez studied Creative Writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He writes reviews, prose and filthy limericks. While he is Orange County born, he now resides in Portland, OR. He is still wondering what it would be like to work at a real police department. Follow Kalvin on Twitter @freepartysubs
Kalvin Martinez

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YAGA REVIEW: BABALUCK

Gaming Illustrated RATING

Overall90%

GAMEPLAY9

Yaga delivers strong hack-n-smash gameplay elevated by a clever smithing and luck system.

GRAPHICS9

Yaga features rich and lush graphics thanks to an irresistible hand painted art style.

SOUND9

Yaga’s voice acting is stellar and sells the couplet rhyming style of dialogue so well.

STORY9

Yaga’s narrative shows how to persevere in the face of overwhelming odds, anchored by the strong character of Ivan the Blacksmith you are always hoping he’ll find a way out of his predicament.

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