There are plenty of negative reviews about YIIK: A Postmodern RPG, and I agree with all of them a hundred percent.
When I saw the game pop up on our review list, I instantly snatched it up because it ticks a lot of boxes for me: it looks like Megaman Legends; it feels like Wild Arms; it has text boxes like Final Fantasy 8. A lot of the cutscenes and music remind me of Persona games. The trailers for YIIK are just a big old jumbled mess of influences that I love and grew up with, and if you ever read any of my other reviews, you will know that jumbled messes are what I live for in video games. This is why, in my opinion, the ‘Indiepocalypse’ everyone always talks about is a good thing rather than a virus.
When I booted up the game (once I got past an intro sequence that was at best, awkward, and at worst, offensive), I was delighted to be a part of the world that appeared. Visually, I love YIIK. I love the town, I love the buildings, I love the music (which bounces back and forth between jazz punk and chiptune-metal) and I tried to suspend my disbelief that the hero-protagonist was a flannel-wearing, bearded nerd-boy home from college. Dear readers, I am serious: I went into YIIK ready to love it, despite things I might normally groan at. When you play video games, sometimes you have to find love in the little things, even if the plot basis might be a little bit boring. So I was ready and willing to give it shot after shot, until I found something to enjoy in this game.
The experience I just described is one shared by many, and not even just with video games: those of us who exist somewhere else on the identity scale are often forced to give straight white men chance, after chance, after chance to be anything other than a mixture of awkward, offensive or boring. And we do it over and over again because we are tired and don’t have the energy to do anything else but wait.
One of the biggest criticisms is of Alex, the protagonist, being both unrelatable and unlikeable — and having terrible writing. A tweet released by the development team reads, in response:
‘Alex isn’t a great guy. He needs to grow. He says stupid things. He [c]an be rude to his friends. However, this is a story about personal growth. The game isn’t condoning the way Alex is, it’s warning against being that way. Stick with it, and you’ll see he grows.’
Many of us will find this excuse familiar, and I can’t speak for anyone else, but I do not have the time and energy to play a long video game with a terrible main character (especially a nerdy gamer bro) to be hopeful for the carrot on a stick that they will ‘get better’ by the end. Because in real life, a lot of times they do not! And who is to say that the developers’ version of ‘getting better’ and ‘learning their lesson’ will be the same as mine, or not even the ‘same as mine’, but a version that involves actually making the world a better place?
I feel like it would actually be much easier to save the world from some supernatural, Fooly-Cooly inspired demon-creature from another world than it would be to stomp out misogyny or sexism. But it doesn’t matter whether Alex ‘gets better’ as YIIK progresses, because the world actually exists as a cesspool that supports his early views. In particular, his views on women, and what purpose they serve for him.
On top of that, like the Joker always says: if you need to take the time to explain your joke, it isn’t funny.
It really is a shame, too, because YIIK has a lot going for it! As mentioned before, I love the graphics, the art style and the music. The mood of the game for sure sets it apart from a lot of other indie titles I see. The controls for the battle system aren’t great and some of the level-design mechanics needs work, but I grew up with Silent Hill games, so I am willing to overlook that. Also, the cast, despite being led by a boring white nerd, has a good amount of diversity represented. However, this game is an equal-opportunity offender, and all characters are written as equally two-dimensional.
Playing it through reminded me of Final Fantasy 8, but not in a good way. FF8 was one of my favorite games as a kid, and I own my very own leather jacket with white ruffles because Squall will always hold a dear place in my heart: but I played it recently, and was kind of let down. A lot of the writing in FF8 just isn’t any good, or it’s downright laughable. I didn’t know this as my younger self — I maybe even identified with the childish and immature aspects of the characters on the screen. The game hasn’t aged well, and I stopped playing so that I could just keep it as a memory in my heart. YIIK is similar: except it hasn’t aged at all — it was straight-up born this way.
I think the writing could have been good if it had been given more time, or perhaps given to some eyes outside the team and their friends. The main problem is that, narrative-wise, it can’t decide what it wants to be: a piece of work that is ironic and making fun of itself or a masterpiece that is seen and celebrated for its ‘genius’. I personally think the existence of this game (and how it’s being torn to shreds online) is an uplifting benchmark in indie game history: many of us are no longer interested in works like this. We are ready for more. And there is more out there (for awesome indie RPGs with great writing, check out: Rxcovery, Fortune-499, Dujanah, DON’T GIVE UP and Heartbeat). However, despite this fairly negative review, I would be interested in seeing more games by this dev team, just with a different writer, and more eyes on the project. They know how to release a ‘well made’ game, but mayhaps need a little help to make one that is ‘enjoyable’ or ‘compelling’. Perhaps the current reaction to YIIK can help them learn and produce something truly amazing in the future.
As it is however: asking us to have faith in YIIK’s vision, when in its execution it doesn’t seem to be really sure what its vision is, is like asking to go to a techno club that stays open until 4 a.m.. ‘It will be fun by the end!’ you say.
No, I have been there before, and I know it won’t.
You can make your own decisions about this game by picking it up on Steam, where it is available for PC & Mac.