The year is 1999, and times are changing. Boy bands and RPGs are sweeping across the nation, the internet is connecting people around the world like never before, and rumors of an impending tech-fueled apocalypse have caused a spike in paranoia across the collective consciousness of humanity. Welcome to the world of YIIK: A Postmodern RPG.
Disclosure: I interviewed Andrew Allanson, one of YIIK's main developers, years ago, and we've kept in contact since. During this game's development, I played a few early builds and offered feedback. Gamnesia was provided with a review copy of the finished product on Nintendo Switch by publisher Ysbryd Games. All that said, I approached this review the same as I would any other. Let's dig in!
The first thing you'll notice about YIIK: A Postmodern RPG is its distinctive look. As the first 3D project from a small team, YIIK opts for a low-poly art style that gives the world something like a papercraft vibe. The camera is often fixed somewhere between an over the should or top-down look, but at times it will zoom in, zoom out, or change angles depending on your environment.
In other words, it feels quite a bit like a more polished version of RPGs from the year of its setting. It's an efficient use of limited resources that stands out and suits the game's narrative and tone well. However, every now and then the camera can get just a bit too '90s, as things that are meant to be just off-screen will pop into view or a wall or ceiling will become partially see-through up close. Throughout my playthrough, I ran into a small handful of bugs and graphical glitches, but most of them should be taken care of with a day one patch that's ready for launch.
The story opens with primary protagonist Alex Eggleston returning home after finishing college and attempting to settle back into life in Frankton. While wandering through an abandoned factory outside of town, Alex stumbles into an other-worldly dimension and witnesses a young woman being abducted by ethereal beings. This challenges all his perceptions about the universe and sets him off on a journey in pursuit of truth. Alex's travels connect him with a motley crew of young conspiracy theorists interested in the paranormal and the supernatural, and they join the quest as playable characters.
YIIK features the type of zoomed out overworld that you'd see in classic RPGs like Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger, but this one has a millennial America setting. In addition to the handful of towns spread across the map, you'll also encounter a gas station, a bowling alley, a mall, a university, and numerous monster dens and dungeons of varying difficulty. At first, you'll traverse the overworld on foot (using bus stops for fast travel), but as the game opens up you'll eventually get access to a car.
If you ever start to lose track of what you're doing or where you're headed, simply bring up the pause menu and select the "Hint" option for a reminder. There's also plenty to see and do outside of the main quest, and you can keep your finger on the pulse of it all by browsing ONISM:1999. This in-game website is, for better or worse, an accurate representation of early internet message boards. That means posts full of crazy conspiracies, childish bickering, and foul language, but it's also a valuable source of information and world-building. Upon further investigation, some of those bizarre rumors are sidequests waiting to be discovered. Internet cafes scattered across the map ensure that you can always log on to see if there's any suspicious activity in your area.
Alex and the gang skip the traditional fantasy RPG dress and weaponry in favor of an arsenal more fitting of the millennium. That means arming yourself with cameras, hula hoops, and keytars for battle and equipping a lucky rabbit's foot or a defense-boosting graphic T-shirt to give yourself an edge. If you're low on health, you can stop by a nearby pizza parlor or burger joint to heal up and stock your inventory for the future.
Managing your inventory can become a bit of a chore later in the game. You'll collect tons of items, weapons, and equipment, but there's few options for organizing it, and scrolling through your collection is a slow process. There's also no way to compare weapons and armor being sold in shops to your currently equipped items without backing out of the transaction and clicking through the menu. Once you're all set with the proper gear, head to the nearest telephone to save your game. You can also use phones to enter your "Mind Dungeon" where you can cash in EXP for stat boosts and new techniques. You'll need to, because it can be a dangerous world out there!
Enemies range from sewer rats to stop signs to alien invaders and everything in between. In explorable areas like towns, you'll see potential threats wandering around, and battles won't start until you bump into them. Things are more dangerous on the overworld, as enemy encounters will trigger at random while you move around. This can be a bit tedious when you're trying to make a beeline to a specific location without fighting, as battles often take around 10 to 15 seconds to load on the Switch version. From what I've seen of livestreamed footage, battles load much faster on other platforms. It's still a relatively minor nuisance on Switch (that's partially negated by the game's bus stop system), and that's from the viewpoint of someone who has never been a fan of random encounters in the first place.
YIIK keeps its turn-based combat system fun and engaging by making every attack an interactive challenge. For Alex, that means timing button presses to the needle on a spinning record to build up a big combo attack. Some attacks even change up the perspective. Vella's Bass Drop temporarily shifts the action to a 2D mini-game where you chuck your amp at an 8-bit representation of your enemy.
There's never a dull moment in battles, as defensive turns are interactive as well. Stay alert, and with the right timing and button presses, you can defend or completely dodge enemy attacks. Eventually, you'll also unlock the ability to slow down time in battle, making those timed button presses easier. This power requires the use of energy that drains as you hold down a button and replenishes as your team takes damage. You'll have to use it wisely if you want to make the most of your opportunities. Or, if you're like me, you'll find the battle music so catchy that you keep tapping the triggers on your controller in time to the beat, accidentally wasting your time energy in the process. Whoops. If all else fails and things are getting too tough, you can attempt to flee the battle. This triggers a 2D sequence in which the enemy chases you down while you jump over obstacles. Outrun them for long enough, and you're free!
Outside of battle, you'll be aided in exploration by collectible tools. Boulders blocking the way? Clear 'em out with an exploding amp. Need a switch weighed down? Try setting a panda on it! Giant candle blocking your way? Sure, that's normal. Just melt it with your trusty flame thrower! Eventually, you'll even be able to speed around the world in style on a skateboard. All of these tools (and more) are also used to solve puzzles, making YIIK's world and dungeons more interactive than your typical RPG. It gives it a bit of an action/adventure flavor on top of the RPG formula.
As you unravel the story, the characters really start to come to life. Alex often acts as narrator, giving you a deep look at his inner thought processes at each new discovery. If you're like me, you'll probably hate him at first, as he's a bit of an entitled brat. But his personal growth is a key part of the story.
YIIK has a surprising number of cutscenes, and most of them feature a significant amount of voice acting. The party members' personalities, motivations, and worldviews really come to light through a myriad of conversations peppered throughout the story. These talks range from somber topics like nihilism, growing up, and losing loved ones to pseudo-scientific theories about spirituality and the supernatural to light-hearted debates about shoujo anime. YIIK invests heavily in its cast, and it pays off, thanks in part to solid performances from a voice acting ensemble that includes Chris Niosi (Mob Psycho 100's Reigen Arataka) and Clifford Chapin (My Hero Academia's Bakugo).
The story of YIIK is bizarre, complicated, confusing, and intriguing. It can all be a bit overwhelming early on, as you're constantly hit with new concepts and twists faster that you can wrap your mind around the last few. It's easy to feel a bit lost in all that's happening, but it helps the game maintain a sense of unease and mystery throughout. You'll share those feelings in common with your party of paranormal enthusiasts.
Eventually, more pieces will fall into place and the big picture will become a little clearer, but you'll probably still find yourself with a lot of unanswered questions when it's all said and done. There's a lot to unpack. My first playthrough took a little over 30 hours (with quite a bit of side questing included), and after the credits rolled I was ready to jump back in for more. A New Game Plus mode (where you keep your EXP from the previous run) makes it easier to experience the game again with a better understanding of what's going on. If you make the right choices, you might just see an alternate ending.
You're going to see a lot of people referring to YIIK as "a game for EarthBound fans" in the coming weeks. Shigesato Itoi's cult classic Mother franchise definitely served as an inspiration for some of its elements, and so did Lufia 2, Wild Arms, Persona 4, and more. But the truth is that YIIK is its own beast. It's a unique experience that will make you think and feel, surprise you, challenge you, and leave you with a lot of questions. It's a strange adventure that can be a bit rough around the edges, but it's one of the most compelling games I've played on the Switch and a great way to kick off 2019. If you're a fan of RPGs (EarthBound or otherwise), the paranormal, and '90s nostalgia, you won't want to pass it up.
YIIK: A Postmodern RPG launches January 17th, 2019 on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and Steam.