Whilst long development cycles are pretty common in video games (say hi, Final Fantasy XV), I feel like I’d been waiting for YIIK to release for a particularly long time. Maybe it’s because I’ve played it at events countless times over the years or maybe it’s because I spoke to the developer about its impending release in 2015 – who knows? One thing remained consistent over the years though and that was my excitement to get my hands on the game.
Well, it’s finally here, with YIIK dropping on the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and PC this week for RPG fans to check out. With the buzz I’ve had for the game over the years, it’s had a lot to live up to and for the most part it delivers: it’s certainly a unique experience thanks to its mixture of old-school RPG gameplay with uniquely modern gameplay twists. However, those modern twists are also the things that prevent YIIK from striving towards RPG greatness, and it might take a fair bit of patience for some gamers to look past these shortcomings.
YIIK’s tale is set in 1999, with the player taking on the role of Alex as he returns to his hometown from college to visit his Mother. When running errands for her, his shopping list gets stolen by a moustached cat and he ends up pursuing it into an abandoned (and somewhat surreal) factory. There he meets a girl named Sammy, but she ends up getting kidnapped by some bizarre beings in an elevator (her eyes also start bleeding in the process and believe me, it’s all very weird). After escaping the factory and heading home, Alex starts to feel guilty for leaving Sammy behind – especially after he encounters a video of her disappearing from the elevator on some conspiracy theory message board. Thus he decides to head back to the factory and rescue her, which starts a chain of events that ends up making for one hell of a peculiar adventure…
So as you can probably tell, YIIK’s tale is certainly unconventional as far as RPGs go. It blends together a modern world full of real-life traits with a surreal and fantastical one, and it really makes for an experience that you simply wouldn’t have seen in any other game in the genre before (even if there are some obvious Earthbound inspirations to be seen). Littered along the adventure are a colourful cast, an endless supply of pop-culture references, and NPCs that follow the sort of stereotypes that were so very common back in the 90s – it’ll certainly bring on a sense of familiarity to gamers who spent their youth in the era. As mentioned though, YIIK goes balls-out as far as embracing the bizarre is concerned and it makes for a VERY strange experience. Fortunately, it’s that strangeness that makes it so easy to get absorbed into the game’s tale and it will certainly push you on to see it through to its conclusion.
One area in which the narrative doesn’t always deliver though is in its writing, which seems to juggle your typical RPG dialogue with an assortment of jokes, condescending remarks and pretentious ramblings. It doesn’t always hit the mark though, with some jokes falling flat, the snide remarks sometimes making no sense, and the pretentious ramblings often just feeling like… well… ramblings. I could appreciate a lot of the interactions between characters in the game and some genuinely had me sniggering out loud, but there were plenty of moments where I’d find myself a little bored or even emotionless to what was going on. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a deal-breaker as far as the narrative is concerned and some sketchy writing doesn’t ruin the overall story, but some scenes are certainly a lot duller than others.
Much like almost every other aspect of YIIK, the battling in the game takes a traditional turn-based combat system with characters taking on specific roles, but gives it a unique twist – this time it’s in the form of the small mini-games that make up each attack. For example, Alex’s main attack requires the player to react quickly and drop a record-player pin on a record in specific places as it spins around. If you manage to stop it in the right places in quick succession, you’ll end up pulling off a higher combo that does more damage: simple, right? Sammy on the other hand has you pulling on the analogue stick to light up a traffic light and challenges you to release the stick the moment that the light goes green for maximum damage. The same goes for defending yourself, with the player given a chance to either halve the damage of an attack or dodge it completely if they stop a moving marker on a bar in the right position. It’s all about timing and quick-reactions and it makes for a really unique experience that’s fun to begin with, especially with the variety of each character’s attacks and the different action you’re tasked with performing.
Whilst unique though, it doesn’t take long to start to tire of each mini-game. Doing a lot of the same things over and over again just to attack can get a little bit repetitive, whilst the fact that there’s a dependence on quick reactions means that some players may struggle to pull off basic attacks or even defend themselves from incoming ones. I appreciated the variety of the mini-games that were attached to each attack of the game, but to do them over and over again in battles at a slow pace could just drag a little the further you progress through the game (especially with the tougher enemies who have more health). But hey, at least you can speed up time during battles with a press of the right shoulder button – just make sure you don’t accidentally do it when you’re supposed to be reacting to a mini-game…
Whilst the battling itself is unconventional in design, the leveling up system takes it to another level. You earn experience points from battling, so you’d have thought that leveling up would be pretty straight forward, right? Wrong. Rather than just seeing ‘level ups’ pop-up after earning a set amount of experience points, you instead have to go to the ‘Mind Dungeon’ (accessible at save points) and manually increase your stats by going through a series of doorways and specifically choosing which stats to improve. Whilst I can appreciate how YIIK embraces the bizarre for the most part, this just drags leveling up out so much that I resented having to do it. It’s normally so satisfying to see your characters improve in an RPG, but this just felt like a pain from start to end.
Thankfully, the dungeons of the game are well designed with a good mixture of eclectic environments mixed in with some clever logic-based puzzles. You’ll find an assortment of strange tools to help you solve these puzzles and they all help add something a little different to all of the battling and exploration you’ll partake in. Sure, some puzzles can be real headscratchers and you’ll definitely have a few annoying experiences when trying to carefully walk across the head of a panda you’ve placed down as a makeshift bridge (don’t ask), but for the most part they’re all nicely designed and are a welcome addition to each dungeon’s battling.
There’s plenty of exploration to take part in outside of the dungeons too, whilst side-quests and side-activities are also present. All of the hallmarks of an RPG are found in YIIK and it’s certainly fun to be a part of them all – I mean, it’s hard not to go to a town and not want to explore every building and talk to every NPC, right? There’s a lot of that to be found and with a decent sized overworld on offer too, you’ll certainly enjoy exploring and feeling like you’re really a part of the weird and wonderful world.
Presentation-wise, YIIK absolutely smashes it. I adored the colourful visual style and the sheer creativity on show in the world’s design, with the almost simplistic aesthetic never failing to impress me from start to end. There’s just so much personality on show within the world and it just further strengthened YIIK’s standing as a truly unique experience. The audio design is absolutely on point too, with some catchy old-school (and infinitely charming) tunes to be heard throughout. Honestly, everything I saw and heard in the game just brought a smile to my face and it ensured that YIIK will be a title that’ll stick in my mind for some time.
Whilst the presentation of the game is of a high standard though, I’d be remiss not to mention the loading times. Every battle you head into in the game comes with a loading screen that easily lasts close to ten seconds a time, and it really breaks the flow of the game and takes you out of the action. RPGs typically send you right into battles with just a short screen-transition in-between, but the wait in YIIK was so glaringly obvious that it was hard not to feel a little frustrated.
Developer: Ackk Studios
Publisher: Ysbryd Games
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC