Review – YIIK: A Postmodern RPG
1999 was a tumultuous time in US history. While Britney Spears and Eminem were taking over our radios, people across the nation were shocked and appalled by the unexpected and horrific school shooting at Columbine High School. Hurricane Floyd decimated North Carolina while children across the nation were thrilled with arrival of SpongeBob Square Pants. Bill Clinton’s impeachment proceedings concluded following his scandalous relationship with Monica Lewinsky and MySpace was introduced into the world. Then, there was the panic that ensued with the arrival of Y2K, also known as the “Millennium Bug”; a glitch that had critical industries and companies fearing their computer systems would malfunction at the turn of the millennium and cause a global catastrophe. This is the setting of YIIK: A Postmodern RPG from Ackk Studios and Ysbyrd Games, a game fraught with as many ups and downs as the time it takes place in.
YIIK: A Postmodern RPG is a turn based styled RPG set in the year 1999. You play as Alex, a recently graduated college student who has returned home to figure out what to do with his life. While venturing through his hometown, he follows a stray cat to an abandoned factory and meets a strange girl named Sammy. Shortly after, she is forcibly taken from an elevator by some otherwordly beings and vanishes into thin air. From then on, Alex and his friends are on a mission to find the girl who disappeared without a trace.
I had no idea what to expect when I first started playing YIIK. Even after watching the official trailer, I still had no idea what on Earth this game was about. Even after getting through a significant portion of the game, I still had no idea what was going. It starts out silly and quirky and then takes a decidedly peculiar turn into the world of theoretical metaphysics. If you’re confused by that last statement, don’t worry, I was just as confused while playing YIIK. Although I will say that it does seem like they actually did quite a bit of research on the matter, which really impressed me. It gave a nice blend of theoretical science with fantasy.
Now I won’t lie, YIIK is a pretty ugly game, all things considered. The characters as well as the overall world are rendered with sharp polygonal shapes and rudimentary textures. That is until the dialogue filled cutscenes where the main characters are hand drawn in a more anime or graphic novel style. It’s in these moments that the art design shines, whereas the rest of the game looks like something you’d actually find cutting edge in 1999.
There are many delightful nods to 90’s pop culture throughout YIIK. Being a Gen Xer myself, I naturally loved this aspect of the game. Some of the throwbacks are changed up a little bit, like the Backalley Boiz playing on the radio (instead of the Backstreet Boys), but there were also some direct references called out like when a neighbor see’s Alex’s shirt and says to “say hi to Nirvana” for him. From the Gameboy on Alex’s nightstand to the “Sargeant Salty” LP available at the record store, YIIK is packed with delightful nostalgia.
YIIK plays just like your typical Japanese styled RPG. When travelling across the overworld map, Alex will be susceptible to random enemy encounters, as well as when he ventures in several “dungeon” areas. The majority of the enemies you’ll meet are parodied versions of 90’s pop culture references. For example, instead of fighting Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, you’ll be battling Samurai Tortoises. While it’s fun to discover these nostalgic caricatures, their attacks patterns are pretty much all the same. There are only three different types of enemy attacks to guard yourself against and they’re all timing based. It gets tedious very quickly, especially in the later sections of the game.
Luckily there is a bit more variety in your party member’s attacks. Most of their moves are timing based as well, but several of their special moves feature very short, unique minigames. For example, Vella has a special move where you have to move around a grid and try to hit a pixelated enemy more times than it hits you in order to successfully perform the attack. Michael has a rapid fire attack with his camera where you push the button as many times as you can to take as many photos as possible and blind your enemy. I loved the addition of the quick minigames in combat and only wished that they had utilized them more with the enemy designs.
The overall controls in YIIK were pretty hit and miss. Most of the timing mechanics are thankfully fairly responsive, but for some reason it is exceedingly difficult to have Alex interact with common objects and NPCs. When he is able to talk to someone or look at something, an exclamation point shows over his head. Even when he is positioned correctly and the exclamation point is there, you’ll still have to press the button at least twice for it to register. This made is especially frustrating when navigating the most bizarrely designed leveling up system I’ve encountered: the Mind Dungeon.
The Mind Dungeon is where Alex can go to level up his different attributes. That’s pretty standard fare for an RPG, but this had one of the simplest yet strangest layouts I’ve seen. Inside Alex’s mind (which is represented by a large floating head) are many levels with four doors each. Alex must approach the door, select the attribute he wishes to level up, assign it to the the door, and then enter that door to obtain the new skill set. At the end of each hallway is a doorway with a crow waiting to trade your experience points for access to another level of the the Mind Dungeon. Yes, a crow. Why? Honestly, who knows at this point?
Now remember what I said about Alex having issues with interacting with objects? That’s right, it’s a pain in the butt. So in order for him to gain a new skill, he must press the button at least twice to register that he is interacting with the door, then pick what he wants, then press the button again several times to open the door and then select that he wants to go through it. Then he has to do this for four doors per floor and let me tell you that I was surprised by how many floors there were. It was so annoying that I often waited on leveling up for a while so I didn’t have to endure the frustration as often. Plus the song to the Mind Dungeon will get stuck in your head for days.
The music in YIIK is as obscure as the rest of the game. The quality of it is all over the place too. Some of the battle themes are energetic and invigorating while others are weirdly uneven in tempo and off key in certain parts. Maybe it was a design choice meant to portray the uncertainty of battle, but for me it just fell flat (pun intended). Most of the towns have their own unique score and I loved almost all of them except for the piece they used for the mall. The mall score sounds like you’re about to embark in a stress inducing high speed chase when almost everything you do at that location simply involves you walking around and looking at everything. Now that I think about it, that does pretty much sum up how I feel when I go to a mall. Wind Town, Frankton, and Flagship all have great musical pieces that perfectly suit their environment though. While the song for the Mind Dungeon is undeniably strange, I found it growing on me after a while. Until it got stuck in my head for a week that is.
The voice acting in YIIK is surprisingly well done for the most part, but there are definitely a few times some characters were overly cheesy. Considering the nature of the game, this didn’t necessarily feel too out of place though. Alex’s voice during his inner monologues sounded tinny and far away, like listening to him speak through an old answering machine. After a while you start to get use to it, but it was still strange that they didn’t record him the same way for those as they did for the rest of the game. Many of the sound effects for enemies and objects were well done or hilariously weird, which added to the charm of YIIK.
YIIK: A Postmodern RPG is an unusual game that is as mysterious as it is humorous. While the balance of levity doesn’t quite match the level of the supernatural the game takes on in its later chapters, it is still a game that is well worth your time. If you’re a Gen Xer like me, a casual RPG player looking for a quirky new title, or even a fan of the metaphysical, then perhaps this odd and offbeat game is just what you’ve been searching your parallel lives for.
Sharp polygonal figures and vibrant colors. Some enemies are overly simplistic. Dialogue cutscenes have decent hand drawn characters.
Alex’s ability to interact with objects and people is very frustrating. Luckily the mechanics for the timing challenges are pretty responsive.
Fairly solid voice acting. The musical score is all over the place, but mostly enjoyable.
A hilarious homage to 90’s culture and a strange yet intriguing storyline. Most of the dungeons have some interesting puzzles, but sometimes the solutions are unexpectedly obscure.
Final Verdict: 7.0
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
YIIK: A Postmodern RPG is available now on Nintendo Switch, Steam, PS4, and PS Vita.
A copy of YIIK: A Postmodern RPG was provided by the publisher.