Soon It Will Be Here: A Review Of The Yawhg
What can I say about Damian Sommer and Emily Carroll’s The Yawhg without ruining it? Well, it’ll be here soon. The Yawhg came out today, and the Yawhg itself comes in six weeks. Will you be ready?
The Yawhg is a multiplayer choose your own adventure story about the six weeks before your city is destroyed by the titular Yawhg. You play, collectively, one to four characters living there; you can play with three friends and give everyone their own character, or you can control them all yourself. As you go, you control these characters’ destinies, what they do before their worlds are irrevocably shattered by the Yawhg.
It’s not a game so much about defeating anything as it is about coping with forces beyond your control. And that’s what makes The Yawhg so spectacular.
Each playthrough will last about twenty minutes (longer if you play with three friends), and you’ll have to make thirteen choices per character: where to spend your last remaining weeks, and what to do there. And The Yawhg isn’t so much about these choices as it is about the philosophical question of what you do when the world’s about to end. Do you keep going to work, making money that might not be valuable in the future? Do you go to party upon party, hoping the good times never end? Or do you fight crime?
You make your choices, and The Yawhg provides you with a resolution. You tell it your story, and it tells you its. It’s all accompanied by a seriously haunting, lovely soundtrack, as well as gorgeous art.
The Yawhg might be one of the most thoughtful games I’ve ever played. It gives you the illusion of freedom, and in this freedom you’ll constantly feel like you’ve made the choice you’ve wanted, but not the choice you needed to make. It feels wistful. More accurately, it takes the story you’re telling and makes it feel wistful.
I admire The Yawhg for taking this approach. Few games so actively embrace the player. As such, The Yawhg feels more like a tabletop RPG than it does what we’d consider a video game: it’s not telling a story so much as telling you what happens when you make choices.
The first playthrough of the game—recommended for nighttime, when the overwhelming future it presents is most present—is sublime. Those stories you (and hopefully your friends) create will stick with you for a long time. I can’t tell you mine, because that would spoil some of the surprise, but I remember the characters in exquisite detail. They felt as much mine as they were Sommer’s and Carroll’s, which is a rare feat for a narrative-driven video game. My crews in FTL are very much mine, but they don’t tell their own stories. The Yawhg gave me characters, and I made them mine.
There’s a bit of a downside, though. The Yawhg was originally made and displayed at festivals. In that setting, the game is at its best, because you can only play it once.
The Yawhg ends in myriad ways, and has a number of different random options, but after a few playthroughs you’ll begin to see the systems beneath the game plainly. You’ll realize that there are only a few randomized events at each location. More importantly, you’ll start to get frustrated when unskippable events begin to force your characters into certain tracks you’ve already forced them down in the past. You’ll have a character primed for mental abilities, but going to the place that provides you the biggest bang for your buck gives you a chance at an event that torpedoes your mind stat regardless of what you pick.
This is a fun bit of randomness the first time. It works well when you can only play the game once. It actually happened on my first playthrough, and I embraced it. It made a better character. I didn’t the fourth time it happened, in my fifth playthrough. In short: The Yawhg isn’t made to stick around. This isn’t FTL. The most exciting playthrough of The Yawhg is your first; after that, it becomes an exercise in trying to game the random system to get weird situations to come up.
That’s fun, too, and it’s not like The Yawhg spoils like yogurt left in the sun after you play it once. I plan to whip it out for different groups of friends, to see their reactions, and I’ve played it a good number of times, trying to make esoteric interactions happen. There’s definitely stuff to see here after your first playthrough, but The Yawhg goes from being a collaborative storytelling experience to a kind of under-featured storytelling roguelike.
Not bad, but not “value”.
There’s a certain cadre of people who will adore The Yawhg, and I’m definitely one of them. They’re people who love art, who are interested in game jams and games as art and experiments in what video games can be. They’re people who are willing to spend five dollars on a game that’s going to give them an intensely fascinating thirty minutes. This implies other people—those who care about value, those who want their video games to contain intensely fun mechanics over anything else—won’t like The Yawhg. This is certainly true, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
The Yawhg isn’t for everyone. It’s for me, and I love it.