Gaming Editor Louis Wright reviews YIIK: A Postmodern RPG, citing it as completely insensitive and a case study of how not to make a game
Content Warning: This article contains discussions of the death of Elisa Lam, and suicide.
There are few games in existence that are as good a masterclass on how not to make a game as YIIK: A Postmodern RPG (pronounced officially Y2K, or alternatively Yeek). Despite having a level of passion and quality injected into it that would make it seem it’s a good game, YIIK fundamentally fails at what it means to be a successful role-playing game (RPG). As much as the game wishes to have the charm and appeal of other quirky RPGs such as Earthbound or Undertale, it fails miserably in its approach, being utterly irredeemable in almost every aspect of its existence.
A large part of what makes an RPG enjoyable is the storytelling that is effectively intertwined within the game. Therefore, by having one of the most completely tasteless and horrendously confusing stories present in any game ever made and paradoxically managing to have the subtlety of a brick; the story of YIIK is nothing short of miserable.
The inciting incident of the story, and later elements of its plot, are directly based upon the tragic death of Elisa Lam who was found deceased in the water tank of the hotel she was staying at after being seen in a panic-induced state on the hotel elevator’s security camera. The creator of the game has cited an interest in the case of Lam while making a game, being inspired to include it in the game as a tribute of sorts. However, the way that the content of the game references Lam’s tragic death comes across as tactless at best and malicious at worst, bordering on a level of parody of a real person’s death that becomes quickly rife with insensitivity. These real-life events should not have been included in any regard within the game, as they serve no function to the plotline or gameplay that could not have been done with alternative options. Ultimately, they are nothing more than a dehumanising recreation of the tragedy.
YIIK’s general insensitivity does not stop with its references to real life tragedies however, as the game often trivialises suicide rather shockingly. The main example of this is a main character committing suicide if certain action are not taken in the game. These events are hardly relevant to any of the game’s thematic elements, and are seemingly only there for shock value, or for the game to masquerade as having some deeper meaning. None of the game’s characters truly give a heartfelt reaction to the act, and it is rarely, if ever, acknowledged if this story-route is taken. This blatant mishandling of a sensitive topic such as suicide is emblematic of how insensitive and self-serving YIIK can be.
Outside of the game’s general tactlessness, its characters are for the most part entirely unlikeable or completely boring. The most egregious example of this is the main character, Alex Eggleston. Alex is designed to be a parody of the archetype of the ordinary game protagonist- he is a self-absorbed, narcissistic and consistently terrible character who has few, if any, redeeming qualities. While on a surface level a character like this is capable of working as either a case study on toxic masculinity, or as an opportunity for presenting character development; YIIK does neither of these. Alex remains an almost entirely static character who, throughout the course of the game, does consistently terrible things to those around him, and suffers no consequences for his action. Having a character like this, who acts as the player’s main ability to interact with the world of the game, becomes utterly unbearable after just a few hours of playtime. Being forced to constantly spend time with a character so completely unlikeable is a major point to drive a player away from the game.
Ultimately, these problems are all compounded by the fact the overarching story of YIIK is both utterly baffling, yet exceedingly bland in its content. The actual storyline of the game is only ever explained in convoluted terms, which the player will only ever understand if they are properly invested within the game- a large ask considering its overall quality. Given it is a high level science fiction story, these poorly explained concepts are fundamental to the function and understanding of the world, therefore leading the player to never get truly invested in it as they have no way of properly engaging with the story. Moreover, when these concepts are explained they are done solely in exposition dumps which only slow down the storytelling and overload the player to the point they become even more difficult to understand. This leads the story to being terribly presented, trope-ridden, and totally trite.
The overarching story of YIIK is undoubtedly its worst element. It is insensitive and insufferable. Everything about the plot it presents, from its narratives, to its characters and its content is dreadfully done with nothing that is genuinely redeeming in nature.
Oftentimes for games in the RPG genre, gameplay is primarily split into two sections, those being the battles with enemies that populate the game, and an exploration of the game’s world. Therefore, the quality of a game often hinges on these systems. The enjoyability of the battle system at hand matters, including how easy it is to learn, and how it keeps reinventing itself in different yet familiar ways to hold player interest. The world of the game should be fun and interesting to traverse, with objects of interest for the player to interact with. YIIK fails to deliver in both its battle system and its world design.
YIIK’s battle system is generally a mess in its conception and execution. The game follows a standard turn-based RPGs battle formula by having characters have a set amount of health points (HP) and magic points (MP), with HP indicating whether the character can fight or not and MP indicating whether the character can use certain skills. While this is a tried and tested formula for RPG battle systems, YIIK still manages to find ways to produce flaws in this system.
The first issue it faces is the quick time minigames used to determine the damage an attack will do. This is a system seen in other games such as Paper Mario and is used commonly as a method to allow more player interaction and to avoid the repetitiveness often found in RPGs. However, the issues faced with YIIK’s quick time minigames is that they are often obtuse in design, and very repetitive. As a result they start feeling like an unnecessary chore that the player must go through in order to do slightly more damage to the opponent. This is compounded by the fact that there are also minigames necessary for defending against enemy attacks as well, with the player receiving less damage if timed correctly. By having the same quick time event occur every single time an attack is used against the player, the flow of the game and the fights is slowed immensely and becomes a slog to manage through.
These issues with the fundamental mechanics of the battle system are only made worse when joined by the fact the game is horrendously unbalanced. Only certain characters can perform certain actions making them mandatory to add to the party in order to defeat certain characters easily, as such a level of player creativity is taken away as they are unable to customise their team to their own desires.
For example, the party character Vella is the only one capable of banishing Entities (a certain enemy type) into ‘Soul Space’, therefore if the player encounters an Entity then it is essential to have Vella in the party. Moreover Alex, the aforementioned protagonist, learns an ability later in the game that is easily the most powerful attack in the game, being able to defeat any enemy in one hit if the player is good enough at the, admittedly very easy, quick time event. Because of this, every other character becomes entirely redundant later in the game as they have no way of competing with Alex, becoming unnecessary for defeating any kind of enemy.
Ultimately none of these balance issues truly matter for the end of the game, as there are numerous purposefully unwinnable fights littered throughout the end of the game that ensures that any kind of progress the player has made with the party is completely pointless. The way YIIK crafts its battle system, balances it, and tries to make it stand out are poorly handled, leading to an experience that is generally incredibly unfun and makes the player want to avoid battles, a core component of the game, at all costs.
The issues with YIIK’s gameplay does not stop at its battle system however, as the world the player is tasked with exploring is generally uninteresting and poorly designed. One of the main issues the world of YIIK faces is that the locations the game explores serve no real interest to the player in any regard. For the most part the dungeons that the game employs to challenge the player are entirely linear in design. This means that there is little to no opportunity for the player to explore the dungeons that are presented to them and make any discoveries about the world for themselves. The game hands all of its secrets to the player on a silver platter, taking any sense of agency away from them.
Moreover, due to YIIKs nature as a ‘A Postmodern RPG’ the world it exists in is based on middle-America in 1999, therefore a lot of the locations are based on urban areas such as sewers and abandoned buildings. While not inherently a bad decision for the area designs in ‘urban RPGs’ as games such as the Mother Trilogy continually take inspiration from urban areas for dungeons, YIIK struggles to do anything to make these typical environments fantastical in any way. As a result, the game fails to be unique in any way- its areas are completely uninspired and provide no reason for the player to explore them.
This poor dungeon design is not the game’s only failing in its exploration. The way the game structures its worlds and its dungeons necessitates heavy backtracking on the part of the player. Games like Metroid and Castlevania also have heavy backtracking but the ability to unlock new powers that make exploration easier and provide new pathways to the player alleviate the struggles that come with having to return to old areas. As YIIK only ever provides the player with two additional abilities, both of which are given within the first hour of gameplay, the player has no incentive to explore past areas outside of the game telling them to do so. Therefore, when the game does tell its players to return to previous areas, which it does quite often, the player is left tired of the repetitive nature and more likely to give up on the game. Nothing new is provided skill wise, so there is no desire to explore old areas to try and find something new.
Between the poorly executed battle system and the lacking sense of exploration, YIIK’s gameplay is horrendously boring and an absolute atrocity to sit through. There is very little presented to the player that is actively engaging, resulting in a general apathy for the gameplay and a lack of drive to actually continue on with what is given.
A game’s performance is a reflection of the technical skill of the programmers who coded the key elements of the game, and the polish that went into it. As such, a player’s experience is directly related to how the game performs for them, as issues like commonly occurring lag can cause frustration. YIIK’s general performance is woefully abysmal.
It is horribly optimised suffering from incredibly long load screens every time the game has to change scenes. While some games (such as the original release of Skyrim) suffer from long load times, these issues are alleviated by the fact the games do not have to load between scenes very often meaning players are not bogged down by them. However YIIK, being a turn based RPG with random encounters, requires scenes to be swapped often, as the player will move between areas of a dungeon or enter random enemy fights. As such, general gameplay takes far longer than it ever needs to with much of the player’s time being spent waiting for the next area or battle to load. This harms the game massively, as the player is left generally bored and very likely to move on from it.
YIIK’s long loading times are not the only issue the game faces in its performance however, as there is also noticeable slowdown during certain areas of the game. Specifically, in battles that contain a large number of enemies and the player has a full party, the game struggles to maintain a solid framerate. While this issue does not necessarily impact the gameplay, it highlights the underlying issues with the craft of the game and removes a sense of fluidity from the immersion of the player. The occasionally stuttering gameplay of YIIK makes it feel cheap.
While the game functions technically, the issues YIIK faces with its optimisation hamper it greatly. The long loading times and lag only serve to diminish the quality of an already failing piece of art, resulting in something that provides not much in the way of reason to be played.
When making a game it is important that it stands out against its competition. This requires the game to be easily recognisable so a potential to catch a player’s eye and encourages them to purchase it. YIIKs art style, while aggressively on the nose for its desired aesthetic, does manage to be unique and appealing to some extent.
As a game that is set in middle-America in late 1999 and proud of that fact, YIIKs polygonal art style reflects this time period perfectly. It takes heavy inspiration from the game consoles of this era (particularly the N64 and PlayStation) and the graphical intensity that this hardware was capable of leading to very visible polygons. However, while this could be seen as a way of easing the asset creation, the game takes the effort to refine these models and polish them with the modern technologies available, producing a nostalgic aesthetic that differs from the more common pixel arts seen in the current indie landscape. As such the games assets are genuinely appealing to look at, and manage to be distinctive in a landscape dominated by quirky indie RPGs.
Moreover, one of the ways the game uses its more abstract and convoluted storyline is in its presentation of colours and landscape. The world of ‘Soul Space’ that the player is tasked with exploring at certain points has an incredibly unique style and presentation to it. The colours are vibrant and give a sense of psychedelia, something that fits extraordinarily well with the games previously mentioned approach to designing its models. Furthermore, the way these environments are built, with recognisable structures torn apart and littered throughout an otherwise empty void evoke a sense of unease and wariness that convey the intended emotions of this world perfectly.
While the game excels in the aesthetic design of ‘Soul Space’, this is an exception in terms of the game succeeding in its environment design. As previously mentioned when discussing the gameplay, a lot of the areas the game presents are based on typical urban environments. As such, the vibrancy and emotional conveyance the game is capable of managing are lost, as many of these environments consist of drab greys and browns and consist of nothing particularly stand out. When the player has to explore abandoned buildings, caravan parks, and sewers back to back, these quickly blend together and become incredibly repetitive, offering no opportunity for the game to exhibit the incredible area design that it has the potential of creating.
The art style YIIK presents is constantly fighting with itself. While it has the potential to be visually excellent, the game hinders itself from utilising its art style to the best of its ability. Its basic design works in tandem with the game’s setting perfectly and at times it has truly excellent usage of colour and world design. However the game’s insistence to never expand on basic urban settings in any way truly holds it back in this regard.
The soundtrack has always been a staple of the RPG genre, with many renowned games in the genre like Final Fantasy 7 or Pokémon having iconic soundtracks that people will recognise. In this regard, YIIK is no different, as the game’s soundtrack is one of the few praises that can be sung for the game.
Overall the soundtrack of YIIK is incredibly fitting to the games atmosphere. Especially in the battle and field music, the soundtrack finds the right tone to enhance the player’s experience. The battle themes are energetic and find a home in the rock genres, crafting an intensive backing for the player during fights. The themes used in the overworld and dungeons similarly evoke emotions of adventure, mystery, and unease depending on what part of the world the player in calls for. All of this works well to create a sense of immersion for the player. As often as the game fails to create a solid sense of tonal consistency and a world the player wants to explore, the soundtrack it presents for these parts of the game succeeds in what it is required to do.
Moreover, sound effects commonly used in the game’s battles are impactful. The sound effects are generally quick and unobtrusive while still feeling like they add to the experience of the game. However, where the sound effects can suffer at times is there repetitive usage. For example, the same sound effect is used when damage is done to the enemy, eventually becoming quite irritating. Therefore, by having multiple, distinct, attack sounds the game would vastly improve its longevity in its sound design.
YIIK’s sound design is easily its strongest component. The soundtrack developed is memorable and enjoyable and should be commended for some of the standout tracks it contains. On top of this, for the most part, the sound effects used throughout the game are entirely fitting to the situations they are a part of, if eventually repetitive.
YIIK: A Postmodern RPG (2019) at its core, is a game that is so horribly made and contains so many ideas that vary from tone-deaf to downright insensitive that there is no true way to fix what is already there. The game is in no way short of being an absolute slog in terms of its gameplay elements, that all fail so spectacularly it is virtually impossible to find any sense of fun within the game. Its performance is generally slow, compounding with the already boring gameplay elements, and its plotline is out of touch with any sense of tact for its subject matters. This is a game that should only be played if you are interested in seeing how a game should not be made, as it is a valuable learning experience for the pitfalls to avoid in game design.
Specifications of system used for review:
CPU: Intel(R) Core(™) i7-10700K CPU @ 3.8GHz
GPU: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3070
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