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Mayu: Last of the Yaksha Interview – A Mythological Zelda and Pokemon Hybrid

Mayu: Last of the Yaksha is an exploration-driven RPG about a young demigod and his animal sidekicks. love-letter to classic GBA adventure games such as Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, it’s set in a world woven with characters and landscapes from the Purānas – epic legends from Ancient India. All of Mayu is handcrafted by a team of Indian developers based out of Hyderabad, India.

Elijah sat down with Surya Narendran, Mayu’s Lead Designer, to get all the details on this indie gem in the making.

Assembling the Party

Boss Level Gamer: To start off, tell us a little about yourself. What got you started in games?

Surya Narendran: I’ve been interested in games for a long time – as a kid I used to spend a lot of evenings designing tabletop roleplaying games for my friends and I to play together. I used to make paper/cardboard versions of a lot of video games which we couldn’t afford at the time, lol.

When I was 13 I learned how to code in python and realized that I could now make actual video games! It was a hobby of mine on and off until I left school, after which I realized that this might be a career I’d really enjoy.

Fast-forwarding, a did an advanced diploma in Game Design and dev from a college in my city, met a lot of great people, and made a few games over the last 3 years. My last published game was a puzzle platformer for mobile called Conform – Mayu will be my first debut on PC.

I used to make paper/cardboard versions of a lot of video games which we couldn’t afford at the time, lol.

I remember making a full board-game version of Pokemon Platinum, with dice for the random encounters and stuff. The DS wasn’t available in my country at the time, so that was the best we got.

BLG: Damn, that’s impressive.

How did your team come together? Was it all fellow college students?

Photo Credit: Roach Interactive

SN: Our studio’s founder is Rahul Sehgal – a game design veteran of around 14 years. He used to teach part-time at the college I attended, so through him, the beginnings of the team started to form. We didn’t know one another initially since we were from different branches in different cities – it was the online classes during the pandemic that actually gave us an opportunity to connect.

Two of current team members are former college mates, me and the lead artist. Our level designer joined once he heard about the project on a discord server and got interested in it.

The team right now remains fully remote – different cities across India, one person even in Oman.

You could say our discord server is our office!

An Indian Epic is Born

BLG: What led to the formation of Mayu?

SN: I think it’s always been an idea in my head to make games based on my own cultural milieu. I’d see games like Red Dead Redemption or GTA and think, ah, what if that was set in India…that would be cool. Representation-wise, the fact that most developers come from the States or Europe lends itself to a certain similarity in-game setting – but it’s one that’s always felt a tad bit foreign. I might not get all the references or be able to relate as much to being in that setting – but I guess I learnt much of what I know about those countries and culture from the games I’ve played.

Initially, I (like many other game devs here) had the idea that good-quality indie games can’t come out of India. Most of the industry here is either focused on the local market, mobile hyper-casual, or working on the nitty-gritty of Rockstar and Ubisoft games. But then Raji: An Ancient Epic came out – that inspired a lot of people, me included. And since then, I’ve been seeing a lot of great games coming out of India, there’s a lot of potential that didn’t see the light earlier.

Photo Credit: Roach Interactive

The original concept for Mayu was Rahul’s and Muskan’s (the lead artist) brainchild. The core idea of the game was to take the childhood nostalgia of something like Zelda or Pokemon – and put it in a setting that was nostalgic to us – the bedtime stories that our grandparents told, our mythology.

While Raji dazzles with its graphics and 3D setting, the strength of our team lay more in bringing out a narrative-focused experience – something that’s very accessible to a global audience but also essentially Indian in flavour.

A lot of the setting and mechanics also comes from my own experiences hiking in the Western Ghats of southern India. The lush forests, the wildlife, tracking, all come from there. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to live in a forest and be as much as part of it as the animals there are.

BLG: It sounds lovely.

SN: The idea of a pacifist hero/heroine is also something that I’ve thought about for a while. Games like Zelda and Pokemon abstract the combat – but if you think too much about it, going around beating up random monsters for fun isn’t very environmentally friendly. It also prevents players from making a connection with the world itself – it’s always you vs the world, and not you trying to get more intimate with your surroundings. It also isn’t very environmentally friendly, or nice, for that matter

Photo Credit: Roach Interactive

With Friends Like These

BLG: So, you can forge relationships with animals?

SN: Yes. It’s kind of like an animal ‘dating’ sim – you have to earn their trust first by helping them out before they’ll agree to help you.

Once you do, you can choose one animal at a time to follow you as you do your detective work. Each one has a detective skill – martens can sniff out tracks for you, birds can lead you towards fruiting trees, and so on.

Gaining the friendship of every species in the forest is a challenge, and you’ll need to explore the deepest hidden parts of the map for that. It’s a bit like completing a Pokedex. you have to earn their trust first by helping them out

Which involves healing their wounds, getting them the treats they like, and on occasion, head pats. We’ll try our best to make sure you can pet most of them, even the crocodiles!

BLG: Awwww, that’s sweet. What are some other unique mechanics players can look forward to out of curiosity?

SN: The tracking system is a key mechanic that helps you interact with the world – wherever there’s something interesting on the ground, you can approach it and open up a close-up view, where you can brush aside leaves and dirt to uncover clues below. It’s based on real-life jungle tracking, and there are lots of subtle details that can help you stay on the trail of the more elusive species. You can also uncover rare herbs and fallen items if you look carefully.

Tracking is basically Mayu’s superpower – you’ll be able to notice the tiniest of details and make deductions based on those as to what animal/person/mythical being is present in the area, which direction they went in, and what their mood is like now.

Photo Credit: Roach Interactive

Using your jungle detective skills, there are hundreds of secret areas to find, hidden all across the map. These could contain shrines, lost relics, bits of ancient lore, and more. The entrances aren’t straightforward to find, and you’ll need your best observational and deductive skills to find them. For example, if an animal trail ends in a clearing that seems like a dead end – chances are that there’s a secret entrance somewhere where the creature went.

Some of these are hidden by ancient illusion spells called Maya, left by demigods of old to protect their shrines from nosy parkers. You might notice a tree that doesn’t sway in the wind or a patch of wall where no moss has grown at all – it’s probably an illusion that hides a secret entrance behind it.

BLG: Sounds like an intriguing series of puzzles. Actually, speaking of the demigods – what were the myths and legends, in particular, you drew inspiration from?

SN: The primary settings is based on the Puranas – which are a huge collection of stories and texts on a wide range of topics written over a thousand years ago. A lot of classic Indian mythology comes from these texts.

In particular, Mayu’s world is set in a time when the Satya Yuga, a golden age where people and nature lived in harmony and the gods walked the Earth freely, is coming to an end. A demon-king, Hiranyakashipu, has conquered the heavens and sent the gods into hiding, and people on Earth begin to worship his ideals instead – which are to accumulate more wealth, build bigger and better, and wipe out old traditions in the name of progress.

Photo Credit: Roach Interactive

Choosing Your Destiny

Mayu’s people, by contrast, are Yakshas – demigods who represent Nature and live in deep forests far from humankind. They often make appearances in other myths about human heroes, either offering guidance and advice or acting as mysterious villains seeking to lead travellers astray. But in general, they keep to themselves, preserving the balance of nature and protecting animals.

In our game, the Yakshas are given more of a spotlight – portrayed as a tribal people, with culture and customs very similar to that of tribes in the region today. But the followers of Hiranyakashipu want to exploit the forest for its resources and make a better world for people in the city – a noble ideal, but one that in practice leads to the destruction of Nature and local cultures and diversity – a parallel that can be seen even today in many parts of the world.

The setting of the game and a lot of the major background characters, such as the demon-king Hiranyakashipu, the Yakshas, and other mythological figures that show up, are taken directly from authentic mythology. The storyline of Mayu is original, however, – putting a spotlight on characters on the edges of mythology and how their lives are affected by bigger events that they have no control over.

BLG: Given the emphasis on storytelling, will the story branch at all?

SN: The plan is a largely linear story, but with alternate side threads that the player can affect through their actions and choices. You can choose to befriend certain characters or complete side-quests that play into the dialogue later in the story, for example.

Photo Credit: Roach Interactive

At the end of the game, you as Mayu do have to make a choice as to how the story ends – what you feel is the best future for you, your family, and the valley.

While the main story is mostly linear, how deep you go into the backstory is up to your investigation skills and curiosity. The more secret areas you investigate, you can collect more fragments of lore, which, when pieced together, tell you stories about the history of specific places in the world and more about the gods, demons, and some of the ancient or mythical characters that you can encounter during your journey.

BLG: Interesting. I like the approach you’re aiming for.

SN: Yeah, to be honest, I like branching stories but hate it when a game claims to be branching but ends up railroading you into a fixed storyline/ending after all. So while Mayu’s main story is linear and fixed, players have full freedom over how deep they want to go into side-quests and background lore – some of which does have an effect on future dialogue and events in a non-branching way.

Going Retro

BLG: Why a GBA throwback?

SN: I think that felt right with the 16-pixel tiled art and 8-bit colors. It’s something our art lead pitched, and we went for it. Some of our key references have been GBA games as well, such as LOZ: The Minish Cap and Pokemon Emerald.

We do deviate from the GBA restrictions, though, so it’s not a 100% throwback – there are clearer fonts, lighting effects, etc to make better use of modern tech.

A slightly larger screen size as well, I think.

BLG: Makes sense, and clearer fonts are always a good thing!

Finally, why do you think we’re seeing an uptick in Indian mythology getting represented in gaming? Like you said, Raji is a major presence, plus you’ve got games like Overwatch and Smite with skins and characters paying homage.

Photo Credit: Roach Interactive

SN: I think that in the last decade especially, gaming has really become a global, mainstream hobby – and the gaming community worldwide has expanded a lot.

I see a lot of people wanting diversity in their game worlds as well – something that they haven’t seen before, a place or culture which feels new and interesting to them. Games have become a cultural and artistic medium, and people feel good learning about and experiencing something new through a game experience.

There’s also been a surge of both new players as well as devs coming from India – and both groups tend to drive up the quality of games based in India. Older games can get away with a token representation of the culture that meets stereotypes because the audience didn’t know any better. But when you make games about India with Indian devs and for a global audience that includes Indians, the quality that’s expected is higher. And in turn, that makes the setting and story of these games more compelling and enjoyable for all players, in my experience.

BLG: It’s been amazing to witness. I remember when Bioshock 3D was a landmark moment for India’s gaming scene. It’s heartening to see so many more talented teams rising up.

SN: I know. People say the indie space is full of cutthroat competition – but from a player’s POV, that means better and more innovative games, each year bringing something more spectacular to experience. And there’s always something for every niche.

I hope Mayu can find it’s niche of players and provide an experience which they won’t forget!

Photo Credit: Roach Interactive

For more on Mayu, you can wishlist it on Steam today!

Elijah Beahm

Written by Elijah Beahm

Elijah’s your Guy Friday for all things strange, awesome, and obscure in gaming. When not reviewing the latest and greatest, he spends way too much time talking about oddities on his YouTube channel The Unabridged Gamer.

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