Genre: Action/Side scroller/Samurai Slasher
Developed by: Flying Wild Hog and Leonard Menchiari
Published by: Devolver Digital
Release date: May 5th 2022
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One and Microsoft Windows
Platform I played on: Microsoft Windows
Warning: This review dips into some minor spoiler story elements.
Back in March, I was lucky enough to get my hands on a 40-50 minute demo for Trek to Yomi. In case you missed out on my initial demo review, I was fairly impressed with what I had experienced already, and now thanks again to Devolver Digital, I was able to get my hands on a review copy of the full game.
Right off the bat (or should I say Katana), the game has quite impressive backdrops and set pieces which is enhanced by the various fixed camera angles as you trek through the levels, viewing the full scale spectacle of said backdrops and pieces. It is clear that this game is heavily inspired by, and is a love letter to Akira Kurosawa films. So with my introduction out of the way, let's dive in further into this review;
Story This story follows Hiroki and his journey in keeping an oath to protect his village from the forces of evil. The story begins when Hiroki is in his youth, and in training with his master. That is, until something terrible happens to their village, which then sets Hiroki's path forward pursing the oath to his dying master. Skipping ahead a few years after this life changing event, players assume control of an older Hiroki tracking down those responsible for the destruction of his village and master.
While themes such as loss and honour aren't new, the story can be predictable.
However, this doesn't necessarily mean that it's a bad thing. Throughout the game there are a few instances that will allow you to actually pick a 'path' and choose what's most important to you. This happens a handful of times during the game in pivotal moments, which leads to some replay ability; and seeing how each playthrough turns out depending on your chosen path(s). The story is a short experience which is around 5 hours, though of course this all depends on your personal playstyle.
The story overall does delivers a decent, cinematic experience with an equally competent narrative for the most part. Though in saying that I was hoping for a little more character depth, and I wish the narrative was a little bit more gripping.
As I played on PC, I used my Xbox One controller which played quite fluidly, and the game's controls were simple to use. There are a few things I have to nit pick apart, however. This includes some actions not responding to button presses, as it sometimes wouldn't trigger when attacking an enemy, or turning Hiroki the direction I intended. I also had a few seconds of frame rate issues, and a glitch moving Hiroki to the incorrect position. Using the D Pad for weapons was fine, but sometimes it felt a bit strange and not always responsive to use especially during combat. Though somewhat frustrating when these glitches did occur on some occasion, it wasn't a huge deal breaker to me and was still playable.
Difficulty wise, when you first start the game it gives you three difficulty options to choose from; Kabuki (easy), Bushido (medium) or Ronin (hard). The Kabuki difficulty is for players looking to just enjoy the story with minimal combat difficulty, however you'll still need to time your dodge and swings at enemies . Bushido difficulty is a mix of story and sword, with an equal amount of combat difficulty. A fairly good in-between for players looking to enjoy the story with some challenge. The third difficulty is called Ronin, which is for players looking for a bigger challenge. Your sword swishes and actions are even faster, and enemies are even quicker. The 4th difficulty becomes unlocked after you finish the game for the first time. This 4th difficulty is a 'one hit kill mode'. For some players these difficulties will be a great challenge, and I was glad to see these difficulty options cater to different types of players (which is always welcome!). You can also switch the difficulty at any time during the game, though you'll be locked out of any difficulty achievements so keep that in mind.
As the story unfolds in a linear fashion, there are some areas you are free to explore. While you're trekking through each level, if you explore further you'll find a variation of useful upgrades, collectibles and lore you can read about. Speaking of reading as well, you can also view Hiroki's thoughts in his journal.
Weapon wise, not only do you get access to a sick as katana, but you'll have access to an Ozutsu (like a hand held artillery gun), Bo-Shurikens (I wanna say it's like a.. mini dagger/throwing star type weapon) and traditional bow + arrows which are accessed through one push of a button. These weapons are actually effective, but beware the Ozutsu is a slow reload. You get a small amount of ammunition per level - so use them wisely! You cannot escape fights, and you can't evade an area until you kill all enemies. A word of advice, explore where you can to find ammo, as some areas can become quickly overwhelming with enemies, and sometimes a sword won't be just enough (I learnt this the difficult way).
I found the majority of the gameplay fun, despite it's repetitiveness. Though I have to talk about the stamina. The reason I bring this up is due to the fact that you can't evade when you run out of stamina, so instead of being able to do anything you just kind of stand there while you wait for it to regenerate. Enemies will attack you while you can't do anything, regardless of your difficulty. Normally this would be fine as most games do incorporate this element, but in Trek to Yomi, you can't evade, run away or stealth to regenerate stamina back up. Instead, you're stuck in a confined space.
Graphics/Design With a cinematically rich and ultra stylised design, the game's aesthetic is incredibly spot on with the genre and narrative. The black and white palate heavily contributes to this, alongside the dialogue being spoken only in Japanese with English subtitles. The fixed camera angles, while stylistically good, did present some minor issues when in particular combat scenarios; as it did make it difficult to see and combat enemies. Other than that, the camera angles worked effectively.
Soundtrack The soundtrack is perfectly crafted with the use of woodwind and percussion instruments that fits into that era of Edo Japan, while maintaining the game's atmosphere and tone. The sound design as well doesn't go unnoticed, it too is well crafted especially with the sound of the swords hitting your enemies, the sound of the crackling fire and the rain pouring down as you jab your sword into an enemy on a rooftop.
As I have mentioned throughout my review, I had come across some minor glitches, but nothing game breaking (thankfully). There will be day 1 patches that will fix a few things including; visual glitches, performance optimization and animation fixes. On a scale to 1 to Cyberpunk 2077 at launch, Trek to Yomi issues for me personally are a 1 at most on my end.
Trek to Yomi is overall still an impressive game that will likely pop up in at least 1 category at The Game Awards (at least that's my prediction). The story is still an impressive short experience with some replay ability elements, and of course trekking through the difficulty options for those looking for challenge, or collecting all the achievements/trophies. The visual design and spectacle is what stands out the most, with a perfectly crafted soundtrack weaved within. I was hoping for a more gripping tale with more character depth, but if you're looking for a short experience Trek to Yomi is still worth checking out if this genre is any interest to you.
At the time of playing this review copy I was actually very unwell (ah, the pandemic world we live in) so sometimes when I was overwhelmed and didn't want to sword fight, I just used the Ozutsu instead. Reminded me of this iconic (and unscripted) scene from Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark.