Friday, February 9, 2024

Mumble Mumble...Secret Plans... Mumble Mumble...

Yet Another Fantasy Title (aka YAFT) ought to be called Yet Another Generic RPG Parody or possibly Didn't We Beat This Horse To Death Back In The 'Nineties, Already? Seriously, how many of these things are there? It's a bona fide sub-genre all of its own. 

The question isn't whether this particular one does anything original. None of them do anything original. Being original isn't the point. In fact, being original would be a design flaw. 

Judging by the numerous examples I've sampled since Simon the Sorcerer back in the early 'nineties, the point of a genre parody is to stick as closely as possible to the gameplay, characters, graphics and storyline of a "straight" title in the same genre so as not to frighten away customers, then to slather the whole thing over with bad puns, pratfalls, slapstick routines lifted wholesale from old Three Stooges movies and plenty of dialog borrowed from previous parodies already familiar to the target audience.

Even thirty years ago, making one of these parodies was an incestuous, inverted process. The aforementioned Simon the Sorceror, one of the most successful entries in this heavily-plowed field, is a parody of Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, itself a parody of genre fantasy. And according to Wikipedia, Simon himself is based on Rowan Atkinson's Blackadder, also a parody! It's a parody of two other parodies!

I'd ask how much more self-reflexive it could get, only self reflection is almost never a factor in any of these games. Preening in a mirror over how smart and clever they are is more the way they tend to roll. 

With all that in mind, does the YAFT demo make it seem like this is going to stand out from the gurning, guffawing, giggling pack? Well, kinda... although not necessarily in a good way.

For a start, the game identifies as "an open-world action adventure game", which does make it a little different from most nominally similar titles I've played. I've tried point & click parodies, turn-based combat parodies, XCom-style parodies and visual novel parodies but I think this is my first "action adventure" parody. It might also be my first open-world parody although I saw pretty much nothing of the open world in the demo, which is extremely directive, or it was for at least as far as I was willing to go along with it.

The game opens very promisingly with a visually delightful cut-scene in which two characters punt a raft down a river. Perspective is bird-in-the-sky, as is the rest of the game, with a box for dialog showing a line drawing of the character speaking. So far, so stylish.

Unfortunately, my ability to concentrate on what was being said was shattered by the voice acting, which I took at first to be the untranslated original from whatever language the game's developers must speak. Polish, presumably.

I tried to attune my ear to it to see if I could figure out what language it could be. It sounded vaguely Germanic or Eastern European. I was so focused on the sound I barely took in the text, which relayed the conversation in perfectly good English, so I missed most of the set-up. 

By the time the raft reached the starting village I'd worked out why I couldn't place the language. There wasn't one! It's either a couple of people gargling and making word-like noises that aren't really words or it's artificially generated nonsense. It doesn't really matter which. Either way it's intensely annoying.

I left it on for just long enough to establish that, yes, every NPC spoke that way. Then I switched off all spoken dialog in the settings. If that had not been an option, my time with the game would have ended there.

With welcome silence established, other than background sound and music, neither of which were either irritating or enjoyable enough to have left any mark in my memory, I set about playing the game, which seemed determined to double down on the bad first impression it had already established.

It may just be me, but I'm not sure it's the wisest design choice to have the very first thing the player-character has to do, on reaching the first built-up area, be a stealth challenge. I mean, not unless you're making an actual stealth game and even then you'd probably want to begin with a tutorial of some kind.

That isn't actually the very first obstacle. Just the first one in the starting village. Where you wake up in a haycart with all your belongings missing.

Before that, immediately after landing your raft, you have to fight some orcs. I think they were orcs, anyway. That turns out to be one of those unwinnable scenarios so beloved of game designers, where you win some fights with a few underlings and then their boss comes along and one-shots you. Always a nice introduction to any game.

It is, however, much more fun than having to sneak past a bunch of guards, all of whom are looking specifically for you and none of whom you can fight, should they catch you. That's what you have to do if you want to get from one side of the village to the other. It's not difficult but it is extremely annoying. If, like me, you don't find it amusing or entertaining, you're so out of luck because when you've successfully managed to avoid the first lot of guards, your reward is to do it all again with some more, only this time wearing a hat that makes you look like an idiot a dragon.

This is what I meant when I said that although the game is nominally set in an open world, I didn't get to see any of it. There's certainly a large settlement there on the riverside, with explorable streets and what look like some interesting events going on, but it's pretty hard to appreciate, let alone explore, any of it when it's covered with large, moving circles, entering any of which immediately results in a "You Failed!" message and a trip back to the last save-point to try again.

The demo is also very linear. You have one task on screen at all times and when you complete it you get a new one. I guess you could choose to ignore the plot and just go exploring. I kind of wish I'd done that but not enough to go back and see what would have happened if I had.

Added to all that, the controls are wonky enough to be perpetually annoying. They work and there are several options to change them but I tried all the variations and none of them worked anything like well enough to feel intutive. In the end I found the one where you have your character follow the mouse pointer when you press W to be the least awkward. (It was still awkward.)

The NPCs also seem to have some serious pathing issues. They don't stroll about in the time-honored pseudo-random fashion of digital extras; they oscillate a few paces one way, a few paces the other, as if they've forgotten whether they turned the gas off when they left home but can't decide whether to go back and check.

From there the plot progresses through a number of set pieces. I released a wolf from a cage in the village so it could chase away the guards from a bridge. I fought and accidentally killed The Chosen One and stole his horse. Actually, it was his unicorn, although I don't think that particular wrinkle ever got a mention.

Soon after that, though, I was tasked with stealing an actual horse and riding in pursuit of an escaping bandit, which was where I and the game finally parted ways. Up to then, I wouldn't exactly say I'd been having fun but it was tolerable and other than fighting the controls it hadn't exactly been  hard. 

I'd learned one spell, a lightning bolt, which was easy and fun to use. I'd found all that was required of me in melee combat, at least at this early stage, was to hammer LMB and wave my sword from right to left while advancing on any enemy, who would quickly dice themselves to death before they could get to me.

The plot, to the limited extent it reveals itself in the demo, seems solid enough. Ne'er-do-well thief with semi-powerful friends gets into trouble with the king and has to flee the city whereupon, through a comical case of mistaken identity, he's taken for a rampaging dragon that's terrorizing the kingdom. In defending himself, he accidentally slays the would-be dragon-slayer and is forced by circumstances to take on the mantle of Chosen One which, as I'm sure the game goes on to demonstrate, is not the best of fits.

Except I'm never going to see it play out because I can't ride a sodding horse well enough. I even switched the difficulty setting to "Easy" and I still couldn't do it. The controls are awful, the horse gets stuck on scenery all the time, the bandit you're chasing disappears off the screen and there's no indication which way he went. 

You have maybe fifteen seconds before you lose all track of him and get the dreaded "Quest Failed!". I got it four or five times before I thought "You know what? I really don't care."

YAFT may not be a bad game. It certainly looks pretty and it's well-enough written for the genre in which it sits. It may not be original but the "action" gameplay does at least give it some distance from the myriad of similarly-themed titles I've played. 

It's hard to say whether the plot would eventually evolve from actual fantasy into genre parody but from what I saw in the forty-nine minutes I spent with the demo, the title felt distinctly unironic. As for the advertised "pop culture references", they were conspicuously absent, which was probably just as well.

The demo, at least, really is Yet Another Fantasy Title. I guess you have to give them points for accuracy there. And after those forty-nine minutes, I didn't hate it. I just felt tired of it and I didn't want to play it any more.

Needless to say, I will not be wishlisting this one. I wouldn't want to put anyone off trying it, though. I suspect that if you're able to work the controls with more facility than I was and if you're more comfortable and familiar with action gaming than I am, you might find something here to enjoy.

Just do remember to turn the voices off before you even start.


  1. I think the gremlins ate my first comment.

    1. To be fair, it was referencing Simon the Sorcerer and that "other" game from 1990-ish, so that might have been the reason why it got zapped.

    2. Are you suggesting some sinister censoring algorithm at work? Maybe that's why some of my comments to other blogs occasionally vanish into the ether!


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