Review: YIIK: A Postmodern RPG – New Millennium, Old Mechanics

This January is filled with some pretty big, long-awaited releases. With Kingdom Hearts 3, Resident Evil 2 and Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes all releasing in the span of only two weeks, it’s almost overwhelming. It may be a little odd, but I highly recommend that you add another game to that list with YIIK: A Postmodern RPG. 

Developed by Ackk Studios, YIIK is a JRPG that is heavily influenced by games such as Earthbound, Persona 3 and even Lufia 2 — with the latter being directly referenced in the game. In YIIK you take control of Alex, a young man who just finished his bachelor’s degree and returned to his home town. While there, he meets a mysterious woman who is kidnapped by a group strange beings, and the rest of the game he tries to find a way to save her.

The game directly points out some of its influences.

YIIK constantly surprised me, which was probably because I intentionally went into it knowing as little as possible. One of the first major surprises was the fact that most of the game is fully voice acted. Not only that, but the voice acting is genuinely great as it was done by professionals such as Clifford Chapin and Anthony Sardinha, and the majority of the time it works very well. For a narrative-heavy game such as this one, vocal performance can go a long way. It was equally pleasant that the voice acting was actually used to present an important plot point. While I will not spoil it, seeing it pay off in one of the final chapters of the game was very satisfying.

Another surprise was the simple, yet effective voxel art style. It not only captures that retro feel really well, but it’s also just unique and lovely in its own right. Some of the highlights include the 8-bit representations of the characters in the party menu and the fact that your walk cycle is made up of individual frames and not a continuous animation. The open overworld you slowly unlock throughout the game was also pretty nice, and some of the more bizarre endgame dungeons was where the art style truly shined. It’s a testament that this game can have both cute enemy designs and extremely unnerving horror elements.

Each town is introduced with its own unique logo when you first enter it.

The most praiseworthy aspect of YIIK is its soundtrack. It was composed by many talented musicians, including Calum Bowen (Lovely Planet), Michael Kelly (VA-11 HALL-A) and Toby Fox (Undertale). The soundtrack encompasses so many different genres and emotions, and yet it all works and flows extremely well. Even in the late game dungeons, I was still introduced to new battle themes. There was just such a constant barrage of incredible pieces that I need Ackk Studios to release the full soundtrack.

It’s in YIIK‘s story and gameplay that I started having issues with the game. I really liked the majority of the cast and characters. The highlights from the party for me were Vella, Rory and Claudio. Vella was one of the better written characters, and her arc was captivating, especially later when you have an entire dungeon that’s about her. Rory was not only one of the more realistic characters in the group, he is also a pacifist. This means that in combat his main ability is to protect the other party members. Claudio had the best comedic moments in the entire game, and his obsession with his favorite anime had me in stitches at times.

The game definitely has a bizarre sense of humor.

Even the NPCs can be great, like the ones in starting town where you both begin and spend most of your time. As the chapters progress their dialogue will change. If you are thorough enough to talk to all of them every chapter, you get these small little stories that make the world feel more alive. Overall the dialogue was well written. The amount of effort that was put into writing an entire fake online forum alone shows how dedicated the developers were to making this game work.

The best thing I can say about the main story is that it was always interesting though slowly paced. It hooked me in from the start all the way to the end. At first, your objective is to try and save the kidnapped woman, but this mission shifts as you slowly learn more about the creature who took her, the supernatural and the real end-of-the-world threat that is coming. Toward the end, the game slowly unravels to become this complex metaphor about self-destruction and how it affects those around you, but to delve deeper into this metaphor would spoil the story.

YIIK review 2019 video game Ackk jrpg actionIt only gets more complicated from here.

My main issue with the story is how it handled exposition. When it comes to the supernatural and the bizarre, there are a few routes a storyteller can take. One can, for example, take the Twin Peaks route and let the audience figure out most of it on their own while dropping cryptic hints. YIIK does the exact opposite.

In order to get to its aforementioned complex metaphor, YIIK spends a lot of time on long scenes of exposition to explain what the supernatural beings are and what is actually happening. While this does mean that there is closure for most of the elements in the game, it comes at the cost of the player’s patience. You have to sit through drawn-out cutscenes where the game makes sure you know exactly what’s going on. The message at the end is also pretty blatant, which removes any potential room for interpretation that the player may have. I should clarify that I don’t think the ending was necessarily bad, I was more disappointed by how abrupt and preachy it felt. The journey up to the ending still felt worth it.

This brings me to the actual gameplay, which was the most disappointing part of my experience. I enjoyed the dungeons and the puzzles in them. Most of these used abilities you unlocked such as a cat you can throw to open faraway chests and a skateboard you can use to travel quickly in a straight line. There was a large enough variety, both visually and mechanically, that they never felt repetitive. I also liked the overworld and how, as a civilian, you could only cross roads where there was a crosswalk. Later when you unlocked a car you could travel on these roads, which is a simple way to make the world feel much more open.

YIIK review 2019 video game Ackk jrpg actionIn one of its final chapters, the game turns into a pseudo-Persona game, and you have to choose how you spend each day: training, doing a side-quest or hanging out with your friends.

I also liked how the game handled side quests. Most of these you can find on the fake online forum I mentioned. Every chapter a few more would be posted, and you would have to check each post to see which one was a side quest. Completing these would usually give you great rewards such as XP and items. Similarly, going out of your way to fight optional monsters and exploring in town was also properly rewarding.

The XP system itself is fascinating. The amount you earn depends on your level compared to the enemy’s level; thus, you are incentivized to fight higher-leveled enemies in order to gain a greater amount of XP. But, in this game, you level up manually, not automatically. There is a separate area called the Mind Dungeon where you spend XP you received in order to level up. In this area you choose which of Alex’s stats will be raised while the other members have their stats raised automatically. It is also through this system that the party members learn new skills, though you get all of them by the time you are level 20 to 25. While I really loved how novel this system was, manually raising Alex’s stats became a chore.

YIIK review 2019 video game Ackk jrpg actionMost fights don’t actually have this much of a diversity in types of enemies.

Since there are only roughly three random fights you can do in the overworld per chapter (which scale to your level), the best place to get XP are optional monster dens. You can do many of these once you have access to the overworld. I did all of them as early as I could, which led to me being overleveled the rest of the game.

I will say that the combat itself is quite creative. I liked that most of the actions you do are accompanied by a different minigame, even running away. Each character has a different action for their regular attack, and your damage depends on how well you do. Claudio’s and Vella’s are quite easy, for example. Special skills usually have more elaborate ones. Vella has a skill where she throws an amp on an enemy and you have to do it in a short 2D minigame.

YIIK review 2019 video game Ackk jrpg actionThis is from Claudio’s only special skill where you need to input a long series of directions. The series never changes, so the more you remember, the better you do.

Problems with combat arise with the defending mechanic. Even though there is a large variety with your attacks, there are only three types of enemy attacks. This meant that there are only three defense minigames, and they are not that different from each other. All of them require you to hit a button or two with somewhat precise timing. This led to many of the battles feeling somewhat slow and repetitive.

What does not help is the lack of complexity in the battle system. There are only about three different status effects and sometimes enemies felt too similar to each other mechanically. The only truly unique enemies are entities (the same mysterious beings who are responsible for the kidnapping) because only two of your party members can deal with them. Vella has an ability where you can banish them to the Mind Dungeon. The other party member is one you get late in the game and they can actually kill entities.

YIIK review 2019 video game Ackk jrpg actionThough you can slightly order it, the inventory is a cluttered mess and traversing it is a chore.

Even bosses are not that special. In the first place, there are not that many bosses, since most dungeons do not have them. One of the first bosses is a fantastic, tense fight against a golden alpaca. Yet, the others feel more like dumb gimmicks because the combat system is too simple to allow for some really interesting ones. Some of the late game bosses are especially bad with this because you actually need to lose to them due to story reasons, and there is barely anything to indicate that you are supposed to do that. A particularly egregious example was my fight against the final boss, which is more of a simple puzzle than anything else.

This is not to say that the combat itself is boring. It’s a little easy and repetitive, but I did have fun. The enemies are wacky and quirky in their designs. It always feels great to succeed in the minigames, and there is a slight element of strategy in figuring out what order you are supposed to take out the enemies. I liked that you can always fast forward through everything in combat with a press of a button. Furthermore, there is the ability to slow down time to make some of the minigames easier, though you have a limited bar to do so and it refills whenever you dodge or take damage. I also liked how one of the equipment slots was for an accessory that focused on enhancing a specific stat or two. This also added an element of strategy to the character building itself.

YIIK review 2019 video game Ackk jrpg actionFor those wondering, yes, the actual Y2K bug plays an important role in the story.

There’s a lot to do in YIIK, and my playthrough took a little more than 30 hours. And there is still a New Game+ I can do that will most likely have secrets I could explore. The story itself does tackle mature themes very bluntly, and while it was not for me in the end, I do see others enjoying it. Overall, YIIK is a fantastic game that I thoroughly enjoyed even if the combat system could have been better.

Ofir reviewed YIIK: A Postmodern RPG on PC using a code provided by the developer.

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