Yodanji is a dungeon crawler rogue-like that’s perfect for short breaks. Select your Yokai, a term referring to traditional Japanese monsters of supernatural origin, and descend into a brutal every changing dungeon to face off against vicious monsters.
You get exactly what the game says on its tin. A challenging but straightforward RPG that’s great in small doses, the perfect game to pick up and play when you’re suddenly hit with a bout of restlessness. There are three modes, Yokai Hunt, Yokai Picnic and Challenge Dungeon. There’s a tutorial mode where you learn the basics, the ins, and outs of dungeon crawling. Regulars of the genre might skip it, but I recommend playing it as the game’s UI doesn’t explain much at first glance.
In Yokai Hunt, your goal is to go through the randomly generated dungeon to collect three scrolls to obtain a new monster for your collection. Once you unlock a new Yokai, you can use it in your next attempt to tackle the dungeons. Yokai Picnic is a slightly more accessible version, useful if you want less of a nail-biting experience, or want to complete your monster collection just a little quicker.
I spent the most time with Yokai Hunt. I’m one of those players who obsessively lust after completing a collection, so it didn’t come as a surprise. I had lots of fun trawling through the depressing, cavernous dungeon floors, either carelessly exploring the environment or cautiously creeping to the next room, hoping to find loot and not the angry maw of a disgruntled monster. Procedural generation gives the game good replayability; you never know what you’d encounter or experience in each run. Scrolls also provide lore for different types of Yokai, nuggets of information hidden for the player to discover.
The Challenge Dungeon is a mode where your playthrough has the potential to be never-ending, finishing only if your Yokai dies. I felt like the encounter rate was significantly higher in this mode compared to the others. Everything else is identical to Yokai Hunt, however. Leveling up is done by killing a Hitodama, a spirit, giving you points to unlock skills unique to each Yokai. The game typically has one in the room you first spawn in, a nice boost which levels the playing field against other monsters.
Yodanji is challenging. Not only because of how difficult it is to kill monsters, but also due to the hunger mechanic and the fact that finding good loot is extremely luck based. As your Yokai explores the dungeon, it gets hungry. If it doesn’t eat for a short period, it goes from Peckish to Famished. The punishment for having a hungry monster is steep, energy and health will remain as it is and will not be replenished. This can be a killing blow, especially if you lack items to get rid of this debuff.
I think this mechanic adds an unnecessary amount of pressure; it’s always a rush to find loot because you’d never know if the next few levels are completely devoid of items. I typically did find enough food or items for my Yokai, but there were several playthroughs where I couldn’t find anything at all, leading to my unfortunate death. There are no alternate tactics to overcome this, relying on luck is all you can do.
The UI can also be finicky. When you unlock a skill, you have to use the directional controls of your d-pad to use them. It’s a little troublesome, primarily because after you unlock them, the only way to identify them is by the icons shown at the corner of the screen. When you’re battling against another monster, missteps are easy to make. There were quite a number of times I pressed the wrong button and ended up using the wrong skill in the heat of the moment. I get mildly annoyed when it happens, but it isn’t that big a deal once you get used to the game. It’s easily circumvented if you keep your wits about you.
Overall I think Yodanji is an excellent offering for its price. It scratched my itch for a dungeon crawler, and though it isn’t a meaty RPG, it does an excellent job of keeping you occupied for a short while. Having it on the Switch is exceptional as well since the game can be enjoyed in short bursts. An exciting indie title that’s worth trying out if you’re a fan of Japanese themed games or Japanese games in general.