The samurai have certainly been getting back in fashion lately with video games, led by the excellent Ghost of Tsushima with its sprawling open-world experience. But for fans seeking a more contained experience without skimping on a jaw-dropping aesthetic, then Leonard Menchiari, Flying Wild Hog, and Devolver Digital’s Trek to Yomi should be high on your list.
An action-adventure that plays out the tragedy of young swordsman Hiroki and his quest for redemption, Trek to Yomi prioritises a form of simplicity that helps bring its other more prominent qualities to the fore.
Unfolding over seven chapters, players will follow Hiroki’s journey through idyllic countrysides, shattered towns, and even deep into the land of the dead, also known as the titular Yomi at the core of the game. What follows is a trek full of visual splendour, thrilling combat, and a reflection of human decisions that decide who we truly are.
The game takes place entirely in black and white, delivering a truly cinematic experience that evokes the spirit of classic samurai films in every scene. Adopting fixed camera angles that showcase and frame the important details, players take control in scenes that almost feel like dioramas come to life, whether it be a side-scrolling section or the more open spaces.
Branching paths may bring you to locations holding many of the game’s collectibles or upgrades, while others may lead to advantageous positions that can tip the scales in your favour rather than facing multiple enemies at the same time.
That is particularly useful, as combat in Trek to Yomi is not just stylish, it is downright brutal. Hiroki’s skill with the various traditional weapons of a samurai translates to a variety of combos to master and learn, but ultimately, it comes down to the proficiency of the player when facing vicious bandits and supernatural creatures.
Timing is absolutely vital in combat, with overeagerness often leading to a painful death. When facing multiple enemies with different tendencies and attacks, knowing how to approach them, blocking and parrying at the right times, and striking the fatal blow becomes a dance that is always a thrill.
Going katana to katana with other swordsmen culminate in a crescendo of clanging metal, while armoured goons, spear-wielding variants, and ranged attackers add new twists to keep players on their toes. And as Hiroki gains more stamina and health, together with new combos and vicious finishers, everything pays off as combat becomes more prevalent towards the conclusion of Trek to Yomi.
As the savagery plays out against the backdrop of stunning environments and striking visuals, it is also a must to point out that the score for Trek to Yomi is one to remember, punctuating both sombre and stirring moments alike while still maintaining the ties to the feudal period. It is not a stretch to say that it would function perfectly well in the game as well as excellent background music for when one is in the mood for an invigorating adventure.
That is not to say that Trek to Yomi is without problems, including certain issues that could prove to be a cut too deep for some. On the narrative front, this tale of revenge and redemption is far from straightforward, enhanced by its supernatural leanings. Yet, its inclination towards grand ideas and arbitrary choices tend to get in the way. The decision to stay true to duty, love, or avenge those lost might appear to have significant ramifications, but this is sadly not the case and only creates unnecessary confusion that does little to add to Hiroki’s tale.
The same commitment to its aesthetic also comes with some drawbacks, most notably when trying to figure out alternate paths or where to go to progress the story, and missing out on potential upgrades even if the game has them sparkling periodically. It is not exactly frustrating, but that added time could have been put into more thought-out combat sequences.
With much of the endgame dependent on combat in between some light word puzzles, Trek to Yomi needed to either keep up the challenge or throw something fresh into the mix, but neither is accomplished in the last few chapters. The familiar enemies become much easier to handle once Hiroki is in possession of a few powerful combos, and you can afford to make more mistakes with more health and stamina at your disposal. It also can become boring disposing of the same few foes as players see the game to its conclusion.
The need for a challenge can be avoided by switching to a harder difficulty, but that should not even be a problem if the experience was more well balanced and laid out. That said, Trek to Yomi does feature a one-hit kill difficulty, which is actually a much more enjoyable experience for those seeking the ultimate expression of their mastery.
Just as Hiroki faces trials and tribulations on his adventure, so will players who are jumping into Trek to Yomi. Come for the amazing visual spectacle and homage to samurai film, the lively combat that unfortunately wears out its welcome, and try to not read too much into its winding and inconsistent narrative.
Trek to Yomi is available on the PSN Store for $27.90.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
A cinematic experience that is spectacular visually, Trek to Yomi falters when it comes to keeping a straight story, with the combat being both a friend and foe.
Gameplay - 7.5/10
Story - 7/10
Presentation - 9/10
Value - 7/10