In 2019, I played through YIIK: A Postmodern RPG, and that playthrough is the biggest content on Indie Hell Zone. Earlier this year, I discovered a video depicting a supposed unused ending which ended up getting taken down. I re-uploaded it, and one of the things that came out of it was a long comment thread started by one of the game’s biggest defenders, which I will refer to as the Hell Thread. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t exactly the nicest to the OP myself, and in fact, I still kinda hate them a little.
But that Hell Thread brought a few revelations, which actually encouraged me to dig deeper into YIIK. And so, we’re here with what should be the last post I ever make on YIIK: A Postmodern RPG. Hopefully. So today, I’ll be giving my sincere interpretation of the game’s story and some newish criticisms.
YIIK’s story isn’t exactly great – at least on its surface. I don’t really want to summarize it, and I assume that the people coming in here already knows about the plot. So, I’ll skip to the end: as it turns out, the Essentia lied about being an alternate version of the missing Sammy and is actually a part of Proto Alex, which is a plot point that derails a whole bunch of things in the game.
Supposedly. If you’re looking at things on the surface, it’s something that ruins a plot that already was shaky.
However, what the creators intended you to do is to start looking at the game through a postmodern lens, apparently.
The problem with needing a postmodern reading of the game though is that… the game doesn’t really encourage that reading beyond the game’s title? And honestly, in fairness to YIIK, this is because people come into the game expecting an Earthbound-like.
I’ve actually been thinking of writing about the “quirky Earthbound-inspired RPG” trend lately, which was part of what encouraged me to look deeper into YIIK. And the thing is, Earthbound is a partial inspiration for YIIK, but people overstate how much the game wants to ape Earthbound. In fact, the biggest influence on YIIK isn’t Earthbound, but the works of Haruki Murakami, a well-known postmodern author; he was so much of an influence that the game straight up sampled a passage from one of his books, if you may remember. Murakami’s influence was brought up far more than Earthbound has been, actually.
But when people see YIIK, they see an attempt at being an Earthbound-like, which influences the lens they look at the game with. When they see the game’s weirdness, they just see it as quirky weirdness instead of something to look into. And honestly, the game doesn’t really do itself favors considering the dumb bullshit of the infamous golden alpaca. As a result, people read the game on its face and just sees nonsense.
And the thing is, the alternate reading that you’re intended to get from the game comes in when you realize that Sammy and the Essentia aren’t real in the first ending. This is a plot point that’s been said on social media and multiple times in the Hell Thread, but in the game itself… this isn’t very clear? Sammy appears as a figment before Alex, but people assume that she’s a ghost. Essentia appears as a being connected being to Proto Alex, which I suppose is meant to clue in that she’s an imagined figment from him, but people would instead assume that she’s a girl alternate reality version of Alex – and the fact that you can enter the final area with a girl version of Alex discourages people from thinking otherwise.
Also, quick aside, but Sammy not being real doesn’t negate the fact that the developers appropriated elements from the real life Elisa Lam case for her. Yeah, she isn’t literally Elisa Lam, but you’re still referencing her through Sammy. It’s still weird and disgusting. Come on.
But yeah, the problem is that the foundation from which you’re supposed to start thinking about the game in a different perspective is flawed because it’s not very clear at all. It just looks like bad writing.
But let’s say that those plot points were clear. What do we do about them?
So, here’s another bizarre bit of communication. Unless you caught sight of the Sammy hidden behind the tree in Alex’s front yard, you probably won’t know what to do. However! I’ve been told that the pause menu message changes to tell you that you fucked up and to go home, look for Sammy, and read ONISM. The problem though is that this message only appears if you spam pause during one specific segment of the first ending route, which is insane. Yeah, no shit 90% of players missed this, who the fuck would see this? Wouldn’t it make more sense for this message to have a chance to pop up during the endgame dungeon of the first ending, when you actually have a reason to be going into the pause menu and when you already know that you fucked up?
Whatever, most people look like they figured this out through word of mouth, anyway. In going down the Sammy path, it’s representing that Alex accepts his delusion that Sammy is real. He does not fight Proto-Alex and confront himself. He thinks that Essentia is a liar instead of realizing that he lied to himself. He’s here with a mundane job, living a mundane life with the woman of his dreams.
But there’s also one more important thing to mention. In this ending route, there’s a graveyard, and as I’ve learned since I played the game, this is where Rory’s ghost appears if Alex got him to commit suicide. You know. The ghost that tells him that he did nothing wrong because he’d do anyway. That was a shitty detail that really pissed me off when I learned about it.
…but the thing is, in the framework of this ending route, it works. Because in this ending, Alex’s beliefs are being validated. The world reassures him by giving him Sammy, and this figment reassures him further by not putting him at fault for Rory’s death, because Alex is never wrong in this ending.
Now, it’s not perfect. This is especially because while he isn’t actively assured that he did no wrong in the normal route, he doesn’t exactly face any consequences besides feeling a bit bummed out. Like, the Rory suicide stuff still sucks, but at least I understand the worst aspect of it.
But what about the third ending? You may say, “there is no third ending.” Well, I believed that too, but a point that was brought up in the Hell Thread was that the ending everyone assumed was cut content is actually the third ending – it’s just never been openly acknowledged as such because it wasn’t obtained the “right” way. Honestly, that’s pedantic enough that I flipped from being pissed off about it to being amused.
So, getting the second ending was already a bit esoteric, but the third ending is something else. There’s just a bunch of clues scattered around that nobody’s put together and the correct way of seeing the third ending route hasn’t been found yet. To get it, you’d have to think like a conspiracy theorist.
You’d have to think like Alex.
And this is the point where YIIK’s concepts actually started to click with me. The whole base plot revolves around (or at least, starts with) conspiracies. Alex believes that a woman went missing at a hotel. Alex believes that there’s a robot woman stashed in a van. And in the path toward the other endings, you also become a conspiracy theorist, investigating clues and following esoteric leads.
And what is your reward for becoming as much of a conspiracy theorist as Alex? The ultimate wish fulfillment. Alex’s delusions progress further, where he not only still thinks that the Essentia is real, but that she was also telling the truth. Here, Proto Alex isn’t a pathetic looking guy, but a huge armored warrior befitting of a final boss – it becomes an epic fight that makes Alex look like a badass.
So, we all thought that this was the most satisfying ending, when in actuality, it’s actually the worst one, because all of Alex’s beliefs are validated and he’s living the dream of being a hero.
Honestly? Considering the fact that you just have to figure out that Essentia and Sammy are fake and the insane normal way of learning how to do the second route, I honestly do believe that this third ending is in the game.
With this in mind, I actually respect the climactic bosses of the first route a bit now? They’re frustrating fights because they’re unwinnable, but it now makes sense that they are because overcoming them through brute force would validate Alex’s beliefs that he’s a hero. But in abandoning his way of thinking, he’s instead beaten down, and the only way to truly win is to properly face himself and… um…
I honestly still have no fucking clue what happens in the last minute of the game. And it kinda doesn’t help that it’s sidetracked by the heaven from Two Brothers?? Really, it’s honestly a poorly communicated version of OMORI’s final boss.
And now, you might be wondering, what was up with that leaked ending video I re-uploaded? Well. It’s the fourth ending. Yeah, apparently a fourth ending was added to the game? I have no fucking idea how anyone could find it if it’s actually in the game, seeing as how nobody knows how to trigger the third ending in the intended way.
But I can actually see the progression for Alex, here. In the second ending, he saves Sammy. In the third, he saves the Essentia. Here, he becomes the ultimate hero in that he saves the world by traveling to a time before the Proto Comet hit and defeating the villains in advance. Again, it’s a satisfying ending – but it’s wish fulfillment spurred on by indulging in conspiracy theories.
And you know what? I actually do like this meta narrative of being a conspiracy theorist. If this was the intended takeaway to have from YIIK, I think it’s interesting. Well, it’d probably be more engaging if people could actually find this third ending and apparent fourth ending.
However, I do have a problem with it, and it’s that I think it’s completely antithetical to the touted theme of Alex becoming a better person.
Becoming a better person is something that takes work, but the thing is, the ending where Alex throws off his toxic delusions is the easiest ending to get. Like yeah, it’s a lengthy sequence, but actually doing it is straightforward. Meanwhile, the endings that you have to put more work toward in terms of unlocking are the ones where Alex actively gets worse. The best outcome is actually just sticking with the default route, which feels backwards.
And here’s my general problem. Within the context of the first route, Alex doesn’t really become a better person, anyway? I’m still of the opinion that it’s less that he changes, but more like everybody around him changes.
So I thought about it. And the thing is, the only way for YIIK’s story to make sense is if the game’s world is Alex’s idealized reality. He doesn’t have to get a job because his reality shifts so that his mom gets one. His belief in Sammy is validated with a website that’s also obsessed with her disappearance. His true version of Michael actually hates him, so his reality pulls in a version of him that’s still friends with him. Rory seeks him for help despite the circumstances because Alex needs to be the good guy. The shitty values espoused in the world are actually just reflections of Alex’s own values. And of course, his friends stick around even though he sucks, because in this world, everything goes his way. He doesn’t actually have to change, because the world has already forgiven him.
Tellingly, the person most critical of him is Panda, who is essentially just a figment of himself and could be viewed as his self-loathing. Panda drifting away after the Proto Comet hits could be representative of him coming around to his self-criticism – he has no need for Panda to hate him, anymore. His reality collapsing to the Proto Comet is him realizing that his world is self-serving and rejecting it.
But here’s the thing. An aspect of Alex that often gets attacked is his selfishness, and that was already undermined by the fact that literally everything in the game revolved around him. This narrative of the game world actually catering to him directly and existing solely for his character development actually makes it worse?
However, he is at least punished a little, if you view the Proto Comet fight symbolically. Instead of killing your party members, he Banishes them, and to me, it reads as Alex driving his friends away; notably, when the Essentia is banished, she is offscreen when it happens, which I kinda see as a hint that she’s not real? But yeah, his friends are sent away from him, and this is underlined by the honestly still awkward and time consuming segment of him seeing figments of them disappear as he approaches them on that comet belt.
YIIK could be a symbolic story about a group of friends that fell apart, likely because of Alex’s own behavior. Given the conspiracy theory angle of things, it could be like how people that get into QAnon drive off their loved ones. In particular, I actually call attention to one guy: Rory. Besides Vella, he gets a bizarre amount of focus in YIIK, even if it doesn’t seem like it fits the game. In naming the alternate version of him, he’s identified as the complete opposite of Alex, and you know, there’s the fact that Alex can push him towards suicide. I actually think that Alex and some original version of Rory had a falling out that led to Rory getting hurt, and everyone getting mad at Alex at the end of chapter 2 could allude to said falling out being an inciting incident for the group’s collapse.
And in going down the first route, Alex shows regret toward taking them for granted. With regards to self-improvement within the context of the multiple endings, the first route Alex is the best because he has active regrets and stopped deluding himself. Cool.
What will he do about it? I dunno.
It’s less that he changes, but is now open to the capacity for change. With the other endings in mind, it’s not that Alex improves as a person, it’s just that he doesn’t become worse. Which isn’t exactly the same thing.
And the thing is, setting aside trying to read the game metaphorically, Alex still just sucks. He’s still kind of an asshole that’s presented in a really annoying way, and with regards to his conspiratorial thinking, it’s less that he makes the conscious decision to abandon it, but more like it gets overshadowed by more pressing matters.
The game is clearly intended to be read more in-depth to get a better understanding of the overall narrative, but there’s no thought put toward if gamers would actually dig deeper into the game. And look, I like making fun of gamers too, but you sincerely can’t expect a lot of them to have read Murakami and to get your game immediately.
I’ve read a few Murakami books. Personally, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is my favorite work of his. And the thing with those books is that even if you don’t dig deeper, they’re still interesting to read because his writing style carries an imaginative tone. The base reading of Murakami is still enjoyable while the base experience of playing YIIK… just isn’t.
And story aside, the game still just sucks to play. According to UT, it’s at least a bit better, and hey maybe with the upcoming updates, they could improve the gameplay further. But yeah, the gameplay certainly puts no points in YIIK’s favor.
I have a more complicated perspective on YIIK: A Postmodern RPG now. In thinking more about it, there’s actually a bunch of interesting ideas that I think are cool. Like, you saw me making a sincere attempt at crafting theories, I’m actually into that aspect.
The problem is that the base story of the game is still bad and the game’s messaging to look beyond the base story is poorly conveyed. And in the end, I think that engaging with the meta narrative actually undermines one of the game’s messages. And to be honest? I’m mad, but not in the way this game originally made me. I’m frustrated, because I actually see what the game is attempting to do and say, but it feels bungled.
Writing about all this reminded me of my current revisit of The Shrieking Shack, a podcast that took a long critical look at the Harry Potter series. A frequent criticism of the series that’s brought up is that the narrative is harmed by the fact that it has to stick to Harry’s perspective the whole time, and I think the same criticism applies here. I think that maybe YIIK could have benefited from showing the perspective of another character, to show us how other people actually view Alex. Given the inexplicable nature of Proto Michael in the endgame that doesn’t really pay off and his past relationship with Alex, I think that there’s a missed opportunity to see the game from a lens that isn’t entirely self-serving. Well. Assuming that Proto Michael himself also isn’t an invention of Alex’s imagination. Whatever.
Much like the quest of finding the game’s third ending, the pieces that could make YIIK: A Postmodern RPG good is all there. It’s just that it hasn’t come together.