What will you do to prepare yourself before The Yawhg comes? Or more importantly, what kind of life will you lead before The Yawhg?
A co-operative choose-your-own-adventure game from Damian Sommer, The Yawhg is a difficult beast to review. Potentially, everyone’s experience with the game will be different, so trying to find a baseline from which to approach it proves to be rather challenging.
Let’s start with the menu-screen, though, in which you can select your character. You get to pick two, three or all four to play as. Would you like to be a dapper fellow with a fancy garb, a pretty princess, a sorceress with a pointy hat, or a grizzly-looking man with an orange beard? The choice is yours.
Gameplay is turn-based, resembling a classic RPG table-top, but the story is told in the vein of an interactive and visual comic. The end result depends on the choices you make, and the game responds accordingly to the skill points gathered during your time with it. You’re encouraged to play local co-op to fully experience what it has to offer.
The tone of the story is light-hearted and amusing, but The Yawhg also manages to maintain serious undertones alongside its morbid humor. If beating fuzzy woodland creatures to death and getting smashed at the local tavern is an acceptable form of celebration, then this is your kind of game. The music and sound design gives a sense of impending doom lurking at the corner of each turn, and the mood darkens as you get closer to the Yawhg. At the end, the game rewards or scolds you based on what role you will play post-Yawhg. Whatever the result may be, the solemn acoustic theme used in the starting screen plays, telling you what kind of life your characters had led after the reconstruction of the town.
The Yawhg is short, but it was designed like that; replay value is something that is in short supply these days, but something that many developers could do well to learn the value of. As unfortunate as it may be, developers often typically do the bare minimum, depending on the tightness of a deadline. The Yawhg has a very minimalistic approach, and while it needs to be kept in mind that the developers were working with a limited budget, sometimes the slender amount of content on offer can make you question the approach they’ve taken. Games such as this live or die based on the amount of choices they offer; while The Yawhg does present choices, it’s too easy to see all it has to offer in just a couple of sittings.
A redeeming argument would be that the Yawhg has plenty of different endings. While this is true, the game could have used more mechanics in order to make results more unique and re-playable. For the fifth playthrough, we managed to encounter the same beginning, middle and ending. However, if we explored other areas, the consequences were too harsh and not worth the risk. We felt forced to stay in one place in order to gain skills. While the game does encourage you to play multiple times, such an approach not only becomes flawed, but it becomes old. The whole idea is to flourish character development before The Yawhg, and the game seems to encourage a “master of one” approach, rather than a jack-of-all-trades type character; but since none of these characters have any distinctive flaws or strengths at the beginning of the game, such an approach flounders more than it succeeds.
By the tenth playthrough, you’ll know what to expect from each storyline, whether you place a character in one spot throughout the whole game or not. Accidentally dropping medicinal leeches in the town’s sewage system used to be a random and fun surprise element the first few times, but after a while it becomes old. While The Yawhg emphasizes story content and replay value, a lack of variety and content means that it runs out of ideas too soon. It isn’t bad, but it does need some fine-tuning and more choices in order to successfully experience replay value at its best.
If you’re expecting a game that will provide you endless depth and variety, you’ll be disappointed. But approach The Yawhg for appreciation of its playful art-style, relaxe to its beautiful soundtrack while you reminisce on the retro games it paints a respectful homage to, and it can be an engaging – albeit brief – experience.