Review of Trek To Yomi: Trek to Yomi’s remarkable visual aesthetic is the first thing you notice about the film. Set in feudal Japan during the Edo period, Trek to Yomi is reminiscent of classic samurai films, particularly those by the great director Akira Kurosawa, thanks to its grainy black-and-white filter.
Immaculately composed, almost every shot in Trek to Yomi looks like it could be a piece of art. However, the side-scrolling action game beneath it all continues to be underwhelming despite its gravity. Trek to Yomi’s superb style is undermined by its lack of substance when two massive steel katanas smash in a weightless whimper.
In Trek to Yomi, the protagonist Hiroki’s lethal katana is your primary weapon of choice. Light and heavy blows, parrying, and dodge-rolling as well as ammo-limited weaponry like a bow and shurikens are used to wreak havoc on your enemies. By exploring and picking up items off the established road, you can increase your stamina or health, which determines how often you can block and attack before being exhausted and vulnerable to assault. To cope with foes who appear from the shadows, you’ll be able to employ a combo that lets you attack from the back and then transitions into a series of lightning-fast strikes. Other additional combos will be unlocked as you go.
While you may feel deadly and be able to slay most foes with a few sword strokes, the fact is that fighting is a piece of cake for you. Enemies armed with armor and spear-wielding trolls are more difficult to defeat since they can withstand more damage and have more complex combos, and they require you to get closer to them before you can strike a fatal blow. The combat in Trek to Yomi is a concern because defeating these enemies doesn’t always feel satisfactory. Fluidity is lacking while switching between actions, making everything feel light and airy, which is at odds with the game’s beautiful cinematography. Even when surrounded, adversaries tend to attack one at a time, therefore there’s little point in even adopting the mechanic of parrying. Regardless of the type of enemy you’re up against, fighting takes on a predictable rhythm as you parry, attack, and repeat.
Beyond combat, there’s not much of interest. Environmental hazards can be found through exploring alternative routes, such as cutting a rope and sending wood crashing into bandits surrounding a campfire, or opening up the dam to wipe out an entire bunch of enemies. You also have to look at three kanji characters in the environment and then line them up correctly several times in this game. As Hiroki, you’re supposed to be able to read Japanese kanji and not get confused by these riddles, so it’s a bit of a challenge to distinguish between the numerous symbols you’ll encounter.
Finally, Trek to Yomi’s cinematic presentation is eye-catching from the very beginning, doing most of the hard lifting. A young samurai-in-training, Hiroki, is shown practicing with his sword beside his master at the start of the game. Hiroki’s genesis tale provides a natural setting for this educational section, which serves as a springboard for the novel’s central conflict.
To save the village, your master has been summoned by the village elders to protect them from an invading gang of robbers and tells you to stay put. Trek to Yomi’s stunning visual style emerges in both subtle and dramatic ways as Hiroki hurriedly flees the dojo in pursuit of his master.
The camera puts itself behind shops and busy market stalls as you weave between silhouettes as you descend the steps leading into town. Even though you’re free to roam around in 3D while exploring the area, the camera remains fixed to provide the illusion of motion. When Hiroki emerges from the front gate, the camera pans out, allowing you to take in the huge rice fields and mountains looming in the background. The side-scrolling combat in Trek to Yomi shifts to a 2D plane as you battle the robbers advancing on your home. That cinematic mood is further enhanced when you square off against lone warriors in front of beautiful scenery, thanks to the effective perspective shift that results.
In addition to a black and white filter, Kurosawa’s inspiration isn’t limited to that medium. Trek to Yomi may not be able to equal the brilliance of the Japanese director, but it doesn’t mean that it isn’t an admirable homage. Each frame is brought to life by the utilization of natural phenomena such as wind, rain, fire, and mist, which is reminiscent of Kurosawa’s style. A few times throughout a scene, the camera moves as if the filmmaker himself were behind the lens, seamlessly transitioning between wide-angle and close-up shots. As a black and white game designed from the bottom up, Trek to Yomi’s image really shines. Contrast, shadows, and the collision of light and dark tones prevent each shot from seeming as flat as it would if a basic filter were just applied.
Trek to Yomi, in contrast to Kurosawa’s samurai flicks, is fast-paced and systematic. This is just one of the many ways the tale and characters depart from Kurosawa’s style. For this reason, Hiroki vows to safeguard his community and those close to him from the marauding bandits who have been terrorizing it for years. At a later point in Hiroki’s life, when the village is no longer peaceful, he sets off on a quest for vengeance to atone for failing to keep the vow he made to his dying master.
With little more than a minute of speech between fights, it’s a fast-paced tale that keeps you on your toes. There aren’t enough personalities to get invested in, therefore the emotional beats don’t work as well as they should. This is a well-crafted story that enhances the action but never completely grips the reader. Somewhat disappointing at moments (just briefly touching on Shinto mythology, for example), but it accomplishes what it sets out to achieve by creating momentum with a vengeance-fueled adventure.
Trek to Yomi’s gameplay issues is made all the more galling by the fact that the game’s visuals are so stunning. Few other games have been able to capture the look and feel of Akira Kurosawa’s iconic samurai films quite like this one. If you have an Xbox Game Pass subscription, this game is a must-have only to admire the attention to detail that goes into each frame. If only the core game wasn’t such a disappointment.