As a vow to his dying Master, the young swordsman Hiroki is sworn to protect his town and the people he loves against all threats. Faced with tragedy and bound to duty, the lone samurai must voyage beyond life and death to confront himself and decide his path forward.
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Reviewed on: PC (Ryzen 5 2600, RTX 2070 Super, 32GB DDR4)
Also available for: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
Cast: Masayuki Kato, Sarah Emi Bridcutt, Hiroshi Shirokuma, Hiroki Goto, Akio Otsuka
Developer: Flying Wild Hog
Creative Director: Leonard Menchiari
Writers: Leonard Menchiari, Alec Meer, Araceli Garcia
Game Director: Marcin Kryszpin
Art Director: Grzegorz Szczygiel
The cinematic style of Trek To Yomi is beautiful, and looking at the game, you’re not wrong to think about Akira Kurosawa films and the obvious influence they must have on Flying Wild Hog’s samurai game. There’s a meticulous detail to the camera movement and lighting that goes beyond Trek To Yomi simply feeling like a black & white filter to give it a Kurosawa feel. It’s a pity then that for a game with some much going for it visually, playing it becomes so tedious and was eventually something I grew tired of playing, even if I was happy to keep spamming the screenshot button and enjoying the visuals.
The narrative here hits all the keynotes of an old-school samurai film and plays into tropes with warm, embracing arms. This isn’t a bad thing, as the traditional elements meld well with the visuals and the focus on Japanese culture and history. Still, I struggled to care about the journey of Hiroki, and when the combat began to grow tiresome, I was left with a lead I had no attachment to, a basic story and only the visuals left to stimulate my playthrough.
Like all good samurai films, Trek To Yomi introduces a tortured lead in Hiroki, who we meet as a kid and who witnesses his master slain by a brute. Years later, he’s now the protector of his village and drawn into battle outside the village gates, only to be sent on a long journey to save the village and the love of his life.
Switching between 2D and 3D environments as you move from panel to panel, the camera will follow behind Hiroki as you move north in the 3D environment before seamlessly switching to a cinematic side-on view as the game switches to side-scrolling action. The Edo period is beautifully created here, from the buildings to the forests and mountainsides that Hiroki explores during his journey. Nearly every couple of minutes, you can find a moment within Trek To Yomi that you can screenshot and use as wallpaper and the creative direction by Leonard Menchiari with art director Grzegorz Szczygiel is easily the highlight of Trek To Yomi. There’s a loving detail behind everything. It doesn’t feel like it’s attempting to mimic Kurosawa films and that period of cinema; instead naturally feels like it came from that time.
Most of your time playing Trek To Yomi is spent cutting down enemies with Hiroki’s katana or projectile weapons like a bow and kunai. It becomes a monotonous task you need to do to be rewarded with the visuals as you move forward. I shouldn’t be letting out a heavy sigh of disappointment when I come to another combat encounter in a samurai game that looks this good. It’s not even that the combat is necessarily bad — it works, I can play the game — but it sure is boring after the first 30-60 mins. Once you master the basic parry/counter combo, you’ve got everything you need to use in Trek To Yomi. Even as the game tries to introduce other combos, they’re either not as reliable with the risk/reward not being worth it; the only time I ventured outside basic combat engagements was during the boss fights, where I found being aggressive at the start of the battle with a string of combos a successful way to wipe the enemy out before they have a chance to get in with their big attacks. Ordinary enemy encounters play simultaneously; even as the game introduces enemies with arrows or spears, you quickly learn the one move needed to counter them.