It sounds like a good idea: a fourth-wall breaking, turn-based RPG built on classic models and set in 1999, a gloriously social media-free time when we all lived in fear that our technology would implode on the first day of the new millennium. Of course, that didn’t happen and the world went on to birth Facebook and a thousand other horrors much more frightening than any found in a game, but we do have YIIK: A Postmodern RPG, to help us remember those innocent days.
Inspired by 1994’s EarthBound and other classic early RPGs, YIIK is a 3D, turn-based adventure game that takes place over a 24-hour period and centers on a young college graduate named Alex, who returns home and is soon swept up in the kind of “save the world” story that is almost a requirement of the genre. Reduce YIIK’s story to a plot outline and you have not only the core of the game, but its most appealing aspect. It gets weird and then weirder. It goes to some dark places. It’s interesting.
Unfortunately, just about every mechanism through which the story is told, from the generally unlikeable lead character to the badly over-written dialogue, from the often lame humor to the random pile of pop culture references is offputting to one degree or another. Perhaps the most egregious sins come in the form of YIIK’s slow-moving, frustrating and often tedious battles and overall unpolished gameplay.
The cliche “it’s never too late to make a good impression” is a lie and several hours into YIIK I was still waiting for the game to turn things around and make good on its promise. Let’s agree, humor is one of the most subjective and slippery things to write, and one person’s wry fourth wall-breaking, inside baseball game reference is another’s source of irritation. Done right — as in, say, South Park’s Stick of Truth, cultural and videogame throwbacks and throwaways help set context, subvert expectations and create an anarchic tone. Maybe because the endless amount of text is so overwrought and pedestrian, YIIK’s jokes and many of its characters were ineffective. Now, I am not a child of the 90s, so my experience of the time is not drenched in any kind of wide-eyed nostalgia but even if I was, I don’t think that YIIKs humor or sometimes inconsistent references would land with any more success.
Enemy encounters are at the heart of RPGs, and YIIK’s turn-based combat is built around a series of mastering a host of irritating and imprecise timing-based mini-games, and it is difficult to enjoy, especially throughout the course of a long game. Between the fiddly timing and unbalanced combat, I began to wish that the developers had stuck a little closer to a proven battle system, “postmodern” or not. Speaking of its combat, YIIK is in serious need of a coherent tutorial, and an even more thorough re-think and fine tuning of character movement in and out of combat.
Visually a bit reminiscent of South Park genetically mixed with the odd vibe of Twin Peaks, the Pacific Northwest setting is an over-saturated construction of low-detail polygons that successfully evokes the technically limited graphics capabilities of those early 3D adventures. Art direction is another area that is highly subjective. In the case of YIIK, I get what they were going for, but I personally found it unattractive and both character and enemy models lacked appeal. Perhaps the most successful element is the game’s music, which is an eclectic mixture of electronic styles and it lends a lot of positive personality to the experience. The extensive voice acting is all over the map in its commitment and quality, but even the best actor is constrained by the quality of the word he or she must deliver.
YIIK: A Postmodern RPG is built on a solid and intriguing premise, the idea of taking elements from traditional early RPGs and tossing out the trappings of cliche fantasy in favor of more timely elements. The question is, was the RPG genre the best fit? Unfortunately, the game that was built on this winning idea is a bit of a chore to play and not very funny or fun to experience. I was annoyed by the writing and combat and a pervasive and unwarranted “too cool for school” attitude that began with the character creation screen and never really went away. Streamline the dialogue and expository overkill, re-tool the combat and YIIK: A Postmodern RPG would be closer to those classic games from which it draws inspiration.