I love Rogue-Likes. So much so, that I’m frequently tempted to indulge this proclivity to the determent of my sanity. Whether it be classics like Net-Hack, or more modern takes like Quest of Dungeons, I am always up for a bit of sadism. The Switch is home to many, many Rogue-Likes, resulting in countless hours of my life being gleefully yielded to the insatiable call. One thing is rather clear though – few set out to truly capture that classic ‘Rogue’ feeling. Instead, most games opt to include ‘Rogue-ish’ elements. Enter Yodanji – a game that wants to give you a classic Rogue-like experience, albeit in a bite-sized, Japanese package.
Yodanji does not take itself very seriously, despite demanding a fairly high level of commitment and resolve to actually play. It opens up with a humorous, yet brief, text crawl that explains why you absolutely do not want to put your phone next to a rice cooker. In short, it leads to the discovery, enslavement and ritualistic battling of ‘Yokai’. Yokai are essentially strange apparitions from Japanese Folklore. As far as introductions go, this one is surprisingly entertaining. It manages to set up a passable plot, get a few chuckles and sufficiently poke holes at similar games with a focus on creature based subjugation. Most importantly it sets up one of the core concepts of the game – the collection of Yokai.
Gameplay wise, Yokai act as character classes. Each one comes with a unique array of stats and abilities, resulting in wildly different gameplay experiences once you start experimenting with how they interact with various mechanics. Additionally you get a wonderfully disturbing piece of lore for each Yokai. These little tidbits range from entertaining sentient umbrellas, to possessed cycloptoid monks with a tendency to devour children. You start off with 3 of these pluckly little blighters, although there are a total of 21 to unlock. Unlocking them is much easier said, than actually done however.
This is because Yodanji is hard as nails. This game will brutally murder you on your first encounter if your aren’t careful, or luck is not on your side. When I said this is more akin to a classic Rogue-Like, I wasn’t joking. You are incredibly fragile, your damage is pretty low and your super nifty abilities are not immediately available. When you’re not getting murdered by fellow, rampaging Yokai, you will quickly discover that you are slowly starving to death. This means you need to not only survive multiple stabbings, but also deal with your insatiable hunger.
Combat in Yodanji is a turnbased affair. Every movement, interaction, morsel consumed and attack takes up one turn. Once you have done your business, every enemy on the map will take their turn. Rinse and repeat until you win, or you die. Whilst being incredibly simple to understand, actually surviving requires a significant amount of thought and planning. Running around swinging wildly will quickly result in your doom. Instead you need to plan where you want to engage, whether or not retreating is your best option, where your nearest escape route is, what healing you have on hand and how long your buffs last, to name a few. Then you have to factor in the numerous abilities enemies have, and how many are on screen. Maybe you will survive the fight, only to die because you forgot that Yokai inflicts Bleed. Maybe you didn’t back away enough and got shot with a projectile. Maybe you retreated into a bear trap, got stuck, started bleeding, got bonked on the head and died. A lot of things can happen in one turn, and you have to be aware of all of those things if you want to come out ahead.
Inventory management is probably my biggest gripe with Yodanji, mostly due to how restrictive it is. You can hold a maximum of 5 items at any one time, which is utterly unbearable. This is mostly due to a lack of stacking. You need to be holding 3 scrolls when you get to the last boss if you want to unlock a new Yokai, which is the primary goal of the game. That is over half your inventory. You can’t equip items either, so if you find one of the many powerful Orimori relics, that is another inventory space lost. What if you wanted to carry some food, or a defence buffing poultice, or a healing item? Tough. When 4/5’s of your inventory is occupied by items you need to beat the game, it’s impossible to shake the feeling that this was a poorly designed mechanic. One could make the argument that restricting your inventory so heavily forces frequent, potentially life threatening decisions. But I honestly just found the whole thing painful.
Speaking of painful experiences, lets talk about Yodanji’s controls – they are awful. Accessing the inventory by pushing up on the right analogue stick, push left to pick things up, abilities mapped to the Dpad etc. Yodanji is practically a tutorial on how not to design a control scheme. Even hours into the game, I found myself dying because I pressed the wrong button. Dying to game mechanics, regardless of difficulty, is fine. Dying to poor controls is a fundamental video game sin.
What I think will put most people off when they boot up Yodanji, is its graphics. They are incredibly basic. Animation is limited, dungeons are simple and the Yokai you encounter whilst characterful, are far from being considered pleasing. Even the colour pallet is limited, which gives the game a very washed out, muddy look. Retro graphics are certainly “in” at the moment, but I fear Yodanji goes a little bit too far for many people. That being said, for those who have a history with classic Rogue-likes, Yodanji is certainly a looker by comparison. If you play Rogue-Likes, you are here for the combat and the procedural generation. Graphics are not the selling point.
Yodanji is a game brimming with content. With 21 Yokai to unlock and experiement with in conjunction with the Challenge Dungeon, you have a game that can last you 100+ hours if you really sink your teeth into it. Whilst it does have a fair share of niggles, and it certainly invokes a somewhat high level of rage, this is still a good game. If you like Rogue-Likes, this is a game worth checking out. If Rogue-Likes aren’t for you, then this won’t change your mind, theme be damned.
This game was so far up my alley that I almost filed a restraining order. Let me know in the comments below whether or not you’ve picked up Yodanji, and what you think of its wonderfully quirky theme.
Follow me on Twitter @gameswithtoasty, or join the Games With Toasty Facebook page here for exclusive updates on the future of the blog, as well as notifications for when the latest articles drop. Happy gaming.