YIIK: A Postmodern RPG (pronounced Y2K) is an ambitious RPG set in Frankton, New Jersey where a lot of strange events start to occur when recently graduated Liberal Arts major, Alex, returns home from Seattle. I never quite understood what made YIIK postmodern. Although the game introduces many new ideas and interesting concepts it falls flat on its face at nearly every turn with a few exceptions.
YIIK takes heavy inspiration from the 1995 cult-classic, Earthbound, with its design and use of real world mixed with the supernatural wrapped up in a ‘90s vibe. There’s plenty to love here if you’re a ‘90s baby like me, but sadly the love is only skin deep. As the main protagonist, Alex, you’ll mosey around town searching for a woman who suddenly disappears with him being the last person in contact with her.
Because Earthbound is one of my favorite games ever and I spent my childhood growing up in the decade that popularized boy bands and grunge rock I fully expected to fall in love with YIIK for its seemingly blend of the two. I’m disappointed to report that it doesn’t quite hit the high mark it was aiming for. It’s also quite hard not to compare it to Nintendo’s aforementioned JRPG when it was so obviously made to look and feel like it could have been an en entry in that franchise.
The main gripe I have with the game is its main protagonist, Alex. Most RPGs start you off with a plain-faced character with either limited dialogue or none at all so the player can project themselves onto him or her. That’s not the case with Alex. I’ve played a lot of RPGs in my time and by far Alex is the worst main character I’ve ever had the discomfort of playing as. Throughout the roughly 15 to 20 hour story Alex will continuously offer his unwanted opinion on the events that unfold in Frankton. His dialogue ranges from typical hipster pretentiousness to utterly cringe-worthy. It really felt like I walked into a hipster coffee shop in Seattle and one of the patrons there would not stop voicing his thoughts on everything. After every encounter with a character or event Alex will often have inner monologues about the experience. It doesn’t allow for the player to sit back and take in what happened. These scenes are just dreadful to read through and if you don’t end up skipping through them you’ll be like me and wonder why the developers thought that players wouldn’t be able to think and react to the game in a more organic way.
Speaking of dialogue there’s a lot here. Expect to not only be sifting through Alex’s needless input on what happens throughout the adventure, but also other characters as well. The story is interesting with elements of late ‘90s urban legend happenings woven in. It’s just hard to play through an engaging story when you’re playing as Alex. The voice acting wasn’t great, but it also wasn’t the worst. I think I just ended up skipping through a lot of his because I was tired of hearing Alex talk.
Usually in JRPGs I tend to love the turn-based combat and YIIK puts its own spin on the tried and true gameplay. When encountering an enemy on the overworld, like traditional JRPG fashion, you will be teleported to a battle screen where your characters will take turns beating each other up until one faints. Expect to be waiting a good while for the battle to actually start because you will be staring at a blank white loading screen for about 30 seconds (I counted). In 2019 this is an eternity, and almost makes me think Nintendo was onto something by resisting CD-ROM load times back in the ‘90s. It’s just bad programming for a digital game of this caliber to have this problem. It really disrupted the flow of the game and made me not want to encounter enemies because it felt like a waste of time.
So now that you’re finally in the battle fighting rats or smiley faces, you will do a short and simple mini-game to determine how much damage your character will deal. For Alex, this was pressing the A button at the right time as his record was spinning. This is a cool concept at first, but it really starts to get old after the first few times. Even for low-level enemies I found myself taking a few minutes to defeat them, not counting the load times in between. With the amount of battles you’ll have to complete throughout your adventure it feels like it was just a load of filler.
Because YIIK strives to change this up and be more postmodern… whatever that means, even leveling up is a chore. Instead of leveling up after a battle when reaching the necessary experience, you have to navigate an area inside Alex’s head in order to level up. Like the battles it just felt like an artificial way to pad the game with more content but ultimately disrupts the flow.
One great point about the game is its superb soundtrack written by Toby Fox, who is best know for the indie gem Undertale. The music is just fantastic. If you close your eyes and listen you might think you were playing a brand new Earthbound. It does an amazing job of setting the vibe of ‘90s.
The art style is one that took a little while to grow on me. At first glance I wasn’t sold, but the more I played the more I noticed the attention to detail the developers put into their work. This game was crafted from love and it definitely has heart. There a lot of subtle and not so subtle references that reminded me of the decade I grew up in.
To sum it all up, YIIK: A Postmodern RPG is a game with a lot of ambition. There’s a good game underneath all of the mess on top, most notably Alex, who is one of the worst leads in any video game I’ve ever played. The music is genuinely great and the art style really did grow on me. I wish I could recommend this game to Earthbound fans patiently waiting for Mother 3 to be brought over to the West, but I honestly think you’re better off skipping this one. I do hope that Ackk Studios gets their act together for whatever their next project is because they definitely have talent and passion.
Final Thoughts: WORTH CONSIDERING
YIIK tries many new things to reinvent the JRPG genre only to fall flat. It’s a shame because there is a potentially good game buried under the pretentious main character, Alex. The music is great though!
Tony has been gaming ever since he could walk. Pokémon Blue Version helped him learn how to read. His greatest accomplishment is not just having played the entire Kingdom Hearts series but also understanding it.