Reviewing Trek To Yomi is a difficult task due, in part, to my love of old samurai films. Movies like Zatoichi, Seven Samurai and Lone Wolf and Cub are some amazing pieces of cinema. These films all had a feel of their own and were stylistic representations of the history of their country. As such it is only fair we look at this game on its own without focusing on the cinematic history it aims to pay homage.
Trek To Yomi was released on the 5th of May for all the major consoles by developer Flying Wild Hog. The publisher, Devolver Digital, has a history with games that are slightly different from the norm. This experience is on display here and has helped to mitigate some of the more…divisive issues. Okay, enough with the history, let’s grab our Katana and explore ancient Japan.
I have to be honest, the plot for this game isn’t anything special. It doesn’t manage to reach the emotional highs that it is clearly aiming for. The plot focuses on Hiroki, a young samurai in the Edo period of Japanese history, as he hunts for the people who slaughtered his village. It’s a classic plot of revenge but it doesn’t lead to much and the surprises are pretty…well…unsurprising.
The issue is that the character's lack of real interactions, and the jarring initial passage of time, make it hard to feel connected with any of the characters. I won’t spoil anything, but the climactic moments and the revelations all feel just a bit off. If you were expecting something like Ghost of Tsushima then you’re going to be disappointed.
However, you don’t play a game like this for the story, oh no, you play a game like this for the combat. The gameplay is a strange mix of exploration and side-scrolling combat. Essentially players explore the world with some degree of freedom to find collectables and upgrades. However, once combat is engaged then the game switches to a side-scroller. It’s an interesting system and means that the player always knows what they can do in any situation and can focus on combat when it arrives. The exploration is the weaker part, however, with there being no clear indication of where to go and lots of environmental blocks after you got a certain distance.
Combat is clearly where the game needed to be at its best and it kind of manages it. Essentially Hiroki can attack with either a light or heavy attack or a block. He has a stamina meter that will lower if he strikes or blocks as well as a counter move. The counter is the most useful skill as it costs no stamina and opens opponents up to a combo. Initially, combat is pretty stagnant but it can get more interesting as new combos are unlocked. The problem is that it never really progresses from there. You would expect to get some awesome super attacks or spectacular enemies but it never really happens. The most cinematic attack you get is just a finisher and the opponents don’t go much past a guy with a sword or spear. Even the more monstrous enemies fight in essentially the same way as the bandits from the game's beginning.
Visually the game is, again, a bit of a mixed bag. Trek To Yomi makes use of a black and white colour palette. This makes sense, considering its aim to pay homage to the films, but it does come with its own issues. Sometimes this art style looks amazing when dealing with the destroyed village. However, it often means that some of the finer and more interesting details are missed. For instance, there are some horror-themed chapters but it becomes difficult to differentiate them from the other sequences as there is no change to the colour palette. It is an even bigger issue in combat and I will explain why as simply as I can. The signal to counter is a small flash of light on the opponent's sword. Now, imagine trying to see a small grey flash on a small grey sword against a grey background... That’s all you need to know.
The camera meanwhile keeps moving around and takes different angles in different combat sections. You could have a simple side-on shot in one fight, then an overhead behind a paper screen in another. This is cinematic but it can mean that some fights are hard to see, or at least harder to see than they would have otherwise been. There is also an issue with being able to connect with the characters. This is due to the distance the camera keeps from the main cast and the lack of any real facial animation. In truth, they almost appear as dolls to the player.
Now, it might sound like I hate this game, what with its myriad of issues but the truth is…I kind of don’t. You see, if we look at it without the examples of what it is trying to ape then yes, it’s not a fantastic game. However, if you love those old movies then this is everything those are. Those films weren’t particularly emotive, the action was very muted and the plot was often very simple. These were the aspects that fans loved and Trek To Yomi knows this.
However, for all that the combat is irritating to play and it does become dull after a while. If you’re not someone invested in the old samurai movies, then it probably will have an issue holding your attention for long. If you are a fan though, then this might be a perfect love letter for you to enjoy.
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