In YIIK: A Postmodern RPG, you search for a missing woman as the end of the millennium looms near. Is it as hipster as you expect? Here’s what we think.
I feel sorry for YIIK’s protagonist, Alex, even though I shouldn’t. In fact, there’s little reason to even like Alex. And yet, I find myself feeling sorry that he happens to be the hero of this story that revolves around him. YIIK is indubitably his story and that is, above all, the problem.
Alex, a liberal arts graduate, returns from college in 1999 to his hometown of Frankton. He sets off to shop for groceries, but ends up sidetracked to an abandoned factory, where he encounters a mysterious girl named Sammy. Before he can even get to know her better, she is snatched away by entities even more mysterious than her.
This begins Alex’s quest to solve the mystery of Sammy’s abduction. Along the way, he finds even more strange goings-on that are affecting the world, and picks up a party of friends while at it. Things come to a head at the end of the year with the looming threat of Y2K (sorry, YIIK), and Alex and his friends find themselves in a struggle against the forces they have uncovered.
YIIK describes itself a postmodern RPG right in its subtitle, and it follows postmodernist themes like a textbook of style. There’s Murakami’s missing cats and alternate realities, Vonnegut’s karass, nostalgic fawning over magical girl anime and dial-up internet, tongue-in-cheek parodying of American consumerism, and a reverence for Japanese pop culture.
It’s a game that revels in turning that familiar into the surreal, and vice versa. Typical RPG weapons are replaced by music records, hula hoops, keytars, and picket signs. Dramatic hair flips destroy weird plants getting in your way, while a cat with a Salvador Dali-like moustache is your go-to tool for reaching faraway objects.
But let’s return to Alex, the red-bearded young man at the centre of this adventure. With his privileged upbringing, self-important monologues, and general lack of drive, Alex is perhaps the least likeable character in his own story.
In a not-uncommon moment of self-reference, Alex even compares himself to his motivated and driven friends. Unfortunately for the player, self-pity does not a pitiable character make. Alex does grow in this coming-of-age tale, but the game never really answers the pressing question of why we should root for him. He simply has no business being the hero and yet, the game pushes him hard like he’s a ‘face’, to use wrestling terminology.
The game’s writing swings wildly from believable dialogue and messageboard posts, to laughable similes and convoluted exposition that only gets more confusing as you go. To its credit, the game steers clear of RPG character tropes, presenting fresh and diverse personalities. Unfortunately, they only barely pop out as characters.
The gameplay is styled as a Japanese-style RPG, complete with elements like random enemy encounters on an overworld map, towns with shops to buy from, and turn-based battles.
In an Undertale-esque twist, combat is augmented with minigames that accumulate the damage that will be dealt to your enemies. If you aren’t good with rhythm elements in games, I would advise you against this game, as the only assistance you’ll find here is a time-slowing option that can only be used sparingly.
The battles themselves feel extremely undercooked. Barebones animations and simplistic effects do little to mask the battles’ languid pacing. This is slightly alleviated by the fast-forward feature, the inclusion of which seems to indicate that the developer was aware of the slow battles and just decided to work around the probleminstead of actually fixing it.
Even if you manage to zip through the animations and messages, you have to deal with spongy enemies that take and dish out very little damage each turn. This makes for long, drawn-out battles (even the non-boss ones!) that last several minutes and feel like an utter chore to play.
The combat skill minigames come with no training or tutorial segments, so you’re forced to learn them by sheer trial and error, all within a span of a few seconds. Mess up, and you will cause no damage whatsoever while expending valuable PP. It’s no wonder, then, that until the middle-to-late game, I never even bothered using combat skills.
Several skills feel so poorly conceived that it’s baffling how they made it to the final version of the game. The Japanophile character Claudio uses a skill with a minigame that takes so long, I started avoiding it even when it would’ve been useful. Vella’s story-critical ability Banish puts you in a bullet hell minigame that feels both rudimentary and unfair.
YIIK is a complete game (I know this because it had a credits section at the end and a message thanking me for playing the game), but at times, I could have sworn it was a work-in-progress.
For example, the game repeatedly refers to the Mind Dungeon as a place where you can ‘train’ and get better. But in practice, the Mind Dungeon is just an unnecessarily time-consuming representation of levelling up, with no enemies or battles in it.
At one Persona-inspired point, the game even devotes a large chunk of time to get you to ‘train’ there, which only left me confused as I repeatedly entered the Mind Dungeon and exited it, just to make the days pass by and get to the end of the section. Was I supposed to grind levels there? I don’t know, and it doesn’t seem to have mattered, either, because I beat the final bosses without a sweat.
And yet, buried somewhere under the poor design, lack of polish, and poor writing, YIIK does feels sincere. There’s a beating heart somewhere in there, seen through the blurriest of glass. It may charm, it may even comfort, but it’s not enough to power a game that’s otherwise just not very good.
About the best elements the game has to offer are its cel-shaded visuals, which use bright colours and creative effects to conjure alternately comforting and unnerving environments. The soundtrack features varied compositions spanning several genres, and I found myself looking forward to many a battle theme (with the exception of one particular song that made me mute the audio).
Rough design, a lack of polish, a discombobulated story, and hard-to-bear battles make it hard for me to recommend YIIK to anyone but the most fervent collector of ‘odd’ games. Save yourself the time, and replay the Mother/Earthbound games instead.
YIIK: A Postmodern RPG releases on 17 January for PC, Mac, PS4, and Switch. This review is based on a copy provided by the publisher.
For more games published by Ysbryd Games, do check out our coverage.
- Bold, vivid visuals
- Diverse soundtrack
- Uncommon setting and atmosphere
- Gratingly slow, unsatisfying combat
- Uninteresting characters and convoluted story
- Trial-and-error minigames