The End is Nigh
I have a very vivid memory of December 31, 1999: one of my childhood friends was hosting a Y2K sleepover at the height of the first-generation Pokemon craze, and back then, we had just discovered Missingno and Charizard was a very rare (and powerful, and shiny) card in the Pokemon TCG. I was the only one at school that had it. So, naturally, the mother of the kid hosting the sleepover traded a bunch of commons, including an Arbok and a Raticate, to eight-year-old me for that Charizard.
The world may not have ended, but I did lose my Charizard. Which is almost as bad.
Although the world in Ackk Studios’s YIIK: A Postmodern RPG is a lot more fun, weird, and colorful than the real-life hell world that we’re stuck in, it experiences a much different fate than ours when the clock strikes midnight on December 31, 1999.
Now, about 95% of the actual story of YIIK: A Postmodern RPG takes place before Y2K. I would prefer not to spoil the finer details of the story and its inciting incident, so I’ll just speak generally here: you take control of Alex, a mediocre white dude, as he and his pals follow a trail of supernatural events in order to find a missing girl. The early parts of YIIK: A Postmodern RPG are spooky and mysterious, and then things begin to turn surreal and existential; YIIK: A Postmodern RPG deals with a myriad of alternate realities, and asks questions about one’s soul and one’s destiny. For instance: how many alternate versions of myself lost that Charizard card? Am I the only version that did? If so, does that make me the worst version of myself? Will I ever pay back my $64,000 in student loan debt?
YIIK: A Postmodern RPG weaves those existential questions into its gameplay wonderfully. If there are an unlimited number of alternate realities, can you slip between them? And if you did, how long would it take to realize that things have gotten weird? That’s the best way to explain the world in YIIK: A Postmodern RPG. Technically, it takes place in New Jersey. But it’s a New Jersey that has roving gangs of Samurai Rats and nightmare-inducing Sheep Men. Also, your best friend is a stuffed panda that can talk.
Comparisons will inevitably be drawn to EarthBound, and while they’re pretty similar in their goofy tone, YIIK: A Postmodern RPG wraps that into its gameplay more effectively than EarthBound does. A lot of this has to do with its battle system.
Although it is a turn-based RPG with on-field encounters (and random encounters on the overworld), YIIK: A Postmodern RPG has one of the goofiest and most fun combat systems I’ve seen in the genre. All the basics are here: attack, skills, items, and defense. Where YIIK: A Postmodern RPG takes a hard left turn is what you have to do after you’ve selected which enemy to attack: each character has their own unique quick-time event that you must clear in order to deal damage, and getting more successful button presses will result in higher damage dealt.
Alex, who looks like your run-of-the-mill college hipster, wields a record that he strikes enemies with. Before he strikes an enemy, a spinning record appears on screen and you have to press the A button on the colored sections to rack up a combo. Initially, Alex can only get to a max combo of three, but can get higher and higher combos with different records that he can equip. What’s funny is that Alex is consistently the weakest character in the game, by far. He does have one saving grace, though, which is his “Panda Barrier” skill — it summons his best friend, a stuffed panda bear, to the battle and absorbs enemy attacks for a few turns. It’s a pretty crucial skill for the late-game.
The rest of the party members that join Alex throughout the adventure are a lot more powerful and a lot more interesting. Vella, a mysterious girl who just showed up working at the arcade one day out of nowhere, smacks enemies with a keytar. Michael uses his expensive camera as a whip, and Rory defends his friends with big signs that say things like “The End is Nigh” on them. Chondra wracks up massive damage with her hula-hoop skills, and Claudio wields a bamboo sword… So, naturally, he kicks a hacky-sack at enemies instead. Each party member has their own quick-time event for attacking, and some of their skills have unique mini-games that you have to clear to get the attacks off. Vella’s Bass Drop skill, for example, has a little screen that pops up with a side-scrolling, 16-bit challenge where you have to pick up Vella’s bass and throw it at an enemy within a few seconds to land the attack.
Those quick-time events extend to enemy attacks, too. There are a few different timing challenges that will allow players to defend for reduced damage, dodge for no damage, or fail for normal damage. Some of those are definitely harder to pull off than others, and not every enemy prompts the same quick-time event. This does two petty neat things that only YIIK: A Postmodern RPG has: it lets you just dodge every enemy attack if you’re really good at timing challenges, and it adds an extra layer of strategy if you’re going up against several powerful foes that use a combination of easy and hard quick-time events.
For example, the nightmare-inducing Sheep Man enemies do a lot of damage, but typically have one of the easier quick-time events to land defenses and dodges on. Another enemy, which is literally a stop sign with arms and legs, has slightly weaker attacks but prompts harder quick-time events. If you’re going up against two Sheep Men, a stop sign, and an enemy that heals, you really have to think about where your attacks are going — and it adds some pressure to your own quick-time events to land those attacks.
As a side note, the enemies in YIIK: A Postmodern RPG are as nuts as you might expect. There are flying saucers, turtles with swords, golden llamas… And a regular ‘ole police officer that shoots before asking questions. That’s probably the most normal thing about the game.
YIIK: A Postmodern RPG throws a couple more curveballs when it comes to leveling up. Each new level only requires 100 EXP to reach for each character (and there’s only one part of the game where you really have to level-grind), but they don’t achieve those levels automatically. Alex has to dive into the recesses of his subconscious — his Mind Dungeon – which is conveniently accessed through any telephone. You just need to chat with a little robot to level up your friends, but for Alex, you’ll have to go down a series of floors (each representing a new level) and assign four different combat attributes to increase for each new level. You have to do this each and every time you want to level up Alex — there’s no skipping it. And, yeah, it gets a little tedious. Why not just have characters auto-level like in just about any other RPG?
Well, because you’ll be going into the Mind Dungeons of a couple other characters as the story progresses, and those are actual, you know, dungeons. They’re filled to the brim with puzzles and symbolism. The occasional tedium of Alex’s Mind Dungeon is a small price to pay for the excellent environmental storytelling found in the other Mind Dungeons that you’ll visit as YIIK: A Postmodern RPG‘s story carries on.
Unfortunately, there are a couple of minor issues with YIIK: A Postmodern RPG that I need to mention. There’s an odd issue with load times for combat encounters — it can take anywhere from seven to ten seconds to load up the battle scene. And, while I really enjoyed the story and the interesting questions it asks, some of the characters can go on for a little bit too long about different metaphysical philosophies, why this one magical girl anime is actually better than Sailor Moon, or all sorts of musical theory that just flew over my head. At times it does feel like the writer is trying to show off how many books they’ve read. At least none of the characters go on a long monologue before a big fight, as Kraden does in Golden Sun. The writing in YIIK: A Postmodern RPG is pretty dang good outside of this, though — especially in those early moments that are filled with mystery and cryptic clues left on late-90s web forums.
There’s also a really neat meta-narrative found within YIIK: A Postmodern RPG that I can’t really talk about without spoiling the entire game — but trust me, it’s one of those where you’ll be thinking about it and piecing together the clues, both within the game and out, well after you’ve finished playing.
System reviewed on: Nintendo Switch.
Disclaimer: A review code for YIIK: A Postmodern RPG was provided by Stride-PR.