I should state for the record that I abhor abstract concepts that intentionally elude or obfuscate concrete definitions. For example, I can disclose to our readers that a simulacrum is a model for which there is no original, but to produce an example of such a thing is vexing, because once one identifies it, it then no longer adheres to the prerequisite of lacking an original. And that is just a taste of Foucault; heavyweights in literary theory chew on Jameson as an appetizer before taking a leisurely swim into the incomprehensibility of Ricœur and Žižek. They can all pound sand as far as I am concerned!
If I have to resist the urge to dropkick random strangers in the teeth when I hear them say “postmodern” or any of its derivatives, why in the world would I choose to play a game like YIIK: A Postmodern RPG (pronounced why-two-kay)? Paradoxically, I simultaneously did not want to make the mistake of judging a game by its title, yet its cover art is what attracted me to the game in the first place.
Admittedly, I was shaken by an early-game cutscene featuring a girl bleeding from her eyes, nose, and mouth, because it begins abruptly and without explanation. By the tenth hour in the game, a required dungeon necessitates that players utilize a guillotine to decapitate three components of a key character’s psyche, personified as actual people, and place the heads into cages on top of mannequins. It is possible to electrocute similar personality manifestations to death. Outside of these specific instances, standard combat is cartoonish.
All of the characters in their early 20’s cuss here as regularly as they do in the real world. Expect the full gamut of the four-letter kind as well as a few G-Ds.
A mental image of one character sulks in a bathtub. She calls a bathroom intruder all kinds of names analogous to “pervert.”
Rory’s mother is “all leg” where this situation is delivered as a gag, and seems out of place in the context of YIIK’s otherwise serious tone.
Whew, where do I even begin?
YIIK‘s premise concerns the possibility of the soul being able to leave the body in one realm, travel to another realm, and manifest itself into something different. As this takes place, another soul or entity will replace the departed soul. In this way, the game strikes me as an attempt to jettison what established faith traditions have to say about spirituality by intentionally avoiding direct references to (Hindu) reincarnation and karmic systems, while embracing philosophies found in the humanities and postulations in STEM fields that favor the existence of souls and spiritual domains. Conversations concerning the existence of capital-“G” God suggest multiverses beyond mere dimensions, where God might exist in one universe but is “dead” in another. Even though YIIK strives for an ostensibly secular approach to spirituality, it still cannot resist religious signifiers, such as a conversation taking place at a park swingset where one character says that they believe in unconditional love. “Reincarnation,” astral projection, or whatever one may call the method of soul travel in YIIK is accomplished voluntarily; one simply need to become aware that entering the soul space is within the power of humanity itself.
To be frank, I find all of this transcendentalism turned existentialism turned (post)modern escapism dumb. One character reveals that they have taken on almost a dozen different personas, and has even managed to exist in a realm simultaneously with its new(er) incarnation, contradicting what I understand as YIIK‘s own explanation that this should not be possible. Notwithstanding, the narrative’s emphasis on the self and generous usage of pentagrams is further suggestive that the pagan faith traditions have infiltrated the game in its piecemeal inception of faith beyond traditional institutions.
Racism and Bigotry
Despite the explicit, well-intentioned attempts to round them out with personalities, Claudio and his sister, Chondra, are magical negroes. Their extra “wokeness” strikes me as a kind of fascination that comes from a white person coming into contact with black people for the first time. Their clairvoyance and sagaciousness beyond everyone shy of Vella further underscore the fact that they exist for almost no other reason than to help Alex; their lack of meaningful interaction with established party members is telling.
Alex is a jerk. Yes, he’s such a consistently horrible human being that I feel compelled to mention this in the Content Guide, because he might trigger some folks, especially for survivors of abusive relationships or individuals who mourn those who have committed suicide.
Recent college graduate Alex Eggleston arrives home to a grocery list his mother has left him. Unemployed with nothing better to do than lie in bed and daydream, he accepts this mission, encountering a curious-looking cat on his way to the grocery store. Indicative of many more soliloquies to come, Alex then begins pontificating on the intimacy between this random cat and himself, and how they are connected through a transcendental medium…or something. This interaction unlocks the perfunctory “Friend of Small Animals” achievement. Violating Alex’s unearned trust, the cat defies the behavior of any cat I have ever heard of by swiping his grocery list and fleeing into the brush. Instead of going back home to call his mother at work to acquire another list, he foolishly chases the cat as it leads him toward an abandoned factory. Neither the locked front door nor the suspect scaffolding suspended over pools of toxic sludge would discourage our would-be hero, for the cat perched in the second-floor window beckons him.
Still not phased after encountering a bizarre world where stuffed panda bears speak and emojis cause physical harm, Alex presses on as if he has nothing better to do—which is absolutely true. YIIK: A Postmodern RPG is not shy about making fun of his Bachelor’s of Liberal Arts, pairing his profound mediocrity with listlessness and unemployment. This misadventure serendipitously provides purpose to Alex’s otherwise insipid existence, and a chance encounter with the vagrant Semi “Sammy” Pak satiates his innermost desire to do something meaningful; Alex persuades Sammy to vacate the derelict structure, and they take the elevator. During the ride, the doors burst open, and some strange entities pull Sammy out via telekinesis; the trauma breaks out her face into a porous, sanguinary mess, while Alex loses consciousness. Haunted by her disappearance after his awakening, he irresponsibly relies on YIIK‘s equivalent of a 4chan-style internet conspiracy theory website rather than contacting the authorities (which his mother will do later in the game when the plot requires that he goes missing for several days) in order to find her. After recruiting a childhood friend and neighbor-turned photographer, Michael, Alex embarks upon a quixotic quest to unearth what happened to Sammy.
Half of my grievances with YIIK lie at the feet of its insufferable protagonist, Alex. Cloud Strife from Final Fantasy VII at the very least laments his lameness, and strives to improve himself, emulating his friend Zack Fair to the point of suffering an identity crisis. Alex, on the other hand bursts at the seams with frequent introspective narrative digressions, yet manages to apply none of this pseudo-intellectualism to his “real life” interactions with actual people. Five hours of playtime have yet to lapse, and YIIK reveals to me that Alex is beyond redemption when he shrieks at another character, Rory, “I don’t care about your dead sister!”
Alex would later apologize to his entire squad, but making amends for a faux pas that egregious should not even be necessary, because what decent human being says something like that at all? I cannot recall the last time I have played a game featuring a protagonist so bad that I wonder about the positive characteristics of the antagonist. Then again, because this is a “postmodern” game, a precise antagonist becomes as amorphous as the quest; as I struggled to ground myself in an element as conventional as story—this is an RPG after all—yet my efforts to decipher any semblance of a coherent narrative feels obfuscated by design, despite a few bright spots in its writing. My time with YIIK then, became for me an assignment whose sunken cost exceeded far beyond the parameters of that very concept. I was in it to win it, despite the grim prognosis.
If there is a saving grace to be found, it would be in most of the characters not named Alex. Michael starts the game as a sardonic facsimile of Alex, but later shines, literally, in the game’s fifth and final chapter. Rory represents the 90’s emo, appropriately adopting a “whatever” attitude toward even the most pressing concerns, still managing to offer insight where necessary. Vella, a songstress who works at the local arcade, is by far the most well-written character in the game; she is an anomaly, for the gap between her and the next coolest character is so vast. YIIK would have been much better served with Vella as the protagonist rather than Alex, who has the personality of Dr. Gregory House without any of the wit or intelligence.
I did say most of the characters. Claudio and his sister, Chondra, literally add color to the clique, though presence bothers me even though under most circumstances, I would applaud a developer for taking diversity and inclusion seriously enough to hire black voice actors as well as hit the mark on with genuinely accurate key art. They are clearly designed to be the cool folks, however, right down to Claudio’s shades and his sister striking poses signifying her perspicacious awareness that she is expected to be perpetually in rhythm. Unlike the other characters in the group you seem to have some stakes in the quest, Claudio and his sister apparently have nothing else better to do despite owning a chain of record stores, so they tag along.
Remembering again that YIIK is an RPG, the gameplay comprises the other half of my grievances. The game borrows from Final Fantasy VII in terms of its user interface, though there are no limit breakers to be found here. The turn-based combat is standard, with the exception of how attacks are executed. Attacking or using a special ability requires mastery of micro-games that remind me of WarioWare. For example, Alex attacks by tossing music records at his foes with damage calculated by the player hitting the “X” button as the turntable rotates and its needle passes by the colored areas on the record. Similarly, this button must be pressed at certain intervals on Michael’s camera roll for maximum damage. One must charge the amp on Vella’s keytar, releasing the analog stick when it turns green, and so on with other characters.
Special abilities, called “skills,” are more involved. Vella can “drop the bass,” during a Super Mario Bros. 2-style mini-game where players will jump on her amp, pick it up, and toss it on the moving icon representative of the enemy. Another skill she has, banish, prompts a game like the final battle against Ganondorf in the original Legend of Zelda. Claudio’s bushido skill prompts players to speed-match arrow directions with the analog stick, and so forth.
The novelty of this style of combat begins to overstay its welcome when enemies linger on the screen for more than a few turns. This is especially true in the event that the player suffers a miss the timings required by the mini-game attack patterns, resulting in an impotent or dodged strike. When enemies have their turn, players can be presented with three types of meters that result in the following possibilities: dodge, defend, or hit; dodge or hit; defense or hit. In the late game when five enemies individually attack multiple party members, all of this mini-gameplay becomes a tedious, unfun, timesink. This, I conclude before I am fifteen hours into the game at level 35 or so, and YIIK recommends that I grind to an undetermined level to prepare for the still-unidentified final boss. I do not even want to invest another paragraph on how the game requires players to load up the Mind Dungeon and level-up stats one category at a time, or speak with a crow to auto-distribute these stats. This could have been done in a menu, but YIIK justifies this tedium for the sake of its incomprehensible story.
By the time I reach this point in the YIIK, I cannot wait for it to be over, for the longer the story plods along and as much as the combat drags, so too does my tolerance for mediocrity wane. The game refuses to offer any quick or periodical wins in terms of gameplay or story; there is no fall of Shinra Corp. plot point, launch of the Yggdrasil (II, III, IV) to unlock the world map, or recruitment of an Agrias with Holy Sword attacks for combat; the end of every chapter yields more questions than answers. I look back at YIIK‘s commendably high-definition interpretation of a PS1-era aesthetic, top-tier voice acting, and Vella, who single-handedly outshines entire rosters of characters in better games, and still say that YIIK: A Postmodern Adventure is not worth the time of the most hardcore believer in the philosophy of a thing being so bad that it is good. The combination of Worst Protagonist Ever and nonsense story only serve to entrench me in my belief that postmodernism is as irredeemable as YIIK is as a form of entertainment.
Review code generously provided by Stride PR
The Bottom Line
As boundless is the cosmos where alternate realities and selves may reside, so too is YIIK immeasurably unfun to play. This should have been a visual novel.