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Nintendo E3 2019 Predictions, Expectations, Hopes & Dreams

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Nintendo is in a unique position going into its E3 2019 showcase. 2017 saw the company pulling out all the stops to reassure fans that their newest console (which was just launched a few months earlier) would be getting top-tier support for years to come. 2018 brought a decidedly less aggressive E3 presentation indicative of the Switch’s immediate success, solid third-party support, and the surefire sales of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Pokémon Let’s Go.

Nintendo’s E3 2019 is unique in that we already know most of what this year’s lineup is. Super Mario Maker 2, a game that’s almost guaranteed to take over streaming platforms for weeks after release, is dated as June 28th. Fire Emblem’s long-awaited return to home consoles is set for July 26th. And Astral Chain, the latest effort from Nier Automata’s lead game designer Takahisa Taura, is coming out August 30th.

Nintendo’s official E3 2019 plans.

This summer run of exclusives harkens back to 2017’s relentless pace of one first-party game per month (much like Bayonetta 2, Astral Chain is being published by Nintendo).

But it doesn’t end there.

Animal Crossing, Luigi’s Mansion 3, Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield, and Link’s Awakening are all previously announced blockbusters that fall under the vague “2019” umbrella. Assuming that they’ll keep up that one per-month cadence, that effectively fills out the rest of Nintendo’s first-party lineup for the year.

What does this mean? Well, unlike Mario + Rabbids at E3 2017 or Super Mario Party at E3 2018, it’s very unlikely that Nintendo will have any other major announcements for new games…coming out this year, anyway. This E3 is going to be all about fleshing out the games we’re already aware of, emphasizing continued third-party/indie support, and planting some small seeds to look forward to in 2020 and beyond.

Without further ado, here are our Nintendo E3 predictions!

Animal Crossing 2019

First-Party Blowouts

Animal Crossing

For the past few E3s Nintendo has consistently had a game that stands as the centerpiece of its E3 presentation. 2016 had Breath of the Wild, 2017 had Super Mario Odyssey, and 2018 had (maybe a little too much of) Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. This year? It’ll be all about Animal Crossing.

The sales behemoth of a franchise has been virtually silent since its Metroid Prime 4-style reveal back in September of last year. No further details, social media promotion, staff commentary–nothing. It’s simultaneously the most anticipated (perhaps only rivaled by Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield) and least detailed Switch release of 2019.

While Nintendo is certainly no stranger to dropping massive bombshells in random Directs throughout the year, E3 feels like the perfect platform for an in-depth Animal Crossing presentation. And assuming it’s coming this fall, there’s a good chance it’ll get a dedicated Treehouse segment as well. We have more specific predictions for the future of the franchise here.

Astral Chain

Platinum’s long-running relationship with Nintendo might just culminate in one of the best games this year. We still have a ton to learn about..well, every part of Astral Chain, really. Its story, characters, and the extent of its combat system are all still very much a mystery. If an enhanced port like Dragon Quest XI S got a major spotlight in February’s Direct, you better believe this Nintendo-published blockbuster will get more than a few minutes at E3.

Luigi’s Mansion 3

The fact that hype for Luigi’s Mansion 3 has been so low is both strange and completely understandable. It’s a game that series fans have wanted for ages, but it’s also the least we’ve seen of the 2019 Nintendo stable outside of Animal Crossing’s static reveal image. Though we’re likely to see more in a Direct closer to launch, E3 would be the opportune time to remind players that this is still coming out.

Nintendo E3 Predictions

First-Party Trailers

Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Between its thorough spotlight in the February Nintendo Direct and a massive Famitsu feature, Fire Emblem: Three Houses shouldn’t need much more than a polished trailer to satiate fans…before its own dedicated Fire Emblem Direct in early-mid July, of course.

Pokémon Sword and Shield

The hunger for new Pokémon info is at an all-time high. Despite months of map and trailer analyses, plenty of questions still remain: What’s the rest of the new generation look like? How will gym battles play out this time around? What about the legendaries? Will Sobble actually be chronically depressed for his entire evolutionary line?

These are all pressing questions we need answers to, and the Pokémon Company knows it. Here’s hoping they just don’t reveal too much like they have leading up to past games.

Super Mario Maker 2

The recent Super Mario Maker 2 Direct and Invitational on June 8th have promo for this one thoroughly covered. It’ll nonetheless get a dedicated trailer in the E3 Direct, however, and might even reveal an unannounced game style…

Town

News on Game Freak’s newest title has been slow, but that’s sure to change come E3. The company’s previous deviations from the Pokémon franchise have been stellar (Pocket Card Jockey, anyone?), so there’s a reason to have high hopes for this one. The ultimate hope? A demo shadow drop.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Character Reveal

By the time E3 rolls around Nintendo will have nine months to release the remaining DLC fighters for Smash (assuming they stick to their February 2020 goal). Revealing the second during their E3 Direct seems like a no-brainer. Who’ll be able to measure up to the Joker reveal hype, though? My money is on either Cuphead, Master Chief, or Dante.

Hail Mary Prediction:

A first glimpse at Super Mario Odyssey 2 gameplay (Galaxy 2-style) with a vague “2020” release date.

Nintendo E3 Predictions

First-Party Brief Mentions

Link’s Awakening

Being a remake of one of the most beloved Zelda games of all time, Link’s Awakening is by and large a known quantity. It’d make sense to show it again at E3, but it’s a game that most have already played at least once. No need to go for a deep dive on this one.

Daemon X Machina

Nintendo’s upcoming Armored Core-esque mech fighter has always seemed like a bit of a risky investment. This hunch was confirmed following the decidedly lukewarm response its February demo garnered. Still slated for a “Summer 2019” release, Marvelous should come out swinging with a trailer showing off a myriad of improvements based on copious amounts of fan feedback.

More realistically, though, Daemon X Machina will probably only receive a brief mention followed by an hour or so of Treehouse gameplay.

Nintendo E3 Predictions

Major Third-Party Support

While the Switch hasn’t received the hottest third-party releases this year, it has been garnering a fair bit of support nonetheless. The fervor among the Marvel fan base after “Avengers: Endgame” should make Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order–which is out in July–a lock for having an E3 presence. DOOM Eternal might also make an appearance after it inevitably gets shown off at Bethesda’s conference the Sunday before; we already know it’s playable, after all.

One thing is for certain, though: major western publishers likely still won’t play ball this year. We won’t be seeing Madden 19, the new Call of Duty, or the rumored Watch Dogs 3 (despite Ubisoft and Nintendo’s close relationship) for the Switch. Instead, the majority of third-party announcements will continue to come from Japanese companies.

Square Enix has been an invaluable partner as of late and should at least reveal the release dates for Dragon Quest XI S and Oninaki. Capcom has been a bit dodgier with Switch support, but a proper Monster Hunter built from the ground-up for the hybrid would do a lot to bridge that divide.

Hail Mary Prediction:

Shin Megami Tensei V gameplay is finally shown off with a “Spring 2020” date tacked on for good measure.

Nintendo E3 Predictions

Indies Galore

It’s no secret that indies have been flourishing tremendously since Nintendo went all-in on supporting them with the launch of the Switch. From studio-saving success stories like Blossom Tales to already massive games like Hollow Knight getting even bigger on the platform, the Switch has become something of an indie haven in the two years it’s been on the market.

That said, only the most high profile indies have historically shown up during Nintendo’s E3 Direct. It’d make sense to show another quick glimpse of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night before its release the following week. Shovel Knight: King of Cards also needs a firm date after its admittedly disappointing delay from April. And while we’re on the subject, know what else needs a release date?

Hail Mary Prediction:

Ori and the Blind Forest. 

That’s right. If Microsoft gave Studio MDHR the go-ahead to port Cuphead, why not let Moon Studios bring over Ori? Cuphead’s reign at the top of the eShop charts for the past month should only make the prospect that much more tantalizing.

Nintendo E3 Predictions

And that’s a wrap! Nintendo is primed to have an absolutely packed E3 showcase this year. Think we might’ve missed something? Feel free to share your own predictions in the comments below!

Brent became infatuated with manga and anime after randomly stumbling upon Vol. 3 of Yu Yu Hakusho on a childhood roadtrip. Today he has a soft spot for colorful JRPGs, cozy anime, and both games and shows that indulge his innate love of adventure. Find him (im)patiently waiting for Animal Crossing: New Horizons and incredibly fulfilled by Fire Emblem: Three Houses @CreamBasics.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Patrick Murphy

    May 25, 2019 at 3:16 pm

    I think you’re pretty spot on with this. It’s going to be one of those E3s where we pretty much already know what the year looks like (and it’s outstanding), so I’m not sure there will be many surprises. I like the Ori and the Blind Forest prediction though; I think there will be some great indie announcements, possibly some “it’s out now!” ones too.

    • Brent Middleton

      May 25, 2019 at 5:50 pm

      Appreciate it Patrick! The front half of the year has been pretty light for Nintendo (then again, it’s been that way for each of the Big 3 in terms of first-party), but the second half is looking ridiculous. And you’re right, there have to be at least 1 or 2 shadow drops!

  2. Chris

    June 4, 2019 at 4:21 pm

    I hope Cadence of hyrule gets a shadow drop, I also want pikmin 4 and metroid prime trilogy for 2020. It would also be cool if we got Zelda or Metroid maker as DLC for MM 2

    • Brent Middleton

      June 6, 2019 at 4:18 pm

      I can totally see a Prime Trilogy 2020 release. to tide us over. Zelda or Metroid themes for MM2 would be a good idea, but the (apparent, not totally confirmed) lack of costumes has me slightly doubtful.

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From ‘dnd’ to ‘Death Stranding’: Good Old Fashioned Boss Fights

If Death Stranding proves anything, and it does, it’s that there’s nothing quite like a good old-fashioned boss fight.

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Death Stranding Higgs Boss Fights

There’s nothing quite like a good boss fight. With the creation of dnd in 1975– a Dungeons & Dragons inspired RPG for the PLATO system– video games would be introduced to bosses. It’s hard to imagine the medium without bosses, those perpetual protectors of progress. For dnd, an incredibly primitive RPG, a boss allowed the game to feature these miniature climaxes — memorable events independent of the core gameplay loop. Bosses demand players pay attention or die, and beating one is a triumph in and of itself. Looking back, dnd’s concept of what a boss is amounts to little more than the average random battle, but video games could now build towards emotional highs like any other medium. 

A good boss can make or break a game, but they’re almost always a given. dnd essentially set an inherent basic of game design: video games have bosses. As the seventh generation of gaming ushered in more narrative driven and “cinematic” titles, however, boss design fundamentally changed. Where bosses had evolved from dnd to often serve as explicit rewards or a means to thoughtfully challenge a player’s grasp of the core mechanics, developers started to primarily embrace the “spectacle” of fighting a boss. 

Spectacle and boss fights naturally go hand in hand, though. After all, a boss is spectacle in nature. dnd’s spectacle is comparatively primitive, but it’s there and bosses do feel like events. Boss fights have always demanded our attention as an audience, isolating the world of a game into a singular objective. Some of the best bosses in gaming are almost pure spectacle: Baby Bowser in Yoshi’s Island, Ganondorf in Ocarina of Time, and Metal Gear REX in Metal Gear Solid. None of these bosses are particularly hard, but they make up for their lack of challenge with scale, scope, and gravitas. Spectacle. 

At the same time, they engage with the mechanics of the game even if they don’t outright challenge them. Of course, it would be disingenuous to go on without mentioning that all of these bosses appear near the end of their respective games. They’re easier and focus on spectacle as a means of rewarding the audience for coming so far. Anyone who’s played A Link to the Past in full will likely remember Moldorm as vividly as Ganon, but it’s the latter who fans will remember. Ganon is a spectacular duel to the death inside of a pyramid where the environment changes over the course of the fight. The former is just a good old fashioned boss fight. Who wants that?

As it turns out, a good chunk of AAA developers. BioWare director Casey Hudson infamously spoke out about boss fights after the release of Mass Effect 3, criticizing them for being “too video gamey.” While, contextually, Hudson’s comment refers to narratively convenient bosses specifically, it’s a sentiment that clearly rang true with developers throughout the late oughts & teens. This isn’t to say games with amazing bosses didn’t release over the course of the decade -– very far from it -– but boss design has changed, to the point where the Iggy Koopas and Revolver Ocelots of the world seem almost out of place. 

That’s just a consequence of consuming only AAA content, though. The indie scene has been thriving, and Japanese game development is the best it’s been in quite a while. In a generation where gaming is more mature and grounded than it’s ever been, the medium needed to end the decade with a reminder of video games in their purest form. Death Stranding is anything but, but its core philosophies play to the strengths of the medium with an evident passion. Death Stranding demands that audiences slow down and play by the game’s rules. 

In a generation where holding a player’s hand is the norm, this is a welcome breath of fresh air. It’s not only appropriately old-school, it’s a step back in the right direction. Like any facet of game design, bosses need to be thoughtfully considered. Being “too video gamey” can indeed be a bad thing depending on a titles tone, but swinging in the wrong direction and playing it too safe is never a good idea. Especially since Death Stranding proves mature, grounded AAA titles can absolutely still have the same over the top, pattern-based boss fights of yore — and comfortably, at that. 

“No BTs. No Voidouts. No bullshit. Just a good-old fashioned boss fight.”
– Higgs, Death Stranding (2019)

What’s interesting to note about Death Stranding’s boss fights is that they all play up the spectacle. Now, given the context that’s been established, that might seem like a step in the wrong direction, but any medium has to evolve with time. AAA developers haven’t historically used spectacle well, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try. Not every boss should be Ganon, but they should always be memorable. The problem with modern spectacle is that it doesn’t go beyond the surface level. It often carries little to no weight or context. Players are expected to care for the spectacle of the spectacle, but that’s simply not where the medium shines. Games are inherently about interconnectivity, and nothing demands more interconnection than a boss fight. 

From the moment players formally meet Higgs and he floods Port Knot City, it’s clear that Death Stranding’s boss fights are more Snake Eater than they are Peace Walker. They’re all incredibly meaty with tons of health, typical of a modern Hideo Kojima boss, but they’re not bullet sponges, and Sam’s limited inventory means that players will constantly be cycling through different weapons over the course of a fight. Couple this with bosses having identifiable patterns and Death Stranding’s boss loops end up being real highlights. 

As expected of a first boss, the Squid BT is on the simple side. At this point in the game, Sam really only has hematic grenades to fight back with. Anyone who hasn’t taken the time to learn how to use the grenades are now forced to do so as it becomes the only means of making progress. Since Higgs also ambushes Sam, players won’t be prepared for a fight on their first playthrough, forced to scavenge the flooded environment for gear. Most bosses strip Sam of his gear, but this approach only results in tense, well crafted battles that offer plenty of variety. Should Sam already have grenades on him, players can rush in to fight the Squid. Should they not, however, they’re going to have to search while staying alive. 

Starting with the next boss, the first fight against Cliff, Death Stranding begins allowing players to choose exactly how they approach a fight. Much like in Metal Gear, there’s no right or wrong way to tackle a boss. Where bosses in MGS2 onwards could be tackled lethally or non-lethally, Death Stranding’s bosses are more about action versus stealth. Both approaches are totally viable, and they lead into their own isolated boss loops. As Cliff Unger hunts Sam through World War I era trenches, players can stealth their way around him or just dive in guns blazing. 

It’s an incredibly tense battle, but it doesn’t let the spectacle of the situation outdo the actual fight. Cliff isn’t a set piece even if he looks it. He’s a genuine boss and players have to play well to beat him. Stealthing around to hit him from behind is safer, but it means players will be fighting Cliff for much longer, requiring more mental stamina. On the flip side, cutting to the chase and unloading the moment he rears his head will end the fight sooner, but only for players who know how to get in & out of combat fast. Otherwise, Cliff’s personal army will slaughter Sam. 

Cliff is fought twice more over the course of Death Stranding, and each encounter builds off the last. The World War I trenches provided plenty of cover for players regardless of which approach they chose, so naturally the second fight takes place in a World War II city. There’s still plenty of hiding spots, but Sam is now out in the open. Just as easily as Sam can see Cliff, so can he be seen. Getting to Cliff is harder in general. Stealthing towards him means taking advantage of any and all blind spots, no matter how brief. Starting a gunfight either requires some pre-established course of action or quick reflexes. 

Death Stranding

By the third and final fight, Sam is taking on Cliff in an open Vietnamese jungle. Stealthing through and fighting back are both harder, but players will have built up the proper skills over their past two fights to adequately stand a chance. The fights against Cliff are the most video gamey Death Stranding ever gets, with each one sharing the same definable patterns, but they’re ultimately a net positive for the game. Having to learn a pattern, finding a way to fight back, and reveling in the scope of a great boss fight makes Death Stranding better on a whole. 

Honestly, the final fight against Cliff isn’t going to be a challenge for most players, but it’ll still stand out as a highlight. Each boss fight is a playground in and of itself. If Sam’s not being transported to a secluded battlefield, areas will be flooded with tar so that they can be molded into proper boss arenas. Even Dark Souls, a modern series that rightfully prides itself on its bosses, often won’t give the same level of care toward boss arenas. Good bosses need good level design just as much as they need good patterns. 

Perhaps more important than anything else, Death Stranding’s boss fights are long. Even if players know what they’re doing, they still have to endure an endurance match of sorts. Boss fights aren’t just about overcoming a challenge, they’re about surviving and making progress. Cliff’s not particularly difficult, but one mistake can result in Sam getting torn into. The majority of BT boss fights will try to overwhelm the player in the second half, the final one even featuring a nasty one-hit-kill that can easily sneak up on players wading through tar. Bosses should feel like events, from how players can engage mechanically, to how they’re presented narratively. 

No discussion of Death Stranding’s good old fashioned boss fights would be complete without mentioning the boss fight: Higgs. After serving as the game’s main villain for dozens upon dozens of hours, Sam finally gets his chance to fight back in a three phase boss fight that could have (very) prematurely ended the game on a high. Unlike the fights against Cliff, Sam really does have nothinghere, no matter what. He’s stripped of his gear, his weapons, and even BB. “Stick versus rope. Gun versus strand.” It’s a great way not only to wrap up Higgs’ arc, but it also challenges a player’s mastery of the most basic mechanics. 

Death Stranding

Phase 1 of the fight requires players understand not only Sam’s hand to hand combat capabilities, but his ability to throw packages. Throw a package at Higgs, beat him up, rinse, repeat. All the while he’s hunting Sam in one of the most constricted boss arenas in the game. Popping up too early means taking a few shots courtesy of Higgs. Popping up too late means needing to find him all over again. 

Phase 2 puts Sam on the offensive, and expects players to fight back with his strand. Higgs needs to be countered, hog-tied, and then kicked into oblivion. On-screen button prompts make the ordeal easier than it would otherwise be, but it’s thrilling to fight a boss who requires players to pull off reflex-based inputs that go beyond the typical QTE flare. Players need to set themselves up accordingly to counter Higgs, actively taking him head on. 

By the time fighting game health bars pop up for the third phase, it’s fairly obvious Higgs’ boss fight is a love letter to the very concept of the boss fight. It’s over the top, almost nonsensical, but it has the right narrative and emotional context to stand out as one of the best moments in an already spectacular game. The fight against Higgs is a miniature climax in a massive story that spans half a hundred hours, and is about to keep on keeping on for half a dozen more. 

Death Stranding

When it really comes down to it, there’s no right or wrong way to conceive a boss fight. Those spectacle bosses have their place, and this generation has seen a lot of amazing ones. What’s important is that developers build and contextualize spectacle accordingly. Boss fights aren’t just an inherent part of gaming, they’re a tool that can make a title better. Opportunities to shine light on the core mechanics, or an interesting aspect of game design. Death Stranding’s penultimate mission essentially pits Sam against a boss gauntlet across the entire UCA, a last chance for players to really indulge in everything at their disposal before the grand finale. 

Death Stranding would still be good without its boss fights, but it certainly wouldn’t be great. Each one elevates the game, not only by presenting a visually memorable and mechanically engaging challenge, but by existing as natural consequences of the story. Each boss is contextualized properly with enough weight where each victory has a considerable amount of impact. Boss fights have come a long way since dnd, but they’re recognizable for what they are: a reminder that games are games, and the medium should be embracing those video gamey elements. It’s through this “video gameyness” that the most memorable titles are made. If Death Stranding proves anything, it’s that there’s nothing quite like a good old-fashioned boss fight.

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‘Life is Strange 2’ Episode 5 Review – “Wolves”: A Worthy Send-off

The final episode of Life is Strange 2 may take a while to get going but it does offer a solid conclusion to the Diaz brothers’ journey.

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Life is Strange 2

Life is Strange 2 hasn’t made any bones about being a political game over the course of the last year. The 5th, and final episode, “Wolves”, doesn’t just continue with this message, it doubles down, and in a big way.

Set near the Arizona-Mexico border, “Wolves” follows the Diaz brothers on the final leg of their journey. Having escaped from the cult that held Daniel up as a messianic figure in the previous episode, Sean and Daniel are camping out in a sort of pop-up town filled with outsiders like themselves.

Life is Strange 2

The location provides Life is Strange 2 with its final breath of relaxation before the story enters its high tension endgame, and it’s a much needed reprieve. Unfortunately, it does seem to go on a bit longer than the player might like, and that makes things drag a smidge.

To give you some idea of how long you’ll be spending in the village, 4 of the 6 collectibles are found here. So, yes, this starting area is the main place you’ll be spending “Wolves” in. To be clear, the area isn’t bad per se. There’s a lot to see, a scavenger hunt to go on, and a few interesting characters to speak with, including a surprise cameo from the original game. The bummer of it all is that players will be feeling the time here more laboriously simply because there isn’t much of anything happening.

Life is Strange 2

In the 2nd or 3rd episode of this story it’s perfectly fine for an extended bit of down time. Episode 3, in particular, benefited greatly from allowing you to settle into the setting and get to know a diverse and likable new group of characters. However, by the 5th episode, players will be so eager to see how things are gonna settle up, they won’t be able to get out of this area fast enough.

On the upswing, once Sean and Daniel leave the village, the story moves at a pretty solid clip to the credits. As the key art and trailer for “Wolves” might suggest, the Diaz brothers do indeed challenge the border wall in the final leg of Life is Strange 2. Where things go from there, I won’t spoil, but rest assured that Daniel will absolutely go through the crisis as you’ve trained him to do.

By this I mean, you will see the final results of your choices throughout the game, and they’re pretty impressive. With 4 possible endings, and 3 possible variations on those endings, Life is Strange 2 can ultimately play out in a variety of ways. How yours plays out will, of course, depend on the choices you’ve made and how you’ve influenced your brother throughout your journey.

Either way, though, Life is Strange 2 closes off “Wolves” with an emotionally satisfying and generally fulfilling conclusion to your journey. It might be a necessary evil that the events can’t be intense the whole way through, being that this is not an action or combat-focused game, but the fact that things take so long to get going in the final episode is a bit of a problem.

Still, fans worried that Life is Strange 2 might fail to stick the landing can rest easy. “Wolves” might not be the best, or most satisfying, episode of the series but it does what it needs to do and it does it well, particularly in the back half.

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Game Reviews

‘Yaga’ Review: A Bittersweet Fairy Tale

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Yaga Game Review

Some games feel perfectly suited to their genres, as if they fulfill every ambition that their genre could promise. On paper, Yaga from the developer Breadcrumbs Interactive, should be one of those games. This roguelike RPG is meant to bring traditional Slavic folktales to life, and its procedurally generated structure allows the game to change in every playthrough, just like how the ancient fairy tales it’s based on can change in every telling. Yaga immediately shines on a conceptual level, but as a game, the most important question remains: will this fairy tale be enjoyable to play?

From start to finish, Yaga uses the rich source material of Eastern European history and folklore to create a vibrant, fantastical world. The entire game is framed as three elderly women telling the story of Ivan, a heroic blacksmith who has been stricken with the curse of bad luck. These women spin a fanciful yarn, one in which Ivan is constantly plagued by horrors from traditional fairy tales such as the hideous One-Eyed Likho, along with more realistic foes, such as a corrupt, overbearing Tsar. The game thrives on this balance between history and fantasy. Its world is filled with peasants who face daily, universal struggles with war and agriculture, while massive ogres and goblin-like Vodyanoys haunt the surrounding wilderness. This mixture creates a strong setting that finally gives Slavic history and mythology its long-overdue representation in games.

Yaga Game Review

“Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.”

The frame story always remains the same: Ivan will always have to serve his Tsar while avoiding bad luck in every playthrough. However, beyond these core details, the old women are extremely flexible storytellers, often switching events around or changing story beats entirely. In some playthroughs, you may discover a woman raising an enormous chicken; in others, you may instead encounter a band of thieves waiting to rob you. You will frequently face important decisions to make that will dramatically impact the outcome of your quest. yes, you can always break into monster hideouts with hammers blazing to slay every creature before you; but more often than not, you are also given the opportunity to peacefully talk your way out of these toxic situations. Even more dramatically, oftentimes the game will zoom out to the old women storytellers and allow you to choose how they tell the rest of Ivan’s story. Yaga is at its best when it doubles down on this player freedom. It makes every moment engaging and allows its stories to truly come alive.

Yaga

Yaga’s writing and presentation only serve to make this world even more striking. It features a distinctly dark sense of humor – for instance, a man may ask you to push a boulder into a well behind his house, but he will neglect to tell you that he has also thrown his wife into the bottom of that well ahead of time. Much of this dialogue is even written in rhyme, enhancing the otherworldly, fairy tale atmosphere. On top of that, nearly all dialogue is fully voice acted, with most voice actors delivering some eccentrically charming performances that make the game feel as if it’s a playable Disney film. The visuals look like they’re taken straight out of a Russian children’s book of fairy tales, while the music incorporates traditional instruments and language into an electronic, hip-hop fusion soundtrack that captures the cultural heritage that Yaga focuses on while connecting it to modern culture. Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.

However, this leads to the gameplay. Quests may be randomized each time you play, but nearly every one of them takes the same general format. One character will request help, and then Ivan will have to venture out into the world to fight some demons or recover an item. Worse yet, the levels are just as randomized in their procedurally generated design, and not in a particularly clever way, either: most of them likewise follow the same formula, being little more than arenas full of enemies connected by copy-and-paste environments. Many paths in each environment lead to nothing more than pointless dead ends. The combat has a satisfyingly simple basis, with basic moves like long- and close-range attacks, roll dodging, items to use, and a variety of different weapons to equip, although his trusty old hammer is generally the best choice. However, while this simplicity makes the combat enjoyable on its own, there is very little depth to it, and the inherently repetitive design of the mission only serves to highlight how paper-thin combat can be. Most battles involve little more than hacking away at enemies until they die, which becomes increasingly repetitive by the end of the roughly ten-hour campaign.

Yaga

At the very least, the robust customization system helps add a little intrigue to the combat. As a blacksmith, Ivan is naturally gifted with the ability to craft weapons for himself to use. By scavenging parts and items from fallen enemies and treasure chests around the world, Ivan is able to create the most powerful weapons. Crafting is simple to use yet extremely ripe for experimentation, requiring only one base item and a handful of accessories to create unique new items. With dozens of components to discover and use in your forging, there are plentiful opportunities to create the best possible weapons.

“All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.”

The crafting system would be the standout aspect of the moment-to-moment gameplay if it weren’t foiled by another one of the game’s systems: Bad Luck. Ivan has been cursed with perpetual Bad Luck, which grows constantly throughout the game – whenever something good happens, Bad Luck is sure to increase. Whenever the Bad Luck meter fills all the way, Likho will appear and strike Ivan, generally breaking one of his weapons or stealing his money.

Yaga Game Review

On paper, this mechanic makes sense, since it prohibits the player from becoming too overpowered and also fits into the folklore style off the story. In practice, however, it is an infuriating limitation on player progression and invention. It effectively punishes players for putting thought and care into their weapon crafting and character-building – at any moment it can all be washed away in bad luck, so what’s the point? Considering how enjoyable the crafting and combat systems are, it’s a shame that Bad Luck seems to exist solely to diminish the very best parts of the gameplay, leaving the game feeling like it cripples itself.

Your enjoyment of Yaga depends heavily on what experience you want out of it. If you’re looking for a deep and satisfying RPG, then it likely won’t deliver. Although it features satisfying combat and customization systems, the frustrating randomization of its level design and Bad Luck system only serve to foil these good qualities. If you are instead looking for a faithful, fleshed-out image of Slavic cultural heritage, portraying both the harsh realities of peasant life along with its fanciful folklore, then Yaga is a clear triumph thanks to its emphasis on player choice, its excellent writing, and its beautiful hand-drawn visuals and inventive soundtrack. All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.

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