Release date: May 30, 2013 Publisher: Damian Sommer & Emily Carroll
This is the story of two people.
Finnegan was a ruffian who made his living betting on arena fights and pickpocketing unfortunate slum dwellers. He once tangled with a ghost in a hospital and then burned off his eyebrows by accident. Within the span of four weeks, he transformed from a street urchin into a wealthy hedonist whose advice was often sought by the king himself.
Susan, on the other hand, never cared much for money nor royalty. Nature and lessening the burdens of those around her were her reasons for living. She fought crime in the same alleyways that Finnegan skulked in (their paths never crossed) and she danced in the moonlight with a gorgeous dryad. Her magical prowess was only outmatched by her empathy.
When the Yawhg came, it was up to these two souls to save the kingdom. To go any further would reveal major details about the game’s most powerful moments. Instead, I’ll simply say that each character’s choices came back to haunt and reward them in surprising ways, which is fitting since The Yawhg is a game that’s completely about choices.
Games like Mass Effect and Fallout have emphasized the importance of choices, but they were never completely centered around player’s ability to make a choice. Instead, moments where the player was given input into story formation popped up during games that were mostly about shooting and exploring, respectively. Instead, The Yawhg is about giving the player four archetypical characters, a magical kingdom, and a Choose Your Own Adventure story that’s supplemented by Emily Carroll’s beautiful art and a gorgeous melody from Ryan Roth. Total choice with no filler is what The Yawhg offers players.
The Yawhg can be played by a single person, but it’s more fun to play with other people (up to four). Regardless of how many are partaking, at least two characters must be chosen from four portraits that will look familiar enough to anyone who’s dabbled in fantasy RPGs before. However, there’s no class or name for these avatars—only portraits and stats that seem to fit the class each portrait suggests.
After the selection is made, the game begins by informing you that some evil force called the Yahwg is approaching and that none of the occupants of the kingdom are aware of said approach. Thus starts a six week period where your characters live their lives unburdened by the knowledge of impending doom. The majority of the game takes place on this screen:
One week is a single turn for all characters. Each turn you can choose what your character is going to be doing for the entirety of that week. Should your mage spend a week in the Alchemy Tower mixing potions? She might earn some money and a boost in her magic skills; on the other hand, she might also set her hair on fire—to the amusement of the tower’s residents—and lose some of her charm. Every choice you make for your character is tempered by probability and the character’s individual stats. So, for example, if your suave rouge is good at manipulating people with words but is lousy in a fight, it’s probably a good idea to turn tail when the possibility of combat pops up.
Of course, the “combat” isn’t there in the traditional sense; you don’t take part in turn-based battles or hack & slash your way to victory. Instead, The Yawhg encourages the player to rely on his/her imagination as it briefly informs you of each choice’s outcome. There’s no real “gamey” segments outside of the stat-based math you find yourself doing when trying to decide between wiser of two options for your character to take in any given situation. Ultimately, I believe it’s a design choice that’s for the better; the development team has managed to pack a hefty amount of quality content into what is a short (but highly replayable) game.
Once your six turns are up, the interactive ending plays and you learn the fruits of your characters’ labors. Every one of my sessions, except for the one I played through with my girlfriend, took around eight to ten minutes. The co-op session lasted around twelve minutes. In a single day, I had five fulfilling adventures with various characters thanks to the encounters and endings available in each randomly generated playthrough. The official site for The Yawhg boasts “Over 50 unique endings that can happen to everyone,” and from my experiences I’m inclined to believe it: none of my characters have yet shared an ending with another. The same cannot be said for events preceding the ending, though. I’ve had several characters fall under a vampire’s charms and rob the same group of settlers in the woods over those five playthroughs. It’s nowhere near a deal breaker, but there’s definitely a discrepancy between how varied the endings of the game are and how many unique encounters there are in the six weeks segment.
Something that might strike players as odd is the platform on which The Yawgh is played: PC. The bite-sized gameplay would feel right at home on an iPhone or other portable device. This isn’t really that much of a criticism as it is a curiosity that stuck with me during my time with the game, so much so that I emailed Damian Sommer, lead programmer, and asked him about the possibility of a portable version. This was his answer:
[quote style="1"]“Vita won’t happen unless there is magic. Smartphone port could be a very distant possibility, but I’m trying to not even think about it right now!”[/quote]
An understandable sentiment. And regardless of its platform, The Yawhg is a wholly unique experience that provides players with the tools to construct their own humorous and often sad chronicles of The Time of The Yawhg. Will you raise saviors and saints, or thieves and looters? What drastic changes will your adventurers undergo in those six weeks? The Yawhg is confident enough to let you take your characters wherever you wish and will still probably surprise you several times before the last beautiful image has faded into the darkness—a brief but poignant adventure concluded.
When he isn’t teaching or cobbling together a novel, Javy devotes his time to writing about these video game things. He's a contributor and the former game editor at CultureMass. You can follow the trail of pizza crumbs to his Twitter feed @JavyIV.