Review

YIIK: A Postmodern RPG


Screenshot from YIIK: A Postmodern RPG

Ackk Studios' website currently cites YIIK's release date as Q4 2015. Over three years since that original speculative date, the game has finally launched on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 & PC / Mac to a solid fanfare which has been following the game since its announcement half a decade ago.

I'm one of those hopeful fans, having got my first taste of the game's style, charm and gameplay back at EGX 2015. I'd forget about it for a while, then every few months I'd see a tweet from its developer and remember the hype I once had. As the Wii U quickly began to fall from grace, a release on Nintendo hardware began to look unlikely; before the Switch took over and development was shifted towards Nintendo's hybrid.

Thankfully, the snippets of excellence demonstrated at various game shows across the world have translated into a fully-fledged experience that'll take you on an extraordinary journey through time, space and consciousness.

You play as Alex, a graduate who's recently returned to his hometown Frankton with a college degree and... very little in the way of people skills. He's defined in-game as a 'hipster' - boasting various stereotypes such as his flannel shirt, square glasses and extensive vinyl collection.

This is reflected in YIIK's battle system. As a game drawing heavily from the turn-based Japanese RPG genre, its closest similarities would be Pok√©mon, Dragon Quest or Earthbound. Much like SteamWorld Heist did for the turn-based strategy genre, however, battles aren't entirely turn-based affairs. Each attack is represented by an almost WarioWare-esque, real-time micro-game. Alex's for example sees him spin up a record with three coloured segments on his deck. As the record spins you must hit the action button as each segment passes under the needle - incrementing your combo and ultimately laying more damage onto your opponent.

Each of the eight characters that sporadically join your party throughout the duration of the game has their own primary attack and thus their own micro-game, in addition to a plethora of Skills which each consume the character's limited Power Points (or PP) - again, each with a unique micro-game for you to master. Once you're in the swing of things you can speed up gameplay by holding the right shoulder button; or conversely if you're struggling you can hold the left shoulder button to deploy your limited source of 'Time Energy' which slows down time and makes it easier for you to perfectly time your attacks and dodges. Interestingly, during normal gameplay this is replenished only when you take damage from an enemy during battle, cleverly encouraging you to master the micro-games whilst also granting you a bit of a lifeline when you struggle.

One thing that YIIK does really well is respect the player's time. You can enable an Assist Mode which grants infinite access to the Time Energy resource, making the game's lengthier boss battles much less overwhelming. It's almost like Ackk Studios acknowledges that its audience has matured since the SNES era and no longer has the time to invest in twenty hours' worth of side quests in addition to a gargantuan storyline.

Everything is streamlined, from the story to the world map. The game starts with what feels like your typical "go and get some groceries from the next town" introduction, but you're plunged into the action before even making it out of Frankton - and this pace is consistent for the duration of its twenty-five hour story.

If you do have the time to invest though, and don't mind reading, additional backstory, commentary and side quests are available via the PC in Alex's home. He's a member of ONISM1999 - an internet message board where privileged teens band together to discuss supernatural occurrences in their local area. As Alex delves deeper into the mysteries of Frankton the forums become a hive of activity and - perhaps surprisingly - hatred. Threads showing genuine concern for a missing girl are littered with death threats and inappropriate comments about the girl's physical appearance. It's obviously over-exaggerated for the purpose of the story, but never actually feels too far removed from comment threads on certain real-life websites.

Even if you choose to skim read the ONISM message boards, YIIK is a very wordy game which demands a certain level of investment from the player. The dialogue between Alex and his contemporaries is always well-written though, and the stellar voice acting portrays emotion between the characters as Alex learns to develop more meaningful relationships with those around him.

One aspect of the game which unfortunately falls short is its levelling system. Experience points are earned in battles as usual, but levelling up and increasing your party's attributes is a manual process. At each of the game's save points, you have the option to enter Alex's Mind Dungeon and exchange 100 experience points for the privilege of advancing to the next floor of the dungeon - each floor representing an additional level, and four doors each representing a statistic increase. You're free to choose which stats (or stat) you'd like to improve with each level, which is fine in concept, but the frequency of visits makes the whole process more of a chore than it needs to be.

YIIK is an outrageous commentary on the state of society in a digital age, touching on sensitive subject matters with tact and weaving these themes into what is a genuinely gripping story. Although it technically doesn't do anything new for the JRPG genre, its American setting and influences feel fresh and unexplored, making for one of the most interesting games I've played in a long time.

8 / 10