I’ve been a fan of samurai films and the works of Akira Kurosawa for years, so when I heard Trek to Yomi was a game that paid homage to both, I knew I had to check it out.
Trek To Yomi
Developed By: Flying Wild Hog, Devolver Digital
Platforms: PCs, PlayStation 4|5, Xbox Consoles
Release Date: May 5, 2022
In Trek to Yomi, you play as Hiroki, a young swordsman sworn to protect their town after the tragic death of their master. Years later, when a powerful bandit threatens the entire area, it’s up to Hiroki to save the village and the surrounding countryside from this bandit lord and all who follow him. The game, like many samurai films, is set in the Edo period (between 1600 and 1868).
Make no mistake about it, this game is, from top to bottom, a complete homage to both Akira Kurosawa and every samurai film you can think of. A prime example: the main character’s teacher is named Sanjuro, a clear reference to the character Toshiro Mifune plays in both Yojimbo and Sanjuro, two of Kurosawa’s samurai films. The game is even in black and white, the same format some of the most iconic samurai films have used over the years.
The gameplay is mostly set up like a traditional side scroller game. As Hiroki runs from one side of the screen to the other, he’ll be confronted by a series of enemies that have to be eliminated before he can move on to the next scene. The introductory mission teaches the player a few basic fighting combinations that are expanded upon as you progress through the story.
Aside from being in black and white, which you admittedly don’t find too often in a video game, one thing I really love about Trek to Yomi is how the game plays with perspective. Instead of having the camera follow over the character’s shoulder, the camera switches to a new scene and stays in a static location while your character moves through the scene, allowing you to move closer to and farther away from the camera depending on where you are. This allows for some unique camera angles and it really does make you feel like you’re playing out a movie.
Trek to Yomi has four levels of difficulty you can play through on. For this review I played through on Kabuki, the equivalent of story mode in other games. However, while things are clearly made easier for you in this mode, that doesn’t mean Trek to Yomi suddenly becomes a walk in the park.
I quickly learned the hard way that you cannot get away with spamming the same attack over and over like in other games. If you do attempt to just keep using the same attack and hoping for the best, the game will eventually make you pay for it by switching up the type of enemies you face. The further you go in an area, the more difficult the enemies become to defeat and eventually that single attack no longer works. In other words, you’ve got to learn at least the basic fight combinations if you want to keep progressing in the game.
Speaking of progress, I’m very impressed with Trek to Yomi’s save system. Saving the game in Trek to Yomi works by “praying” at shrines you encounter as you move through the area. This not only automatically saves your progress, it also restores all of your health. While I haven’t played through the entire game, thus far the prayer shrines appear to be fairly evenly spaced through the area, meaning that you can proceed without too much stress about losing progress. However, be sure that you do save anytime you see a shrine, because it only takes a few mistakes to lose all your health and be kicked back to the last place you saved at.
Another important thing to note about these shrines is they can only be used once during a play through. Meaning, if you work your way backwards through an area, you won’t be able to save your progress there. And if you don’t see any shrines around for a while, don’t be afraid to explore the area, especially if you see a path branching out. Some of the prayer shrines are hidden in tucked away corners, so you’re rewarded for exploring by finding an additional place to save the game and restore your health.
There are a few cons to Trek to Yomi that I wanted to draw attention to. One is that, despite the game’s beautiful appearance, it’s not always clear where you’re supposed to go next. A good example: during the game’s introductory mission, I spent close to ten minutes trying to find a way to move a log because I thought I was supposed to help bar a gate. Except then I turned down a street I hadn’t before and suddenly encountered the next wave of enemies. This is a relatively small nitpick as most of the time it’s clear where you’re supposed to go next.
Another con is the excessive time it takes to load the game at the beginning. I’m not sure if this is because I’m playing on an early copy of the game or because I’m on a PS4 and not a PS5, but every time I’ve loaded the game thus far, it’s taken a bit of time to get loaded. This is frustrating as most people, like me, want to turn the game on and go right away. Having to wait each time sort of ruins the moment.
In conclusion, Trek to Yomi is absolutely worth picking up as it provides an enthralling samurai adventure that Kurosawa himself would be proud of. Every time I returned to the game it felt like I never left and I got a thrill of accomplishment every time I figured out how to advance to the next area. Even if you’ve never played a side-scrolling game before, Trek to Yomi lays things out in such a way that it feels fun and easy to get into. This is a game worth picking up.