If YIIK’s subtitle sounds a little pretentious, that’s because it is. YIIK is a neat throwback JRPG with a unique sense of style, but it just isn’t as groundbreaking as it seems to think it is. Between the blend of small-town mystery, period piece nostalgia, and supernatural horror, there’s a nagging feeling that it’s all been done before. Still, there’s enough charm here to make it stand out on its own merits.
Well-considered 90’s nostalgia is at the core of YIIK (pronounced Y2K, according to the game’s opening). This is a game with an intense passion for a simpler time when only enthusiasts had computers and the internet was still in its infancy. Set in 1999, the game features a faithful recreation of a 90’s arcade, a great Windows 95 stand-in, and name-drops of DOOM and Secret of Mana. There’s a commitment to this rose-tinted period piece that’s admirable. It's earnest throughout and never lazy. This world feels like it came out of a sincere fondness for the era, rather than just an opportunistic way to cash-in on people’s nostalgia.
The story centers around a supernatural mystery in a small town. A group of friends who know each other from OMISIM, a message board dedicated to the spooky and surreal, work together to investigate the supernatural disappearance of local girl Sammy Pack. You play as Alex, a cliché and unlikable hipster stereotype with a beard and glasses, a liberal arts degree, and vinyl records that he uses as weapons. There’s an engaging mystery propelling you forward and a varied cast of characters that give the story some essential heart.
The supernatural mystery at the core of YIIK is solid, but the writing can be hit-or-miss. It tries to juggle cosmic horror with breezy 90’s nostalgia and riffs on hipster culture. Self-serious (and somewhat pretentious) internal monologues typically follow, featuring a lot of heavy-handed use of simile. The horror elements end up being the most effective. Excellent music elevates the atmosphere into a thick and unsettling one. Meanwhile, unoriginal hipster rhetoric accompanies an uninteresting and brooding coming-of-age narrative centered around Alex.
The writing for the game's remaining cast is a lot more enjoyable. For instance, Vella is a mysterious goth girl who works in an arcade during the day and travels through different realities at night. She’s a likable character with a fun sense of mystery surrounding her. Despite her fantastical background, she actually feels more grounded than Alex. Similarly, siblings Claudio and Chondra are decently fleshed-out characters. The other character’s voice-acting fares better than Alex’s, too, which is often less-than-great.
Some of the game's best writing comes from the OMISIM message board. It's a really good replica of a late 90's website, with some fun usernames and accurate fake internet comments. Periodically visiting this message board presents you with a ton of new posts. Some of these relate to the central mystery - people posing their own theories or takes on events - whilst others are just random posts. There's some fun short stories here and it's well worth checking in on regularly.
The JRPG-inspired combat centers around a variety of minigames. Each character’s attacks and abilities come with unique challenges. These are typically timing-based, but there's some variation to this. For example, Alex’s “LP Toss” has you playing a quick Space Invaders-style shooter to determine the damage it deals. Many of your attacks require your timing to be on point, but they’ll be extra effective if you can hit the sweet spot. The timing is pretty tight on these minigames and the inputs are snappy. It feels good to dodge an attack or unleash a barrage of blows because of your sharp response time.
Between fights, you’ll be exploring Zelda-like dungeons. These are solid but quite rudimentary. You learn a set of abilities with fun and creative context, but the dungeons just don’t do as much as they could. For example, an ability you acquire early on lets you launch a cat out of your arms to collect items or activate switches. It's a fun power to have, but it just gets used to open chests or create bridges. The dungeons feature some imaginative designs. The vivid imagery evoked when exploring a character’s Mind Dungeon is particularly striking, but the uninspired gameplay lets it down.
Unfortunately, there’s a frustrating sluggishness outside combat. Pressing a button to interact with a person or object rarely registers the first time. I mashed on my controller five or six times in some instances (I tried this on multiple controllers, too). The menus are similarly problematic. However, it’s their structuring rather than their responsiveness that makes them feel poorly considered. Opening your inventory will show you everything you have - weapons, armor, consumables, quest items - without any way to sort through them. It makes searching through your numerous items to find a heal very unintuitive.
It’s a shame that YIIK feels so rough around the edges because the combat is snappy. The fights are a little drawn out, with random encounters taking at least a minute or two, but it feels good to nail the timings of these varied and novel minigames. There’s a fair bit of jank that can stop YIIK from being an enjoyable experience at times. It’s frustrating because there’s a lot of charm and personality. The engaging narrative propels the game forward when its systems don’t quite come together as smoothly as you’d like.
YIIK is an overloaded barrel of style. Its style lavishes in excess. Colorful art, an eclectic soundtrack, and a ton of cosmic (almost psychedelic) imagery. There’s a lot to take in, and it can almost be overwhelming at times. The shift between the vibrant 3D art of the world and the 16-bit overworld is neat. It feels appropriate for the game’s clear inspirations, but the overworld art doesn’t look as good as it could.
The music is what makes the game truly stand out. The soundtrack (accented by Undertale’s Toby Fox) is catchy, funky, and extremely varied. The combat music is exciting and memorable, while the music playing as you explore the world is jaunty. However, it’s the varying boss fight music that's the most memorable. It’ll flare up into extremely earnest and ridiculous music, with passionate vocals, dramatic lyrics, and some bombastic arrangements. It’s nonsense, but also charming and a lot of fun. This is definitely a soundtrack I’ll be coming back to.
Ultimately, YIIK: A Post-Modern RPG is a hefty chunk of well-considered and well-intentioned 90’s nostalgia wrapped in a clunky experience. The abundance of style and fun soundtrack make up for a lot of the systems that don’t quite land or the inventory that’s messy and unintuitive. YIIK is sure to appeal to those with strong nostalgia for the period or an appreciation for throwback JRPGs. There’s a fun sense of mystery propelling the story forward, even when the protagonist himself is grating.
TechRaptor reviewed YIIK: A Post-Modern RPG on Steam with a copy provided by the publisher.
YIIK: A Post-Modern RPG is an earnest love letter to the culture and video games of the 1990s. Its novel take on JRPG combat pairs with an abundance of style and a memorable soundtrack to make a charming yet familiar experience.
- Earnest and Well-considered 90's Nostalgia
- Novel, Varied, and Snappy Combat
- Intriguing Central Mystery
- Great Soundtrack
- Clunky Out-of-Combat Experience
- Cliche and Unlikable Protagonist