Ever since Persona 5, I was confident that turn-based RPGs could be fast-paced. Before that, I still enjoyed them, but acknowledged they were kind of slow. To start the year off, Ackk Studios have put out YIIK: A Postmodern RPG. The name speaks for itself, really, but despite not having the ambition or polish of the bigger budget RPGs, YIIK puts in a solid effort to stand tall next to its contemporaries, while delivering a narrative experience like no other.
YIIK (pronounced why-two-kay) is best described as an indie, hipster fueled Earthbound style adventure. You play as Alex, a recent college graduate in the 1990s. He returns to his home town, and, bored with his life eventually witnesses a strange girl get whisked away by a strange otherworldly event. After seeing vision of the incident posted online, Alex obsesses over the missing girl and rallies some friends together to save her.The plot of YIIK is bizarre and you’ll often find yourself wondering what the hell is going on, but there’s still something endearing about it. The surrealism isn’t for everyone, however, and thankfully the goofy cast more than make up for it. They’re an eclectic bunch that fight with musical instruments and hula hoops and the like, but also have great chemistry amongst themselves. It’s both zany and cringeworthy to hear these people interact, but it’s still somehow great.
The game itself is structured like games like Final Fantasy or Earthbound. You’ll control Alex as he moves from town to town, chasing McGuffins and recruiting friends to his party to battle otherworld forces. Battles are turn-based, there’s a large overworld to explore and weird characters to engage with. YIIK looks and feels like a game from the late 90s but at the same time it’s been slightly tweaked to be a little bit more playable than older games.The battle system is my favourite thing about the game, which manages to feel very involving despite being turn-based. You can speed up battles to make grinding a little less of a grind. Every move has its own unique little mini-game attached to it too – some require perfectly timed button presses while others require you to complete a brief game of Pong. It sounds weird and annoying, but it’s not and keeps things interesting even during the grind (though you shouldn’t have to do too much of it).
When you’re not in battle you’ll be able to explore towns and dungeons too, though the game is at it’s best when throwing one of the six dungeons at you. Closer to a Zelda type dungeon than a Final Fantasy one, these are where the game has a bit of fun with your expectations and play off of tropes in other games that you’re accustomed to. You’ll also unlock abilities that’ll enable more exploration – using your long fringe to cut down bushes or your mate’s amp to blow through boulders and wreckage.While these moments are some of the strongest in YIIK, it’s the in-between padding, the interstitial busy work that really brings the pacing of the experience down. I don’t know what it was, but I really struggled to continue playing after completing a dungeon and found little motivation to do so until I got to another dungeon.
Perhaps this is due to the way that YIIK handles its inventory and equipment systems, which quite frankly pale in comparison to its contemporaries and are easily the weakest aspect of the game. All your weaponry, your consumables and everything else are just dumped into a mess of a list to sift through which is quite frankly just nightmarish.Similarly, when buying new equipment, there’s no way to directly compare the stats of what you’ve already got equipped to what you’re about to purchase here. It quite frankly just feels a little bit unfinished and given how important it is to level up your team it can be a chore to have to return to this degree of micromanagement after each battle or dungeon.
As you’d probably have guessed by now, YIIK is a weird looking game. Some may find it just plain ugly, others will find the charm in its so-bad-its-good kind of way. It’s hard to describe just how this game looks and moves, but it’s a very simple artistic direction that gets the job done and despite it’s shortcomings is pretty unique too.I personally liked the lo-fi approach the game was going for, it does a great job at establishing the mood for the setting, but it’s not a looker by any means. It doesn’t help that the enemy design is so bizarrely bland too – you’ll literally fight living poo and garbage cans with traffic cones for hands – but I guess that’s kind of on purpose.
The soundtrack and voice work are also some of the strongest aspects of the whole experience too. While it’d have been easy to lean on some edgy sounding synths, instead YIIK utilises a wide breadth of talent (including Toby Fox of Undertale fame) to deliver a soundtrack that’s kooky but upbeat. Combine this with some strong voicework and you’ve got a pretty decent offering for a game of this caliber from a smaller developer.
THE NINTENDO SWITCH VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. DIGITAL REVIEW CODE WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
YIIK is an ambitious little RPG with an intriguing premise and engaging battle mechanics that is ultimately let down by some poor pacing and a very unruly inventory management system. In a game where stats matter so much, this is a pretty big issue to have. Regardless, if you can see past its flaws, there’s a kooky game here with a weird but wonderful plot and a lovable cast to enjoy.