Playing the YIIK: A Postmodern RPG demo at PAX East in March was a little weird for me. After all, I graduated from college in 2000, just a year after the game’s protagonist comes home from college to find himself facing both adulthood and a terrible mystery.
A little more on that in a minute.
First, let me say that YIIK, a turn-based Japanese-style RPG, developed by AckkStudios for Ysbrd Games, is a slick trip down memory lane. It’s an ironic look at nostalgia, gaming, and the classic RPG format.
A Mystery at the Dawn of the Millennium
The game focuses on Alex, a young man who has—as I mentioned earlier—come home from college in 1999. He turns out to be one of eight friends who meet through online message boards. They are all—for their own reasons—obsessed with solving one particular mystery; a young woman named Sammy Pak has gone missing, pulled from a hotel elevator in a video that has gone viral.
If this plot sounds a lot like the death of Elisa Lam, who disappeared from a hotel elevator in 2013 (a disappearance documented in a viral video) only to be found later, drowned in the hotel’s water tank, it’s no coincidence. Ackk director Brian Allanson was one of the many people who paid close attention to the mystery of Lam’s death at the time.
“For a while, I convinced myself that I’d figured it out,” he said.
It quickly occurred to Allanson, however, that he—and the other truthseekers who were obsessed with Lam’s death—had access to a lot of information. The viral video of Lam leaving the elevator, information about the hotel, every news report on Lam’s disappearance, and Lam’s social media was all available to any sleuth interested in solving the mystery from home.
Back in 1999, that amount of information simply wasn’t online. You’d be lucky to have a video at all (and you’d probably have to download it to your desktop as a QuickTime file, which could take foreeeeeever with a modem, but I digress).
Allanson began to imagine what it might like to investigate a similar mystery back in 1999, when everyone was worried about the world ending/computers crashing on Jan. 1, 2000. Conspiracy theorists would have to actually have to go full X-Files: leave their desktop computers and investigate the mystery in person. They do, and they encounter… something supernatural.
So he made an RPG in which characters do exactly that, and instead of a sad, mundane truth, they discover something supernatural and enter an eerie world filled with giant robots, weird enemies, and abductees.
A Word from an Old Person
Playing YIIK is supposed to be a surreal experience, but it’s extremely surreal for someone who is contemporary with the game’s characters.
In some ways, I didn’t recognize the world I was looking at in the demo (1999’s male college grads were not the bearded hipsters of today and arcades were already a rarity) and in some ways, I did (people wearing a lot of black were, in fact, the ones most likely to push a photocopied ‘zine on you, and god, yes, hacky sacks were everywhere).
But ’90s nostalgia really isn’t the point of the game. Or rather it is; the game is meant as a satire of the nostalgia that seems pervasive in games right now, says Allanson. It’s not exactly a period piece.
So What’s the Gameplay Like?
YIIK really does feel like an old-school RPG. You explore the world and interact with objects in a way that’s normally reserved for stories told in fantasy settings. The NPCs are meant to be three-dimensional—each has their own story, says Allanson. The turn-based battle system (which includes up to eight players) reminds me of a hipster version of Final Fantasy.
The graphics are bright and engaging—in particular, there’s one very cool sequence in a game trailer which sees Alex running through a crowded city street. The people on the streets are represented by neon-hued outlines, and as Alex charges through them, they seem to fold down like targets in a shooting gallery. And the music is as bright and as chaotic as the graphics.
Will I Like It?
If you like Scott Pilgrim, you’ll probably feel pretty comfortable with the ragtag cast of message boarders in YIIK: there’s a hula hooper, a photographer, a hacky-sacker, a keytarist, a pacifist, and, of course, our hero Alex, who fights with his parents’ old LPs.
If you grew up with RPGs like The Legend of Zelda and EarthBound and are looking for something a little more realistic and sardonic to sink your teeth into, you’ll probably enjoy YIIK.
If you’re a closeted Fox Mulder who loves a good supernatural mystery involving abductees, you’ll probably enjoy YIIK.
But if you’re over the age of 35 and allergic to feeling old, you’ll probably have to get over yourself first.
How Do I Get It?
As of PAX East, YIIK was slated for release in May 2017. It’s expected to be available on STEAM, PS4, PSVita, and Wii U. For more information, keep an eye on their site.