The Yawhg Review: Unnatural Disaster
A choose-your-own adventure defined by morbid writing is not the game type I would typically turn to for an amusing co-op experience, yet The Yawhg succeeds as an unlikely party favorite in spite of impending tragedy. The Yawhg, the game’s unnatural disaster, is coming, and the only certainties include death, destruction, and famine. Oh, you only have six weeks (six turns) to prepare, too, by completing menial chores like meditating, brewing potions, chopping wood, and bartending.
Those tasks then feed into your character’s skills (physique, finesse, magic, etc.). With the end goal to aid the town’s eventual recovery, will that charming huntress take charge and lead the people to prosperity? Can a wealthy pickpocket prevail as the local doctor? Each turn, players visit one of eight locales ‒ the arena, forest, palace, gardens, hospital, tavern, slums, or alchemy tower ‒ and partake in one of two assignments. Will you clean the infirmary or nurse patients back to health? Do you pour drinks for bar patrons or revel in the merriment firsthand?
The narrative branches extensively, though the jobs guarantee specific rewards. Mopping up messes at the alchemy tower adds to wealth, physique, and magic, while brewing potions enhances magic and mind (intellect). Given the consistency, I knew how I wanted to grow my character, and I could execute on that plan. But random occurrences shake up progress and keep the story replayable. A potion goes nuclear on your watch. Do you chuck the liquid out the window or drink the vial clean? Throw it out, you say? Too bad. Strong winds blew the mixture back through the window and down your throat, burning your esophagus.
Even the best intentions can go awry. A woman notices you fighting crime in the slums. She beckons you over, offering to pay for your services. Take her up on that deal, however, and you catch a nasty case of vampirism; now people hang on your every word, you charmer. Several scenarios end poorly regardless of input, though others impact future turns. Unable to suppress your thirst for blood, one week later, you drain countless civilians dry and destroy part of the city permanently, you monster.
Not that rounds last long. The Yawhg brings people together where many games fail ‒ the story seldom exceeds ten minutes and cannot begin unless players select at least two protagonists ‒ all without online support. With friends and the game’s unpredictable incidents, The Yawhg could tide anyone over for hours, where part of the fun is laughing at someone else’s misfortune. How come he got to show off a magic trick for scientists while I had to squash a zombified ferret?
Although you should min-max your character before The Yawhg arrives, procrastination says six weeks is five more than I need. Oh crap, six weeks already passed? Time to choose your role during the town’s restoration, from leader, builder, smelter, conjurer, tailor, or doctor. You can even be the looter or town drunk for kicks. What? You think alcohol drinks itself? The Yawhg is cynical, which you hopefully figured out. Unless you have the strength to swing the hammer, the 20 gold coins you thought to smith into metal are now worthless.
Obviously, the prepared few will rise from the ashes. The epilogue downplays achievements like an abusive parent ‒ just because you conjured plenty of supplies does not mean you will ever create a love potion ‒ but the art takes away some of the sting. Colorful Illustrations evocative of children’s storybooks accompany acoustic melodies from the sound designer on Starseed Pilgrim, Ryan Roth, who matches the game’s melancholy beat for beat with somber chords.
Above all, the soundtrack will stick with me the longest. The Yawhg is comical and derisive while it lasts, but the narration runs its course once dialogue starts repeating. This is no roguelike. The text is finite, and you cannot bring back the surprise of going supernova and razing the palace during a formal get-together. The Yawhg also lacks resolution options, volume levels cannot be adjusted, and the main menu frequently froze, ignoring any button prompts to proceed.
I lost count around five hard locks, taking that as a sign to shelve The Yawhg for a rainy day. The decisions can be too obtuse at times (will high magic or high charm cure a frog prince's curse?), but discovering what work benefits society and what causes horribly hilarious failure remains part of the appeal, and 50 epilogues suggests a dozen unique playthroughs. I thrived after storms flooded city streets, after earthquakes consumed houses whole. I flourished in the face of defeat, though I accepted defeat’s flourishes just as often.