If you follow our indie coverage here at Gamnesia, chances are you've heard of an upcoming game called YIIK: A Postmodern RPG. Created by Ackk Studios, the team behind action-RPG Two Brothers, YIIK is a mystery RPG set in 1999 that was inspired by the cancelled EarthBound 64.
Ackk Studio's sophomore title is launching in February or March on Steam, PlayStation 4, Vita, and Wii U, and they've supplied us with a demo of the game's "Wind Town" setting before launch. I was intrigued by the game's trailers, but I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Having thoroughly played the demo, I still have a lot of questions, and that's a good thing.
It all kicks off by introducing the playable characters — a group of internet conspiracy theorists investigating the recent disappearance of a girl. It seems that another girl has vanished under similar circumstances in Wind Town, so Alex, Michael, and Vella begin a journey to uncover the truth.
If I had to describe my first impression of Wind Town, one word comes to mind: melancholy. A sad, but mesmerizing tune plays out against dreary Fall colors, setting the mood for the town. The game's simplistic 3D graphics style gives it an almost papercraft look. Some may find it dated, but I find it charming (giving it a classic RPG feel) and fitting. As the gang sets out to try to dig up information, you encounter the inhabitants of the small town, and the somber atmosphere begins to make sense. The town's denizens are a parade of disheartenment, from the Underpaid Cashier to the Adolescent Smoker to the Doe Eyed Child who simply asks "What's a foreclosure?" Wind Town is a sinkhole of depression and defeat, and I found myself entranced, wanting to explore every inch of it.
Of course, in a place like this, not everyone is happy to have you around asking questions. Any person you talk to is a potential battle, pitting you and your unlikely weapons against unlikely enemies in an EarthBound-esque fashion.
The battles themselves are more active than EarthBound, with mini-game attacks that are closer to Paper Mario or Yo-kai Watch. The attacks range from simple ones, like pulling back the joystick and releasing it at the right time to bash an opponent with your keytar, to more complicated ones, like scratching a record at just the right moments to build up a combo attack. There's even an attack called the Bass Drop that switches over to an 8-bit style. Even the enemies keep you active, as each defensive turn gives you a chance to earn a defense boost or completely dodge the opponent's attack. The variety of attacks and the active battle style keep combat lively and entertaining.
The story is told mostly through cartoon-like voice acted cutscenes that give life to the characters' personalities (as well as through brief text boxes during enemy and NPC encounters), exploring themes of philosophy, science (well, perhaps science fiction would be more accurate), Nihilism, and 1990s conspiracy-based internet forums. It's a bizarre blend, but an intriguing one.
When the players finally track down Rory, the brother of the missing girl, the story shifts into full sci-fi conspiracy mode. It seems that a series of mysterious events have been happening all around town since the disappearance, and one of the missing girl's toys has been discovered at the scene each time. Night falls as the group talks to Rory, and as the tone of character interactions changes from depressing to mysterious, so does Wind Town. Gone are the Autumn colors, as the town is bathed in blue under a trippy night sky with an imposing and alien-looking figure looming large overhead. Gone is the somber music, replaced by an eerie, unsettling tune that reminds me more than a little of something you might hear in EarthBound. It's a drastic change from daytime and equally effective at setting the tone for what's happening in the game.
After visiting a few sites around the town and politely listening to Rory struggle to try to explain his not-so-scientific theories about life, death, and the human soul, the team heads underground to find their next clue. I'd love to tell you what happens next, but that is unfortunately when the demo comes to a close.
YIIK: A Postmodern RPG is often heralded as an EarthBound successor (and even I couldn't resist a few comparisons), but it's far from a clone. While the inspiration is apparent, the game has its own distinct and unique feel, and it will likely appeal to a niche market. I suspect that many will find its downtrodden tone and bizarre themes to be a bit off-putting, but when I finished the demo, I instantly craved more.
Full disclosure: I have previously interviewed Ackk Studios composer Andrew Allanson, and we have remained in contact on social media since then. However, our personal interactions had no bearing on this preview. My thoughts on this demo would be same regardless of the developers behind it.