One of my favorite games on the Gameboy Advance is Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Red Rescue Team. I’ve always been a fan of randomly-generated dungeon crawlers, and the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon series — at least at that time — was a fun combination of excellent dungeon-crawling and cute monsters to plat as and fight. I’ve been waiting for another Pokemon Mystery Dungeon to draw me in like the first couple did, and the title that ended up doing that wasn’t related to Pokemon at all.
It was Yodanji, the “coffee break roguelike,” from KEMCO.
Yodanji has a pleasing, retro-inspired art style that fits the scope of the game well; its mechanics are very simple, but it’s also a very unforgiving title. The characters are loosely based on Japanese Yokai folklore: you’re given three different Yokai to pick from, all of which have different stats and abilities, and you can unlock even more Yokai as you play through the game. Each Yokai is wildly different from the last and seem to be pretty balanced — you can’t blast through randomly-generated floors easily with one Yokai in the same way you won’t be ineffective with another Yokai (unless you’re fighting a ranged enemy).
Each floor is randomly generated and your movements follow a simple “turn” system: moving one space, using an item, or attacking all count as one turn. Enemies on the floor, regardless of whether or not they’re hidden behind a fog-of-war type effect, all move for their turn after you’ve taken yours. This adds an element of turn-based strategy to enemy encounters that can allow you to funnel enemies through passages to fight them off one at a time.
Leveling up requires you to find a Hitodama — a blue fiery spirit — that is randomly placed on every couple of floors. Finding a Hitodama will allow you to select a new skill to unlock or make an already-unlocked skill more powerful. Each new run will automatically spawn your first Hitodama right next to you, so you can play around with what starting skill you want on your Yokai for that particular run.
The only annoying parts of Yodanji are the hunger system and ranged enemies. The former requires you to eat enemy skeletons when you come across them, which isn’t a problem in of itself, but the game doesn’t actually tell you that you’ll need to do it so I spent my first ten runs or so dying of starvation. Ranged enemies spell almost certain death if you’re unlucky enough to be within two or three squares of them. You can’t run away because they’ll follow you and shoot you as you run, and you can hardly approach them because they’ll shoot you on your way over. This is really the only area of Yodanji where there’s a tremendous imbalance.
Online high scores add a lot of replay-ability to Yodanji. Each run will be scored depending on how far into the dungeon you made it, and you can upload your scores and compare them with other players on the Internet. Between that and unlocking all the charming Yokai creatures, Yodanji has me coming back for more and more.
System reviewed on: Nintendo Switch.
Disclaimer: A review code for Yodanji was provided by KEMCO for this Yodanji review.