Trek to Yomi marks a departure from the first-person shooters that Flying Wild Hog is known for, as it mostly originated in the mind of developer Leonard Menchiari. Set in 19th-century Japan, this 2.5D game has no wacky guns or noisy protagonists; just a dark story about a warrior influenced by samurai films of the 1950s and 1960s. While its lovingly crafted visuals pay homage to these influences before thoughtfully deviating from them, Trek to Yomi also creates some of his problems during this journey.
Trek to YomiThe style of the game catches the eye from the title screen because of how quickly and concisely it conveys the right tone. Black and white visuals, an exorbitant amount of film grain, and a letterbox perspective combined with kanji and music immediately tell the viewer to expect something similar to an Akira Kurosawa film.
These elements not only serve as effective shorthand, but are used well, not just cheaply or thoughtlessly. Letterboxing in other games such as Evil within and Order: 1886 was a petty gimmick that only seemed like it was meant to squeeze more performance out of the hardware; a clumsy excuse that fooled no one, especially since in both cases she hid shooting over her shoulder.
The difference is that Trek to Yomi works with this aspect ratio to crop frames and create really outstanding compositions. Wider angles are often satisfactorily symmetrical, or illuminate impressive scenes that direct the player’s eye to important details, such as a large building in the distance. A fixed camera angle allows this as it allows the developer to create more impressive backgrounds that also use lighting and movement to propel players forward and only occasionally obstruct important pieces of the environment. With a locked camera and a tighter aspect ratio that knows how to frame its scenes, Trek to Yomi earns those cinematic touches in ways other games use only fruitlessly.
MORE: Ghost of Tsushima: Director’s Cut Island Iki Is Mandatory DLC In PS5’s Humble Update
It also doesn’t just randomly use its black and white color palette. While a brilliant game in other respects, Ghost of TsushimaKurosawa Mode has never been anything more than an instant distraction as the main game was built with a lot of vibrant hues that were always the focus of its creation. It was fitting, as this open-world action game was great, but it meant it couldn’t be built around that more limited set of colors.
Trek to Yomi was built and lit with this in mind and thrives on that foresight. Shadows can obscure or obscure characters appropriately, which the game uses to make the villain more menacing, as well as add mystique to the protagonist Hiroki. But his use of lighting is far more impressive.
Many of Trek to YomiPlaces are lit up, which is a smart way to contrast dark shadows with well-lit levels that are lit by natural light. He also uses these flames as a way to play with silhouettes, resulting in visually appealing combat scenarios of duels on rooftops lit by moonlight, or battles where the player is behind thin shoji walls. Fire has rarely been used so effectively, as it not only adds suspense and urgency to the narrative, but also pairs with a unique visual style to create memorable scenarios. Sometimes it gets too dark and some collectibles or items can be hard to see, but the flair this approach brings to the game more than makes up for the disadvantages it also brings.
RELATED: Trek to Yomi Track Exclusive Announces Samurai Game Soundtrack
The allusions to Kurosawa also go far beyond the black and white depiction and the time period that has passed since. Trek to Yomi uses the movement for which the famous director was known. Kurosawa was a master at creating action shots in which the camera, characters, or weather were never static, which either helped wordlessly tell a story or kept the audience’s attention.
Trek to Yomi filmed in the same way, as there is almost always something going on in the background or foreground. Soldiers can run in the distance and can sometimes even jump into the play space to start a duel. Giant structures can collapse right in front of the player. Innocent civilians often run around, usually either watching in horror as their city burns or desperately trying to escape the invaders who lit the flames. This constant but never overwhelming flurry of subtle and grandiose movements ensures that the frame – and by extension the acting – never stagnates.
It also affects how the camera moves. Even though it looks like a side-scroller, the camera sometimes flips behind Hiroki or takes a shot from above to show something bigger. Many of them happen during the action, such as jumping over a log or sliding down a ladder, which is another touch of Kurosawa’s style. Trek to Yomi is already a tense experience and it mainly draws its energy from active shots and live environments.
The actual storytelling on top of these systems is not as compelling, although it still benefits from these systems. Hiroki’s journey begins on the familiar paths of honor and protecting his home from invaders, but takes a supernatural twist that veers off the beaten path. This twist could bring something new to the genre, as well as explore Hiroki’s guilt and regret in a more extravagant way that is fully supported and complemented by the aforementioned cinematic techniques. Most of it goes by way too fast – a bad side effect of the fast pace – and it doesn’t all make sense, but a surreal take on classic samurai clichés combined with great performances means Trek to YomiThe narrative can still take a few punches in the gut.
There are many less metaphorical belly punches in the game’s combat. Combat is mostly about knowing when to block, hit, and dodge, as is the case with many sword-based games. At best, the fight can be a bloody dance where players use their moveset to parry lethal blows and quickly retaliate to cut their opponents to ribbons. However, Trek to Yomibattles are rarely as satisfying due to many fundamental flaws.
The timing on the block can be a bit awkward since it doesn’t happen quickly and because the game slows down when it’s time to parry, which is off-putting as it throws off the rhythm. It’s also not possible to switch sides while holding the lock button, which is a weird flaw that results in a lot of cheap hits. Trek to Yomi also sometimes does not respond to button presses in and out of combat. Fortunately, numerous checkpoints and instant loading make these problems less painful.
However, one of the biggest issues with its melee mechanics is a set of powerful offensive moves. At the very beginning of the second level, players gain access to a simple three-button chain that stuns almost every non-boss enemy in the game, as well as opening them up for an execution that grants health.
Although this is already bad, the game gives players an even faster and easier combo with the same properties in the next stage. As long as the last hit hits, it’s a free kill that refills most of the health bar. This is so useful that it completely negates the need to use any other techniques and makes the fight pointless and repetitive. The awkward hack animation is just a cosmetic issue, while it’s a fatal gameplay-focused issue that unfortunately brings a decent, albeit imperfect, combat system to its knees.
Trek to YomiGameplay issues – as well as the staggering lack of a chapter select feature – detract from the gameplay and mean his swordsmanship is nowhere near as sharp as his performance. Luckily, this presentation cuts deep with the cinematic flair that it borrows from its inspiration, puts to good use, and deviates when needed. Traveling to Yomi is not easy, but well worth it.
As explained in ComingSoon’s review rules, a score of 7 is «Good». A successful entertainment that is worth a try, but it may not be to everyone’s taste.