The Yawhg PC Developed by Damiam Sommer and Emily Caroll Released in 2013
A game with such a tricky name that I had trouble finding it in my own steam library, The Yawhg is an interactive visual novel intended to be played as a multiplayer game. Featuring an intriguing art-style and concept, this is the very first game that came to mind when Stian and I decided on doing an indie month specifically for underrated titles. Now join me, lovely readers, for the Yawhg is coming, and we are not prepared yet.
Depending on how many people are playing, or how many characters you are comfortable controlling, The Yawhg is about a maximum of four people (2 of each gender) living in a small village in a fantasy setting. Unbeknownst to these characters, The Yawhg is approaching the village. What The Yawhg is, is not actually explained, but at the start of each turn you are treated to a well-written bit of text describing it without outright spoiling. This works wonders, as you are kept in the dark about what will happen, yet these texts very clearly convey how dangerous it will be.
With each turn, all characters have to perform an action at one of the many different buildings in the village. Each locale has two actions available and all those actions will upgrade your skill points a set amount, after which you are treated to an extra event where you are usually presented with a choice. While working at the hospital, for example, you will greatly enhance your Mind statistic, after which, for example, a bunch of medical leeches escape and you need to decide how to deal with that.
Where the Yawhg shines as both a multiplayer game and a visual novel is how connected all of these events are. An action of one character in one location may have consequences for several other characters somewhere else, and many of the random events require different statistics than those connected to the building you are currently at. In the example above, you could destroy the leeches with magic, but that will naturally fail if you haven’t studied magic and only serves to make the situation worse. This encourages you to mix up and experience events at a variety of places, which can kick off really interesting story-lines.
The end goal of the game is to raise up your statistics for six turns, and then deal with the aftermath of the Yawhg’s arrival. Depending on the role each character takes, the game calculates whether or not the city will rise once again or if the Yawhg has truly conquered it. While this sounds easy, like just assigning people to the job that best matches their statistic, there are a lot of factors involved that can just condemn your efforts entirely or severely decrease the chance at you succeeding. Perhaps a point against the game is that, with multiple playthroughs, you eventually begin to recognize when events that trigger these show up, but you aren’t always able to really do anything against them.
To top the game off, it will also show you what became of your character, regardless of how good or bad the overall ending was. This is a really neat touch that I wish more media would include: showing us what became off the characters that we have grown to love. And that feels strange to say, because I was definitely drawn in by the story, despite the game lasting maybe an hour at most if you really, really take your time with everything. This is a small game, but it manages to achieve so much more with that time than comparatively longer games. It’s awesome to see small choices you make lead to entire story-lines that you missed in previous runs, simply because you didn’t go to the right places in the right order. It really makes a small story feel huge thanks to how interconnected every moment is.
While the gameplay itself is simplistic, it is slightly disappointing that it has some control issues. For some bizarre reason it really insists on you playing with a controller, though you can also play it with the arrow keys on your keyboard. However, if you select a location you did not intend, then there doesn’t seem to be a way to cancel out of that. Hitting escape will bring up a screen telling you to hit escape to leave, but doing that just brings up the same screen again. For a PC exclusive game played entirely through a menu interface, this is a design choice I can’t comprehend at all.
That is a petty complaint, however, and I’d say vastly overshadowed by just how enjoyable the writing in The Yawhg is. It really sells you on the fantasy setting and draws you in with witty phrasing and imaginative setpieces.
Story & Gameplay score: 9/10
It’s games like these that make me regret not being very familiar with art-styles, because I struggle to really describe how pretty The Yawhg is. It really manages to create a visual style utterly unique to itself, I have never seen any other game that looks quite like this, and to be fair, I hope I never will. This really is a visual treat that I hope nobody will ever try to clone.
The cartoon-like drawings mixed with dark colors and elaborately designed characters make this game a joy to look at, and an impressive detail is that every action at every location has a unique drawing for each of the four characters, as well as extra pictures like the one above for when an interesting random event is triggered. It’s also kind of hilarious to see that you can play a noble-looking lady as a thieving scumbag or arena fighter, and still the artist manages to make it look fitting.
The soundtrack is easy to listen to with calm, melancholic music. I was surprised when at one point I walked up the stairs after fetching coffee, only to notice the music has vocals to it that sound amazing even if they don’t match the context of the game that well. I also appreciate how the main theme song changes in subtle ways when the final weeks approach. That really helps hammer home how dire everything is about to become.
Presentation score: 10/10
Again and again
The Yahwg is plenty replayable thanks to the many, many story-lines it contains and which you discover entirely by experimenting. It’s also just really enticing to do this; whenever I decide to fire it up again, I can never seem to just play one round of it, I always go on for 3-4 runs before I am satisfied. Admittedly, once you build up steam that is only about an hour and a half in total, but it speaks volumes about how engaging the game is.
The degree to which it works as a multiplayer game is a tad questionable since it’s a little too much fantasy and explaining to just break out at a party. Being a PC only game also makes this somewhat difficult, unless you stream the footage to a TV. Perhaps this is why the game is so insistent on you using a controller, since that is slightly easier than passing a keyboard around.
Extras score: 8/10
For ten bucks The Yawhg may seem a tad short, but I guarantee you that what it lacks in duration, it makes up for with beautiful art, strong writing, and plenty of replayability. It’s also just a great game to show off to people and its short length supports this, allowing you to just let someone go wild with it for twenty minutes. It’s a game that always makes me wonder what else is out there and even after many runs, I still end up discovering new events. Without a doubt in my mind, this is a game I will gladly recommend.