It was on us in a heart-beat – or so the stories go. The earth shook…the air went still…they say the last time it came, it devoured houses whole. The Yawhg will be here in six weeks and not one of us expects it. That is the central premise of the ominously titled, The Yawhg. You control the day-to-day lives of four people in a fantasy-setting small town, and prepare them for the Lovecraftian calamity that approaches… in six weeks. The Yawhg is a text-based choose-your-own-adventure game, released as an indie title via Steam on Windows, with elements of RPG thrown in the mix. It is the brain-child of Emily Carroll and Damian Sommer, the former being responsible for the visual aesthetic and the latter the game design, being equal parts a children’s book and equal parts Call of Cthulhu.
The world and mythology of the game is small – tiny, even – but the range of possibilities that you can explore run deep enough to be fascinating for a couple of hours of play, and in that for a split second, you wonder if the game really is endless. It splits and branches and splinters off into alternate storylines constantly, and each playthrough yields a different outcome. The amount of thought and patience that has gone into this game, relative to its peers, is truly impressive. You are thrown into the game on a world map and you make choices about where you go and what you do. The first choice I made had my character pulled dragging by the feet through the forest and tortured in a cave for years. The beast would peel off layers of their flesh, eat them, and then rejuvenate the flesh again so it could eat it again the next day.Strangely, this doesn’t do much to my character except give her a -1 Mind stat yet possibly a -100 to the player.
This is perhaps the only major appeal for the game – it is dark, and when it goes all the way, holy shit it is really dark.
Each character starts off with a stat chart with six attributes: Physique, Finesse, Mind, Charm, Magic and Wealth. Each choice you make within the game affects these attributes and ultimately however the game plays out and which ending you get, once the Yawhg finally arrives. There are no right or wrong choices, and ultimately any decision you make could either benefit you, or end up costing you severely. On my first playthrough, I got cowpox, but somehow the cowpox sores created a vortex that sucked my character into another dimension where she lived a happier life. Elements like these keep the game fun to explore, at least for a while.
There are no predictable or obvious choices, and that is in some ways, reminiscent of early text-based adventure games where the modus operandi for the player was expected to be trial and error. However, here, there are no wrong choices as you cannot die within the game. The RPG elements are only subsidiary; the focus is on exploration of the branching storylines.
This isn’t the first of Emily Carroll that I’ve seen. Once, while trawling through 4chan’s paranormal board, many moons ago, I came across the woman’s website and fell in love. Her kooky, crooked characters and the fairytale-like storytelling with a creepy undertone made me want to pick up the drawing board again (and promptly drop it, but that is a story of another day). The Yawgh was not on my radar for a long while but then it seemed to come out of nowhere and it is classic of the artist. Collaborating with Damian Sommer, this game reads much more like an experimental comic (“visual novel”) than an actual RPG.
Several playthroughs and hours of gameplay later, the mechanics really start to stretch thin. While advertised as multiplayer, the game isn’t really multiplayer; it gives you an option to play 4 separate storylines at once. I keep thinking that could’ve been an interesting gameplay mechanic but here, it’s rather akin to having 4 different playthroughs in one.
There is not much else to say about the game. It looks gorgeous, it sounds divine, and it’s an interesting exercise in game design that incorporates interesting narratives. This is a weird game, it’s a funny game, it’s a scary game, and it’s altogether not really a game but an interactive part of Emily Carroll’s extended portfolio.Good for what it is, possibly even brilliant, but not really good for what it says on the label.