"I'm more willing to embrace a story that isn't afraid of being sincere than one knee-deep in caustic irony."
"Post-modern" is a term I'm accustomed to hearing at a lecture, or when I'm nose-deep in a textbook. As a descriptor for an RPG, it's something entirely unusual. In fact, "entirely unusual" is a succinct summation of YIIK, a bizarre turn-based RPG set in 1990s America that reads like cult classic Earthbound filtered through world-famous novelist Haruki Murakami. Before you ask: Yes, there are talking cats.
Made in the mold of yesterday's classic JRPGs, YIIK puts players in the shoes of a slovenly hipster looking for a friend who goes missing on the eve of the new millennium. The demo I played had me ambling along suburban streets, picking money and pizza out of trash cans. I swung by my house, where I answered a call (on my landline, obviously) from a stranger spouting cryptic nonsense about a needle dropping. Outside, a man approached me and asked me to help fund his venture into game magazine publishing — the medium is dying, he said, thanks to the advent of the Internet. Later, I made my way underneath a run-down factory, where a cyclopean pyramid cried a river of tears.
These moments are surreal, yet not disconnected. Playing YIIK is akin to wandering through a fever dream, only there are turn-based battles.
Within battles, there are further wrinkles; the main character's basic attack uses a record player that functions like Shadow Heart's Judgment Ring, and there are other mini-games for separate characters to master. I only got to experiment with one of these, but my previous experience with the game at Camp Fangamer in 2015 assured me that there's more meat to combat than the E3 demo would suggest.
Yet while weirdness is an essential component of YIIK, that's not the only thing it has going for it. Aside from its unique, intentionally low-frame visual style, two things shone bright during my demo of the game: the quality of its writing and its camerawork. The development team is utilizing their familiarity with film to give YIIK's static environments some cinematic flair. Key areas, such as the aforementioned factory, have a good sense of scale. I'm intrigued to see if this eye for detail permeates the entire game.
There's perhaps a note of pretentiousness embedded in YIIK's messaging, but I'm more willing to embrace a story that isn't afraid of being sincere than one knee-deep in caustic irony. It's indie as all hell, and there's no escaping that. Even with its obvious inspirations, YIIK exudes such a keen awareness of its identity that it stands as one of the most interesting games at E3 2017.