When first learning about YIIK: A Post-Modern RPG, I instantly got Earthbound vibes. The modern setting, eccentric enemies, and unconventional weapons led me to that impression. As a fan of RPGs in that era, I was intrigued. The developers are clearly fans too, even going so far as to namedrop classic titles through their characters. But for better and worse, they discard convention in favor of madcap abandon.
In YIIK (pronounced Y2K), you play as Alex who returns to his hometown from college. Alex is very much the embodiment of the game as a whole. He is the prototypical hipster who seeks deeper meaning in anything and everything in life. Unfortunately, this has him come across as pretentious a lot of the time even if there are good intentions behind his monologues.
How much you enjoy the story is going to depend on your tolerance for discussion on metaphysical beings, souls, and the meaning of reality with a bunch of hipster kids in the ’90s. There are some good takes on these topics and the characters (asides from Alex) are likable enough. It’s just that there is no satisfying conclusion after all is said and done. A special shout-out goes to Chondra, though. That girl is badass.
Bitter sweet polyphony
The visual style used in YIIK is surprisingly enough one of its strong points. The semi-polygonal aesthetic with the slight “jankiness” in animation here is done on purpose. This is a game set in 1999, so the visual style is meant to represent that time and it does it well. Even the title screen readies your senses with a blast of color saturation and computer glitchiness.
You will see this style taken further when in the overworld. Here you can go to different towns and face random battle encounters, but not before marveling at the genuinely cool visuals. Seeing a little Alex walking around holding his LP is admittedly cute.
However, the real star of the show is the music. YIIK has some of the best tracks you will probably ever hear in gaming outside of the Persona series. This should come as no surprise with Toby Fox (Undertale) and Hiroki Kikuta (Secret of Mana) lending their talent. Just the Mind Dungeon theme alone will get stuck in your head for days on end.
U can’t time this
Then there’s the battle system, which is paramount for any RPG. YIIK tries something different by having each and every action (outside of using items) tied to some sort of timing-based minigame. This is cool to experience at first, and I’ll admit getting addicted to the thought of mastering this mechanic. A few specific problems get in the way, though.
When enemies strike, you will be presented with timing windows to either defend for less damage or dodge the attack completely. However, you will see more and more enemies as you progress in the game that can attack multiple party members. That means having to do the same timing-based minigames for each and every member of your party affected by the attack. As you can probably imagine, this can make combat slow and tedious. I even timed some battles I would have in the overworld at roughly 5 minutes on average. For a typical RPG, that is way too long.
This might be specific to the Nintendo Switch version, but there will every now and then be frame drops that can mess up your timing. For example, I had a number of frustrating moments where I thought I nailed the timing on Alex’s main weapon minigame only for a frame to suddenly skip past when I pressed the appropriate button. This could also possibly be from unresponsiveness in general. Even interacting with objects in the world can require two or three button presses. Whatever the issue is exactly, it’s there and it’s infuriating.
Hipster in a bottle
Another intriguing mechanic in YIIK is the Mind Dungeon. Simply use a phone (which doubles as your save point) to call in and you’ll be taken to what is essentially Alex’s mind. From here, you enter an aesthetically impressive area that tries to do something interesting with the typical character leveling in RPGs.
You enter the hallway and interact with different doors. These doors can then have various attributes distributed to them (strength, defense, speed, etc.). Enter the room and you will be given the displayed amount of points for that part of your character.
Unfortunately, this can only be done for Alex while the rest of the characters just level up normally. Also, it never quite feels like Alex catches up to everyone else’s stats when you’re far in the game. Some sort of stat reallocation would have been beneficial in this case. Either way, the Mind Dungeon ends up being a neat concept that ultimately bogs down the experience much like the battle system.
Smells like we need spirit
I wanted to like YIIK: A Post-Modern RPG a lot more than I did. There’s some rich creativity in its style, and the music is worth a listen even outside of playing. However, a lot of the fresh ideas with the battle system and Mind Dungeon simply don’t respect the player’s time. When I’m sighing after accidentally bumping into an avoidable enemy, that’s a problem.
My hope for Ackk Studios is that they will take this criticism to heart in their next project. They are clearly bursting with creativity, and we need to see more of that in the gaming industry. Just be sure to back it up with solid mechanics that push the player’s experience forward. Being set in 1999 doesn’t mean we have to suffer through the worst of it.
A review code was provided by the publisher.
David has been involved in games media since 2012 running his own blog, YouTube channel, being a founding member of RETRO Magazine, and now as host/producer of ARGcast – Another Retro Gaming Podcast. He also dabbles in voiceover and is occasionally a stunt double for Jude Law.