YIIK: A Postmodern RPG is, as you may have guessed from the title, an RPG developed by Ackk Studios and published by Ysbryd Games. At the time of writing, it’s the best indie RPG I’ve played this year so far, and even if something replaces it as we head further into 2019, it will still remain a memorable indie experience.
Title: YIIK: A Postmodern RPG
Developer: Ackk Studios
Publisher: Ysbryd Games
Platform: PlayStation 4
Game Version: Final
Review Copy: Provided by Publisher
Interface: Controller or Mouse and Keyboard
Available on PlayStation Store, Nintendo Switch eShop, and Steam.
Take your mind back to the Summer of 1999, back when pop music was full of teen artists like N*Sync and Britney Spears, video games seemed to be more amazing than ever before, despite how some of their graphics would age over time, and the beginning of the next millennium was only several months away. This is where YIIK: A Postmodern RPG begins, with main character Alex Eggleston, finally returning home from college. At this point, having a Liberal Arts degree and not being prepared for his future, he’s not sure what he wants to do with his life. As Alex deals with his uncertainty, he meets a mysterious girl who seemingly and unwillingly disappears before his very eyes. Alex then decides he has to do whatever he can to find this girl, which leads into investigating all of the strange events happening around him, while meeting new friends and unraveling some complex details along the way. I fear I can’t say more without spoiling the story though, and it’s one that’s best experienced yourself — as well as one with some mind-bending aspects I’m still trying to wrap my head around.
I feel inclined to mention that the voice acting featured in YIIK is superb, with the cast doing and stellar job of portraying their characters, even with some of the questionable dialogue they were give . Clifford Chapin as Michael (Bakugo in My Hero Academia) in particular stood out the most among the rest. I was always eager to get to the next part of the story and hear new dialogue in the following cutscenes, yearning to learn more about the story and each party member. I found much of the party character dialogue during their interactions to be relatable for those currently in their late teens or twenties or knows what it feels like to be uncertain about their future, providing a special sense of comfort and familiarity. The story and characters probably won’t appeal to everyone, however, which could make or break your enjoyment depending on how you feel about YIIK‘s other aspects.
The gameplay featured in YIIK is turned based, and features Alex and his party fighting enemies by using different unorthodox weapons, such as vinyl records and cameras, and special skills that require MP. These attacks and skills aren’t as simple as just selecting them on a menu however, and range from requiring different correctly timed button presses or completing minigames to utilize them successfully. Usually button prompts for attacks are slow enough for you to easily succeed in performing an action, but you can spend Time Energy to slow down time temporarily if you’re having trouble. Time Energy is gained with successful attacks and will drain more the longer it’s used, so it must be managed wisely or else you’ll run out and will have to wait for it to refill.
Additionally, defending and dodging are also time based, and can be slowed down by using Time Energy as well. Not all attacks are instantly avoidable however, and the dodge window is small so most of the time it’s more likely that characters will defend to reduce damage rather than avoiding damage altogether, although if you can time your button presses precisely with the dodge window and know how to manage your Time Energy properly you might be dodging more often than not. There are also some enemy attacks which cannot be defended against and require multiple dodges, further increasing the difficulty of avoiding attacks. From my experience, I rarely dodged these attacks and would just heal after if needed, a decent if not ideal alternative option. Luckily, added accessibility options include unlimited Time Energy to make dodging these types of attacks easier to manage for frustrated players.
While the time based systems are fine, certain attacks of Alex and other party members seem to barely increase the amount of damage caused or don’t at all even with being at a higher level and having stronger equipment and increased attributes. Even by the end, Alex’s basic attack would do barely any damage even with higher combos, while the strongest skill he had would cause a much larger and more appropriate amount, becoming the offensive skill I used most often. A few times I would get really lucky with a critical hit from Alex’s basic attack, but even at that point his strongest skill was always the more viable option. Some other party members have similar problems, with their basic attack and other skills barely dealing any damage despite new equipment and increased attributes, although eventually I would just switch these characters out for the more useful party members. Swapping party members can only happen in-battle, but swapping doesn’t use up a turn, so the swapped character will still be able to perform an action. Because of the low damage in the beginning, at times battles seem really slow until you grind a few levels, but having a button to speed up battle pacing definitely helps in this case.
Like most RPGs, experience can gained through completing battles, but this is paired with a more unconventional leveling system. For Alex and the rest of the party to level up, Alex must enter the Mind Dungeon, where 100 XP will help him and other characters grow a level and access the next floor of the dungeon. Each floor has doors which can either grant a new skill to Alex or another party member, or will increase one of Alex’s attributes. You can only select four of Alex’s six attributes, and you aren’t able to select each stat more than once per floor. That doesn’t mean you can’t deal high damage early on, but it definitely limits you from becoming too overpowered and provides some balance. Most battles grant you a decent amount of experience, but naturally you gain less as you level up, with monsters in the overworld appearing less or not at all due to only a limited amount each chapter depending on the recommended level and the level(s) of your party.
When getting towards the end of each chapter and monsters are no longer appearing in the overworld, Monster Dens spread throughout the world and set at different intensity levels can help the party level up. Once you’ve completed some Monster Dens or if the stronger Dens prove too difficult, then sidequests are the best way to level up . Unfortunately, there are only a handful of them with several you may have done earlier, further increasing the difficulty of leveling up over time. Regardless of the limits put on gaining experience, I normally felt that I was strong enough to take on the enemies in each story dungeon, with the exception of one that was easily fixed by gaining just a few levels.
Besides engaging in battles, there are also plenty of puzzles to solve within each dungeon. Some of the solutions to these puzzles are more straightforward than others, and don’t always give you a visual hint on how to properly solve them. Sometimes you just have to leave it up to trial and error, fortunately none of the puzzles take too long once you understand what to do and how to do it. Additionally, there is a hint option in the menu for when you don’t remember what to do next. The problem is that these hints don’t update quite as often as some would desire, so you could have “collect X number of something” even after you have collected all of them and might not be sure who or what to interact with next. While this lack of direction is irritating, as long as you can figure out what the end goal, this absence of information shouldn’t be enough to completely ruin your experience.
One specific glaring flaw is that items are all put in one long list, rather than being separated into sections (such as healing items, key items, etc.). While any items you don’t need can be sold off at a Pawn Shop and items can be sorted on the item list a few different ways, the unavailability of separate sections for different types of items can make healing your party outside of battle or checking to make sure you have the correct items to finish a puzzle or complete a sidequest more of a chore than they have to be.
The art style excellently emulates a modern take on late 90’s 3D polygonal style games, and this heavily stylized look will likely help it age well. The vibrant colors help each area come to life, particularly in the more surreal sections, giving them a proper colorful yet still dreamlike feel. For some, the art style may be the deciding factor for their interest in YIIK, which is unfortunate if they haven’t tried playing it and seeing what else it has to offer.
The music has a handful of variety throughout the campaign, although there were only a few tracks I found to be regularly enjoyable. Instead of repeatedly hearing the same battle theme throughout the entire experience, new ones become available as you progress, with regular battles in the overworld and other areas eventually switching between these themes. One specific battle theme from one of the guest composers was stuck in my head for days even after completing the final battle. This variation is fantastic for circumventing the usual battle theme fatigue players experience when playing even more recent RPGs, although adding just a few more tracks for added variety would be an admirable, if not entirely necessary, improvement.
If you’re a fan of 90’s nostalgia, surreal adventures, and turned based RPGs with time based button prompt battle mechanics, then YIIK may be for you. It’s story, relatable characters, familiar gameplay style mixed with some new elements, and catchy music will likely only increase it’s memorability. If you can overlook its blemishes, then it’s sure to be one strange yet enjoyable experience
YIIK: A Postmodern RPG is available for PC, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch. It is planned to launch on Xbox One and PlayStation Vita in the near future. You can also check out our interview with creator Andrew Allanson.