Since Earthbound released in 1994 dozens of RPGs have tried to capture the blend of humor and surrealism set in a modern setting that made the title so endearing. It’s a hard thing to do. Having a game grounded in such a familiar world can make it hard to pull off all those fantastical RPG tropes without breaking the suspension of disbelief. The latest game to take a crack at the formula is YIIK: A Postmodern RPG, and it does do well as an homage to Earthbound while carving its own path.
YIIK: A Postmodern RPG review – So many hipsters
One thing you’re going to have to get past before you can really enjoy YIIK is just how damn hipster it is. Alex Eggleston, the protagonist of YIIK, is like the hipster patient zero. I don’t remember hipsters being a thing in the 1990s so he could very well be the first one. Alex represents pretty much all of the negative stereotypes associated with hipsters. He’s lazy, he thinks he’s smarter than he actually is, and he’s just kind of an asshole. He’s the kind of guy that notices you’re wearing a band shirt and stops you to talk about how he has all the band’s early bootlegs and demo tapes.
Anyway, the story starts when Alex returns to his hometown. He’s spent some time in college and has that aura that 18-to-20-year-olds get after they’ve taken their first psych/soc courses. He sees the world as being full of bumpkins that lack his innate understanding of the way the world works. Upon returning home, Alex finds a list from his mother asking him to buy a few things. Unfortunately, on his way to the store, a cat grabs the list, and he has to chase it to an abandoned “Factory Hotel,” and things start to get weird.
On the hotel grounds, Alex finds ghouls and weird springy enemies and chases the cat into the hotel proper. The further he heads in, the stranger things get. All-seeing eyes and hieroglyphics pop up. Eventually, after solving a puzzle in a room dominated by a giant pyramid topped with another all-seeing eye (you know, like a US dollar bill), Alex meets Sammy, a girl who has apparently lived in the Factory Hotel her whole life. She’s the owner of the cat that stole Alex’s shopping list, and she decides to follow him out. Unfortunately, she gets kidnapped, and Alex’s nice guy powers activate, and he vows to rescue her.
YIIK: A Postmodern RPG review – Learning to love you
Where YIIK‘s story is unique, and possibly where it misses a beat, is that its characters aren’t very likable, at least when you first meet them. As I stated above, Alex is just obnoxious at the beginning of the game. Sammy, even though she’s lived her whole life in a surrealistic realm contained in an impossibly large factory/hotel, somehow still channels hipsterness enough to name her cat Dali (since it has a mustache like Salvador Dali) even though she’s never heard of the artist before.
Your first instinct will likely just be to straight up hate Alex and Sammy. The rest of the cast is a lot more tolerable, but are still a little too “hip” to be actually likable. I recommend taking a step back though, and looking at the characters from the perspective that they’re supposed to be written this way. It’s an odd choice to write a cast that the player isn’t necessarily supposed to like, but it makes the experience a bit more singular among its peers.
While the characters all grow and become arguably better people as the story progresses, I didn’t interpret them to be characters you necessarily like. Instead, it’s perfectly fine to laugh at Alex and how he takes every hipster stereotype to the max. Hopefully, the writing was intentional, because if so YIIK has some of the best dry humor I’ve seen in a game. The opening hours are hilarious as Alex has internal monologues about things like how much he appreciates vinyl or how crazy it is that Sammy doesn’t know what an elevator is, completely ignoring the fact he was just on a strange island floating in space that is somehow also in a factory that also happens to be a hotel are great examples, and the characters start being a bit more self-aware before that stuff starts getting too stale.
YIIK: A Postmodern RPG review – A E S T H E T I C
YIIK took a different route graphically than a lot of indie titles do. I’m not hating on the whole 8-16-bit sprite thing that seems to be the signature indie visual style. I dig a good 2D RPG, but man, there are so many games that desperately want to look like they should be on NES/SNES. Instead, YIIK went with a style that’s more reminiscent of the original PlayStation. Since the game is supposed to be set in the late(ish)-1990s this style totally makes sense, though it may turn some people off.
Since I cut my teeth on PS1 games, I love the low-poly, simple texture look. For someone younger, who first played on PS2 or newer, the visuals might just not fuel the nostalgia like it does for me. YIIK reminds me a lot of Mega Man Legends in the way its world and interiors are composed, and even the movement of the characters have those, close-to-real-lifelike-but-not-really animations that remind me of the battles in Final Fantasy 7.
I do have one thing I really don’t like about the visual direction of the game, and that’s the font. I’m gonna give the devs the benefit of the doubt and hope it gets fixed, but some of the character placement in menus is a bit off. Beyond that, it’s just not a pleasant typeface to look at. It’s got this strange pseudo-Monospace look, and it’s an old blend of serif and sans-serif characters.
The soundtrack for YIIK makes up for the font, though. It’s full of hip MIDI-sounding beats that would entirely be at home in a PlayStation RPG. There’s a lot of variety between tracks and they segue between cheerful, upbeat melodies, and creepy, dissonant durges.
YIIK: A Postmodern RPG review – Spin me right round
The battle system is your standard JRPG turn-based fare, though it does mix stuff up a bit by adding unique mechanics for each character’s attacks. Alex, for example, combats enemies by throwing records, and when you attack you get a prompt showing a turntable. Hitting the yellow marks on the record adds an extra hit to your attack while hitting the red gives you another spin.
Adding a bit of interaction to each fight makes things a lot more interesting, and keeps you engaged even in fights with weaker enemies. Another checkmark for YIIK is that there are no random encounters. Enemies appear on the map, so you can fight as much as you want or try and sneak past foes.
Interaction with the world around you is a bit more involved than just examining objects and talking to NPCs. You’ll get the use of “tools” throughout your adventure which you must use to solve puzzles. While in execution the whole thing is somewhat similar to Wild ARMS, the tools themselves are just as strange as the rest of the game. One, a sentient talking Panda, can be plopped onto switches to help you open doors. He can also be thrown into chasms and used as a bridge between two ledges. Fortunately, the Panda is just fine with all this for whatever reason.
YIIK: A Postmodern RPG review – Learn to love it
I’d be lying if I said it was love at first sight with YIIK. I loved the graphics and soundtrack from the start, but until I learned to lighten up when it came to judging the characters I was sighing like crazy. When you take the perspective that the characters themselves are just as ridiculous and over-the-top as the rest of YIIK‘s world, it all comes together.
YIIK is a lot like if the Earthbound kids had never gone and saved the world and instead grew up to be weird hipster adults. It’s got a lot of the fourth-wall breaking humor that made that game so famous, while still going its own way when it comes to narrative and world design. I ended up loving the whole ridiculous thing, and it’s a great play, and something different, for anyone who likes RPGs.
YIIK: A Postmodern RPG was reviewed on PC via a code provided by the publisher.