Platform: PC / Steam
Publisher: AGM Playism
Yukie: A Japanese Winter Fairy Tale is a narrative driven game developed with RPG Maker by ImCyan and published by AGM Playism. It tells the story of a world enveloped by an eternal winter, the result of a curse from Yukie, a Snow Maiden. She cursed the world because of her confused and broken heart, and lives to procreate and devour men’s souls. This tormented legacy of men and offspring become white haired, blue eyed demons, who ferociously protect her, love her and hate her. The story focuses on Yukiji, the latest in his ancestral line tasked with killing Yukie. If Yukie is destroyed, than the eternal winter will come to an end and spring will return.
A lot of this game consists of long stretches of walking forward, trudging through the snow while a narrator tells the story of Yukie and Yukiji’s ancestors. The game is fully voice acted, and seems to be high quality. Every so often Yukiji will randomly encounter a forest animal and is given three options: fight, talk or flee. Most of the animals have nothing to say, and you’ll have to resort to combat, which isn’t very active, but interesting nonetheless.
The battles play out like quick time events, however, instead of following a button prompt, you listen for your enemy to make a sound and then attack. If you’re too early, the cut from Yukiji’s sword will be too shallow, and you’ll miss if you're too late. At first if, you miss, you just have to tank the returning hit, but eventually you’ll be able to dodge attacks. When the enemy is about to strike, a black square appears and will go to the left or right of the screen. If you press the corresponding directional key, Yukiji will block the attack with his sword.
The "game" part of the experience is passive, and occasionally doesn't mesh well with the pacing. Fortunately, the story does all the heavy lifting.
Yukie: A Japanese Winter Fairy Tale is a heart breaking tale of revenge, love and hate. Yukiji’s family has continually attempted to kill Yukie and return the world to normal, but each of them has failed. In order to gain new sword arts, Yukiji must obtain the swords of his ancestors. Each weapon contains their spirit, who tells their story before letting Yukiji use a new sword art.
There are also boss battles, which are extended, more difficult versions of the random battles with wolves and hawks. The talk option is really important during these sequences as the opponents add more to the tale, making Yukiji’s journey more complicated and interesting. The fights effectively blend sword blows with dialog and play out slowly, creating tension. I did actually have some difficulty dodging some of their blows. Even though it’s a story based game, it seems to want to test your reaction time as well. Sometimes I got too involved in the story and wasn’t ready to test my twitch reflexes. It’s jarring, but understandable as Yukiji is constantly fighting for his life and can’t afford to let his guard down.
The entire game uses a feudal Japanese aesthetic, portrayed with sprites and still images with minimal color; it channels a classic Samurai film. The snow covered backgrounds look beautiful, and the abandoned village is haunting. The moody, subdued piano music works perfectly to meld with the environment and propel the tale forward. The entire experience is atmospheric. When Yukiji walks forward, you hear the snow crunching under his feet, a constant reminder of the environment as well as the curse. The long stretches of silence punctuate the solitude of Yukiji’s journey, as snow constantly falls in the foreground. The way story is well paced, giving you bits of the past the more people you talk to and the closer you get to your goal. You will eventually find out that this quest for revenge isn't as simple as first proposed. The game examines our relationship with our ancestors and our obligations to them. What we should do with the destiny they help create for us? It also seem to be a meditation on how closely related love and hate are, and how often one bleeds into the other. Yukiji and his ancestors explore their complicated feelings toward a monster that they love, but has completely ruined their lives and the world itself. It seems they are deeply motivated by a love laced with resentment and hate.
ImCyan also plays with the narrative visually by altering which way Yukiji is facing during certain story sections, as well as changing his appearance.
Overall, Yukie: A Japanese Winter Fairy Tale presents a profound narrative experience. The active parts of the game combine well with the narrative parts, but some of the battles seemed a little too difficult. Even though I understand the purpose of the difficulty, and what the developers may have tried to achieve, I sometimes felt pulled out of the story because of it. However, that is not a deal breaker, and those sequences are passable with a couple of tries. If you’re a fan of Japanese aesthetics, and mythology this is a solid recommendation at $2.99. The tale of Yukiji and his ancestors is a heart breaking one that will stay with me for a long time.
+ Well crafted and told story
+ Fitting and beautiful visuals
+ Good voice acting
- Some of the game-play sections drew me out of the story