Playing as an unlucky one handed blacksmith, Yaga is an action RPG that defines its gameplay loop early. After the opening cutscene, in which you learn how Ivan the blacksmith loses his hand, players walk around the town hub talking to citizens to acquire quests. Then the blacksmith leaves town, selects a task, then heads into the forest or swamp to go kill that bad guy, fetch that thing, or rescue that person. Once completed, the blacksmith returns to the town to use the materials he finds to craft new weaponry and unlock more quests.
Yaga’s loop isn’t anything unique but its moral system is. Most conversations allows the player to respond in a number of ways which can ultimate modify rewards and the luck system. Make too many poor decisions, fail in battle, or using too many items can send Ivan’s luck into the black. When this happens, he plays as if he is cursed and can even instantly lose some of the best items in inventory. As an example of how extreme this bad luck modifier can be, I lost a very expensive item, one that I should have sold when I had the chance, that I earned from completing a quest with no way of getting it back. This was a huge bummer and I would have restarted my game if I wasn’t so far deep into the current quest.
The unique gameplay elements provide addicting enjoyment to keep players coming back but there are a few glaring flaws that hold back the entire experience from being a great must-play title. Most areas are rather large and feature vast branching paths so not having access to a detailed mapping system is a glaring oversight. Making matters worse, Ivan’s default movement is very slow so traversing these large environments, which always involve backtracking, is way more tedious and time consuming than it needs to be. Ivan has the ability to dodge roll which is slightly faster than his standard walk so I found myself constantly mashing the roll button just to move a little faster.
Combat is also a big part of gameplay but players should quickly learn that using hit-and-run tactics always works best. In fact, using any other attack or unlockable item is almost always worthless when compared to the standard Thor-hammer throw with recall toss. The final major component is the crafting system as the playable character is a blacksmither after all. However, even though there is an emphasis on crafting, I never felt compelled to do so since the hammer toss is enough take down most enemies with a few swings. It also sucks that you can lose these precious crafting materials instantly thanks to the bad luck system. The load times are also long and frequent, forcing the player to stare at a pack of creepy witches, and the soundtrack definitely stands out. Composed mostly of native American-like chanting, it fits the goofily animated visual style but starts to rattle nerves with longer play sessions. I also encountered a game breaking bug where I was supposed to collect an item but the item was glitched into not being interactive, not allowing me to pass or finish the stage.
Although it isn’t a perfect game and there are better action RPGs out there, Yaga has just enough there to keep players entertained if they don’t mind repetitive gameplay loops and some quirky mechanics.
Also available on PC, PS4, Apple Arcade, and Nintendo Switch.
Better Than: losing your hand fighting supernatural beings
Also Try: Moonlighter
Wait For It: the Trials of Mana remake in 2020