Years after first spotting this indie adventure light up a dull basement at EGX Rezzed, I have finally wrapped my hands around a copy of YIIK: A Postmodern RPG. An unmistakable throwback adventure, YIIK: A Postmodern RPG is the work of Ackk Studios and published by Ysbryd games. Ysbryd might already be known to you for their Cyberpunk Bartending adventure Va-11 Hall-A, whose sci-fi shenanigans already had me at the first Flaming Moai. This time, the publisher of unique indie adventures brings a tale of middle America, urban legends, and a group of lost twenty-somethings to Nintendo Switch.
Back to the Postmodern
Taking the role of Alex, a recent college graduate trying to find his place in society, players begin this story by returning to their home town of Frankton for the first time in years. A relatively quiet middle American town, Frankton exists in a state that will be reminiscent to many of us. Just coming down off the hedonism of the eighties and before the rabid post-apocalyptic fears of a new millennium, Frankton is an example of a world where Yahoo ruled the internet, encyclopedias were still relevant, and Nintendo’s Game Boy was the peak of mobile gaming.
This throwback nostalgia is more than just a backdrop to YIIK’s narrative. Right away, it is obvious that the graphics, while polished enough, hark back to the polygonal days when an average computer could barely do more than a bargain basement feature phone. Bright colors, hard edges, and large shapes all conform to an early gaming aesthetic that was prevalent on bit part gaming consoles of my own youth. It all makes for a charming, if blunt, nod to the nineties that is feverishly pasted all over YIIK.
Get well into YIIK: A Postmodern RPG and you will find references to nineties culture littered throughout the world. From the hiss of an old modem and internet forms, the rise of the e-zine, actual functioning record stores, through to more direct cultural cliches. The world is steeped in this lore and for kids that grew up on Saturday morning Transformers, X Men, or early Power Rangers YIIK reaks of nostalgia.
Tales of the Unexpected
Still, there is more to YIIK: A Postmodern RPG than simple nostalgia. Alex’s adventure might begin in Frankton but after a fateful encounter with a rather ridiculous cat, things start to quickly spiral out of control. A surreal narrative that explores conspiracy theories, existence, and finding your way in the world begins to unfold. Flying carpets, alternate dimensions, vanishing girls, and star creatures might sound more x-files than indie RPG but YIIK: A Post Modern RPG has a refreshing opening that steps outside of the norms of many the traditional RPG narratives.
This neat idea continues to weave it’s way throughout the rest of Alex’s adventure and manages to mix these more unusual ideas with traditional RPG systems. As Alex ventures out beyond his home town, players start to explore, interacting with the local population and exposing more about what exactly is wrong with the world. Alongside the obligatory background cast, your social interactions will lend Alex some extra help during YIIK: A Postmodern RPG. New acquaintances, old friends, and a giant talking panda are just some of the additions that join Alex as he explores a plethora of weird abandoned locations, solves puzzles, fill his pockets with loot, and makes a tidy profit.
Trudging around the environment, YIIK generally splits between a third party locale, a Zelda-esque world map, a visual novel narrative, and a JRPG battle system. It is quite the mix of storytelling techniques and should act to keep things from becoming stale, yet the rough edges around YIIK: A Postmodern RPG become apparent all too quickly.
A Rough Ride
The roughest of these is the game’s battle system. As Alex and friends engage with random enemies, YIIK: A Postmodern RPG introduces turn-based JRPG battle systems with a few twists. Taking on enemies is intuitive and the obligatory list of RPG actions are present and accounted for. Attack, defend, special skills, consumable items, and run away are all available to select but they do not always play the way you might expect. Attacking triggers a series of mini-games which are unique to each party member. When Alex gets out his record collection, the game challenges players to time their attacks to the rotation of a vinyl. This is an interesting way to fight back the armies of giant skulls, rats and astral monsters that inhabit YIIK. Similarly, the variety of other characters that are thrown into the fray bring their own mini-games as they take on enemies. At first, this does feel fresh but it hardly lasts. The mini-games that turn up every time a character attacks, or runs away, very quickly become a tedious repetition in just a few hours. While the concept is commendable, as is the game’s sizeable soundtrack, there are better turn-based battle systems. Like my memories of The Caligula Effect, this extra effort only serves to slow down a turn-based system and becomes unnecessarily boring.
After only a few hours, the combat system is not the only area of YIIK: A Postmodern RPG that starts to fray at the edges. Lots of little problems start to bubble to the surface. The lack of any substantial progression system in a modern era irked me and long before GPS trackers, we still had hard copy maps available. In several instances, the game gives incorrect or inconsistent information using a very blunt “tips” menu. Push on and the interesting narrative begins to falter as the repetitive combat several, small quality of life issues, and Alex’s internal exposition make a very good case for a doing and not showing approach to storytelling.
Despite these limitations, YIIK: A Postmodern RPG still held my attention for some time after Alex ventured into the outer limits. It is a laudable attempt to craft an RPG throwback that works on many levels. The aesthetic, narrative, and setting are all completely unlike any RPG I have played before. While I love the idea of an RPG that lovingly calls back to my own youth, I do wish that some of the game’s systems were left in the nineties. The repetitive combat systems and a questing system that seems to leave players adrift at times undermine all the effort in creating an authentic feeling world, whichever one it is you end up in.