Yi and the Thousand Moons Review
Disclaimer: PC Aficionado was provided with a code for the purpose of this review. All thought and opinions expressed in the review are the writers own and are not influenced by the developer and/or publisher in anyway.
Yi and the Thousand Moons is a small “art house” game from a new game publisher named David Su that could be best described as an interactive musical. Some readers will have stopped reading at that last period, some will have left at the term “art house” and that’s fine – entertainment is subjective. For those intrepid individuals who have stayed, especially those sitting on the fence at this point, I applaud your open-mindedness.
Yi is the story of a young archer on a quest to save her village, and it contains many of the traditional mythical trappings of ancestral storytelling. I am unsure if it has any real-world ties to myths or folklore, but their existence would not surprise me. The game boasts a full cast and a live band performing as you progress through its seven acts.
Not surprisingly, Yi is all about the music. You are meant to experience rather than play and its interactions are very simple. Your enjoyment of Yi will pivot on your taste in music, and watching the trailer will give you a good idea of what to expect: A traditional base with modern nuances and a strong vocal track.
The unique draw of Yi is the live band, and music that reacts to you. Each act of the game is a new song with the in-game actors performing the verses naturally as you come into contact with them. This brings to mind the feeling that you are part of an Opera, being performed within the confines of the Unity engine. I normally eschew subtitles as they break immersion for me but in Yi’s case, you will want them on. Some of the lyrics are not clear enough to my ear, and some of the songs have multiple singing parts that happen simultaneously. To understand the story and experience, you need to know what’s being said.
Speaking of engines, Unity is almost overkill here, much of the artwork ranges from an 8-bit retro font to low-poly actors. There is some nice use of shaders for effect, but this is clearly an aesthetic choice. You are meant to keep your attention on what is important: The music. Each actor has a basic face and emotes with decent enough lip-sync but none of them are distractions, good or bad.
Yi has already been nominated for awards in Audio Design by the TIGA Games Industry and Best Style by none other than Rolling Stone. Not bad for a first time publisher, but the game has some questionable design decisions.
Your character can jump, but has no reason to. While I understand the need for interaction, a function such as this was likely part of a larger plan that was never executed. Also, there is a Journal feature within the menu that is little more than wasted potential. Inside you are meant to find what to do next, but the simplicity of the game makes this completely unnecessary. What could have been implemented here was backstory and a fleshed-out narrative. Poetry would have been welcomed in this case. The Journal is also technically flawed in design: The events are listed bottom to top, yet you always start at the bottom of the text. This requires you to scroll all the way to the top to see the latest info using a small and hard to click scrollbar. This last part could be fixed with a patch, and may already be by release.
Another issue I had was invisible walls. The world is populated sparsely, and there is no reason to venture outside the small stage that has been presented, until there is. A small spoiler alert here that will only affect people who haven’t even read the description, but at the beginning you are expected to shoot down the moons with your bow. If these moons fall to the planet and disappeared, everything would be fine, but they don’t. They just sit there like shiny round collectibles outside of your reach. Rather than surround the village with water, or even mountains, you are presented with an invisible wall. This is a personal pet peeve of mine, so your tolerance may vary. I like immersion, and anything that breaks that is an issue to me.
By far the biggest problems Yi has though are tied to its medium. First, as a game, it’s very short and didn’t need to be. There are many tropes the developer could have used to extend the gameplay such as collecting, simple navigation, and small puzzle-solving. Yi is an archer after all, there are plenty of additional activities that could have been included. I think this could be simple self-awareness though as the second is far more grievous: The music.
While the game boasts a live band, what this really means is a set of loops and tracks that play based on situation. While much of the time that works, there are some instances where it falls flat. Again this is due to the medium, or perhaps the developer, as the game can only do so much to combat player agency. Some of the loops used are very repetitive, painfully so in places, and don’t speak well of the complete song. In example, standing at the bridge in one act provided one short loop that echoed endlessly with no variation.
The strongest voice in the game is Dominique Star, the voice of Yi, and that makes sense as she is the protagonist. However, this is an ensemble cast, and she can’t be expected to carry the soundtrack alone. One song in particular had a wincingly bad vocal section, with sour harmonizing and random tempos. Almost as if the singers each recorded their parts alone, without ever hearing each other’s voice. Considering this is an indie project, that could very well be the case but whatever the reason, it brings down the quality of the product. Granted this is one track, but with the rest of the score so strong, it’s a glaring misstep. Yi is about the music after all, and when that fails – so does the game.
While I may sound hard on Yi and the Thousand Moons, I really just want it to succeed. Unique experiences are not abundant in this day of short attention spans, so when someone breaks the mold, I wish them only the best. It’s a brief experience that is interesting enough, but not for the asking price. Yi is no Abzu or Flower, both of which have much deeper experiences beyond their longer playtime. The game is too short, simple, and has no replayability beyond wanting to hear the music again. Had the soundtrack been included with the purchase, it would be an easy buy.
Those not willing to shell out the money can instead take advantage of a website called Jump. It’s a Netflix-type gaming platform where you can pay $9.99 a month for unlimited access to a growing library of games. I’ve never heard of Jump before today, and I have no affiliation with them, but there are some fantastic games available for that price.
Some of these issues could be solved in a patch, and may already be. The rest could be added as a Director’s Cut or an Extended Edition, and Mister Su is welcomed to any of the ideas I have presented here – gratis.
Fans of Yi’s musical concept can find similar efforts on David Su’s website.
- The soundtrack is (mostly) fantastic.
- Story and game concepts are interesting.
- Graphics can be pretty in places, lip-sync is a nice touch.
- When it works, the dynamic music blends nicely.
- When it doesn’t work, the dynamic music loops endlessly.
- The story is too empty and fails to make an impact.
- Much too short, has no replayability.
- Soundtrack is a separate purchase.