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Trek to Yomi review: A samurai side-scroller with style and substance

The game is heavily influenced by classic Japanese cinema

Jasper Pickering
Thursday 05 May 2022 14:00
<p>The game is set in a fictionalised feudal Japan </p>

The game is set in a fictionalised feudal Japan

With recent releases like Ghost of Tsushima paying tribute to samurai films of the 20th century, it seemed inevitable that games would soon lean full-tilt into the cinematic masterpieces of director Akira Kurosawa, who is most notable for films such as Seven Samurai and Yojimbo.

Enter Trek to Yomi. Created by Leonard Menchiari and Flying Wild Hog, it’s a fitting tribute to Akira’s extensive body of work. It frames the action of a side-scrolling beat-em-up in the lens of classic black and white samurai cinema, complete with the auteur’s composition, harsh lighting and camera movements.

Not only is the attention to detail on the screen a fair recreation, but the quality of writing and methodical story beats expected of a samurai title gives Trek to Yomi a substance that would be difficult to capture had it been done in any other medium.

While the use of these cinematic techniques inarguably elevate its storytelling, where the tale of a samurai’s redemption does falter is in its occasional stilted gameplay that brings its spirited narrative back to earth.

Trek to Yomi is one of this years most stylistically consistent offerings so far. It will almost certainly have players coming back for more, even after the credits roll. Read our full review for more details.

How we tested

A PS5 version of Trek to Yomi was played for this review. After playing the game for around eight hours, we were able to finish one of the game’s multiple endings and explore some of its hidden areas, locate a number of the game’s collectibles and other secrets. With multiple endings, we also looked at its replayability and difficulty settings.

‘Trek to Yomi’: £15.99, Playstation.com

  • Rating: 8/10
  • Consoles: PS4 and PS5 (£15.99, Playstation.com), Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S (£16.74, Xbox.com), PC (£16.79, Steampowered.com)
  • Publisher: Devolver Digital
  • Release date: 5 May 2022
  • Age rating: 18+

Story

Taking place in feudal Japan, Trek to Yomi follows the tale of Hiroki, a young orphan who has been trained to be a samurai from a young age by his master, Sanjuro. After Sanjuro is killed defending his village from bandits, Hiroki makes a vow to protect his people and the master’s daughter, Aiko, from future threats.

Trek to Yomi launch trailer

Hiroki takes up his role as the village’s protector but when circumstances lead to tragedy, his struggle becomes an internal one and the battles he faces go beyond life and death.

Tapping into its spiritual side, Trek to Yomi occasionally ventures into some unexpected places, with Hiroki constantly at odds with his code and his affections for his master’s daughter. Though headstrong, he is guided by his convictions from the start but through choices towards Yomi’s closing chapters, only then do they start to waiver.

Gameplay

Within 3D environments, Trek to Yomi,is predominantly played as a side-scrolling game during combat – evoking the wide angle stand-offs commonly associated with samurai films. Meanwhile, fights break out along a 2D plane.

Cinematic wide angles lend themselves well to fast-paced combat

Hiroki can attack and defend from both directions as enemies close in on him and much of the challenge of fighting against waves of enemies comes from successfully parrying and moving enemies around your position.

Sword strikes can be broken down into light attacks and strong attacks, with different directional blows being used to control sword strikes, which are used to deal with different types of enemies. For example, a heavily armoured enemy is weak against sword thrusts but formidable against downward strikes. Learning to distinguish between them becomes as important as the makeup of attacking groups change frequently.

Over time, different techniques can be unlocked and after several bouts you can incorporate them into Hiroki’s fighting style to make for some even more satisfying encounters. And each makes for a satisfying set piece – for example, fighting off enemies in the middle of a burning bridge from both directions, as fishing boats burn underneath only adds to the sense of cinematic scale.

Fighting takes place on a 2D plane

Ranged weapons can also be used with shurikens, a bow and arrow and a handheld canon (ozutsu) to help thin out enemies from a distance. Ammunition is limited but by exploring areas marked by a subtle shimmer of light, refills are plentiful.

The fixed camera angle not only lends to the authenticity of its cinematic style, but lightly obscures other hidden collectibles, such as artefacts as well as simple health upgrades, with some being easier to miss than others.

This is also where Trek to Yomi begins to falter, as its exploration and environmental puzzle elements fall slightly short when asking players to engage with its scenery. It’s wonderful to look at, but not so much when its composition leaves confusion as to what is a climbable ledge or a bottomless pit.

Presentation

Being rendered in an entirely monochrome setting, complete with film burn and gently panning camera, Trek to Yomi’s most noteworthy achievement is its stunning presentation.

Composition can be beautiful but makes action hard to see

Shadowed in darkness, the environments are dimly lit enough to just make themselves seen. However, the raging infernos tearing through streets or the contrast of silhouettes against shoji doors, give each of Yomi’s set pieces an elevated sense of authenticity without ever feeling like a gimmick.

It’s hard to imagine the game presented in any other way. Even in its less grounded set pieces, its approach to that commitment never really falters, strictly adhering to the limitations of cinematic techniques of its adopted film influences.

Where this rigidness does misalign is, again, when it comes into conflict with the central mechanics of its gameplay. Wonderfully composed shots taking place in the distance look great, but this distance makes blocking and parrying, difficult to read when adversaries are not so keenly visible.

The verdict: ‘Trek to Yomi’

At eight hours in length on a single playthrough Trek to Yomi is a compelling enough story that makes strong use of cinematic techniques to tell a samurai tale in a novel way. Its approach could easily be imagined on the silver screen but its interactive medium makes for a compelling combat-heavy side scroller with enough mechanical depth to warrant multiple playthroughs.

There are multiple endings to choose from, meaning that there is good opportunity to re-explore earlier areas and hone techniques at a harder difficulty too.

The game will also be available via Xbox Game Pass, making it worth picking up if only to marvel at its appearance.

‘Trek to Yomi'

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