Yukie: A Japanese Winter Fairy Tale is the tale of one man’s quest for revenge against the Snow Maiden Yukie, who killed his father and blanketed his world in an Eternal Winter.
Publisher: AGM PLAYISM
Genre: Cinematic visual novel/RPG
Release Date: July 14th, 2017
Yukie: A Japanese Winter Fairy Tale is the tale of one man’s quest for revenge against the Snow Maiden Yukie, who has blanketed the world in an Eternal Winter. You are Yukiji, the sixth and last of a cursed line of men who are tasked with killing Yukie. All of your predecessors have failed, including your father, but, as the last hope for your world, you must find a way to stop her. And so, you begin your trek up the mountain near your village and into Yukie’s domain.
- A deep story – what begins as a simple tale of revenge soon turns into something much more complex.
- A unique combat system – fight enemies using a unique combat system that is based on your reaction time or talk to them instead.
- Beautiful art – your quest for revenge is accompanied by beautiful, primarily black and white art.
By Matt Chelen
The world is blanketed in snow, doomed to suffer through an Eternal Winter. The one responsible is a Snow Maiden named Yukie. You are the last of a line of six men who are destined to kill her. Up until now, she has killed all of those who dared to try and kill her, including your father. Driven solely by a need for revenge, you begin to climb the mountain near your village, making your way towards Yukie’s domain.
This is the premise of Yukie: A Japanese Winter Fairy Tale. You are introduced to the main character, Yukiji, at the very beginning of his trek towards Yukie’s domain and, with it, revenge. It may seem like a fairly straightforward story, but its intricacies begin to reveal themselves fairly early on. By the end, this simple tale of vengeance is transformed into something altogether different. It’s the kind of bittersweet plot that one might expect from a story that is labeled a fairy tale, but with a far more complex underlying backstory. Because of these complexities, it manages to remain interesting throughout, with new key pieces of information about various characters’ motivations being revealed right up until it ends. There are several times throughout the game that you will likely think you know exactly what is going on, only to find out later that not all was as it seemed. It’s a rather enjoyable excursion through the story of one cursed bloodline made all the more enjoyable by the fact that it managed to surprise me quite a few times.
The problem is that the gameplay doesn’t always match the well-crafted story. The game is intended to be fairly cinematic, offering simple gameplay that shapes the way that the story is delivered. For much of the game, this means being subjected to what is largely just cinematics and a visual novel-like interface that is driven not by pressing a button to move to the next line of dialogue, but by holding either the left or right arrow key to move Yukiji forward. There are also moments where sound cues prompt you to press the up arrow to look at something, but these moments are few and far between.
I would like to believe that this simplistic, monotonous design was deliberate, intended to make you feel the weight of pushing Yukiji onwards towards his fate, whatever that may be, but I don’t. This would be somewhat less problematic if there were anything to any of the stages, or perhaps even if the backgrounds featured less repeating shapes, but the fact of the matter is that you largely end up simply holding the left arrow, watching a largely static background pass you by as text shows up on the screen at key points in your journey.
While this can come across as somewhat uninteresting, it turns frustrating when coupled with the fact that you can’t save mid-stage. If a stage has a boss and that boss happens to kill you, you have to start the entire stage over, walking through the entire thing over again. You eventually gain the ability to sprint, but sprinting does little to ease the frustration of not being able to skip an entire stage’s worth of dialogue that you’ve already seen. The one solace is that, when stages have long conversations, you have the option of skipping them.
The game’s combat system isn’t particularly interesting either. It’s a turn-based system, but the developer seems to have put a lot of effort into making it stand out. When you start out, you can simply attack or talk. Choosing to attack leads to a small minigame where you have to press the confirm button right after you hear your opponent attempt to attack you. Talking could lead to some sort of insight into your opponent’s thoughts, but the random forest animals that you encounter along the way rarely have anything meaningful to say. Eventually, you’ll obtain the ability to block enemies’ attacks, but blocking is also simple in nature. Once you obtain this ability, a spinning square will appear in the center of the screen when your opponent attacks, subsequently moving towards either the left or right side of the screen. To successfully block an attack, you have to press either the right or left arrow key, depending on which side of the screen the square moves to, right as it reaches the side of the screen.
That is as deep as the combat system ever gets. Over time, the game introduces nuances such as additional sounds during your wait for the sound of your opponent attacking or a “flurry” of attacks in which you have to successfully block several attacks in a row, but, other than another ability that allows you to get an extra hit in at the beginning of combat if you’re sprinting when combat begins, there are no other complexities. The result is that the combat system largely ends up feeling like it’s just another narrative device, a notion that is exacerbated by the fact that there is no way to check your character’s health in battle. In fact, the game will often eschew the few complexities it has in favor of a powerful, cinematic moment where the player has no input at all. Many victories in combat ended up feeling somewhat empty because the path to victory was not through attacking the opponent that I was facing, but talking to them several times, using Yukiji’s unique ability to “read their heart,” and then attacking, at which time the game would not require me to complete the attacking minigame, but instead watch a cinematic that would lead into my victory.
The rest of the game, however, is as well-crafted as the story. The primarily black, white, and blue art style is beautiful in motion and is backed by a rather good soundtrack featuring tracks that complement the atmosphere of each scene well. There are some issues with the quality of a few lines of dialogue, but they are largely of good quality.
That being said, I was a little disappointed in the English localization. I can forgive a few misplaced apostrophes and lines that appear to be broken up at odd places, especially given the pace at which the game delivered dialogue, but there are a few places, especially towards the end of the game, where there are larger mistakes that probably should have been caught. For example, one line of dialogue features the word “minishment,” which I can only assume was supposed to be either “banishment” or “punishment.”
Yukie tells a great, intriguing story that will constantly keep you on your toes. The game offers a cinematic experience like few others that I’ve played and I feel that the effort to make it more cinematic and less like a visual novel largely paid off. That being said, I also rarely felt that the gameplay elements added anything, instead primarily serving as additional narrative devices. The combat system, while an intriguing take on classic turn-based RPG combat, was often undermined by sudden narrative events and the parts where you are required to hold an arrow key to keep moving forward are downright monotonous. However, if you can look past the gameplay issues, Yukie’s story is one that is well worth experiencing.
Release Date: July 14th, 2017
Game Engine: RPG Maker
Length of playthrough: 3 hours