Review – Trek to Yomi (Switch)
Tell me, Musashi: does your clan speak still of the legend of Hiroki? The boy who became a man in the passing of a summer’s wind, chasing away innocence and ignorance with a single, brutal gust. Of the one who held guilt and love in the same clenched fist, unable to let go of the past. His blade sang through the air like the cry of the swallow, releasing the wicked from the bonds of life and returning their tarnished souls to the judgment of Kami-Sama. Hiroki bears no title, for the keepers of steel have no ties to this earthly realm, yet he was tethered by two thin strings. His oath to his fallen master, and his love for his master’s daughter, were all that kept him bound to this world. His tale is one both bloody and tragic, but we tell it again and again to remind the young and old that justice and vengeance are two sides of an ancient coin.
Trek to Yomi is a gorgeous homage from Flying Wild Hog and Devolver Digital, that has a very clear mission statement of crafting a classic samurai movie. Shown entirely in black-and-white, this cinematic game puts you in the shoes of Hiroki, a young man who’s village is attacked by bandits in the feudal era of Japan. Hiroki bears witness to the death of his sensei and vows to uphold the code of the samurai, as well as protect his sensei’s daughter, Aiko. Several years later, Hiroki sets out to defeat an evil tyrant wreaking havoc on all the small villages, and seeks revenge as he believes the tyrant is the one who orchestrated the invasion of his village that lead to his master’s death.
For those looking for a massive game that will take weeks or months to complete, Trek to Yomi is the wrong horse to bet on. A side-scrolling action game with minimal exploration elements, players can bang out the main storyline in just a few hours. There are no multiple endings and no mysteries to solve, only collectibles and some upgrades hidden throughout the game. Hiroki knows most of what he needs to know after the introduction to the game, and players would do well to pay attention: light attack, heavy attack, block, parry, dash.
As the game dictates through presentation and ideology, the most effective form of combat is to parry and hit, retreating when necessary. You can and will unlock additional combos as the game progresses, but most of them are unnecessary in the grand scope of things. You can usually just use the light combo to deal with minor enemies and fuller combos for mini bosses and bosses.
There are also ranged weapons that can be unlocked throughout the play, and ammunition for this weapons are hidden in the game itself. To me, I didn’t completely enjoy the inclusion of these items: it took me out of the momentum far too much. In fact, during the final fight, the homemade gun that I eventually got made the climactic fight a bit too easy. I thought it wouldn’t take as much health off of someone as it did, but, if you can basically reduce the very last opponent to half health with just a couple bullets, it neuters a bit of the challenge.
This might be something where a lot of players would check out, at least in terms of game play. What you see in the first fifteen minutes of Trek to Yomi is repeated throughout, and it never really changes. There are moments of discovery and intrigue that helped perk things up, like the realization that the game ISN’T a completely linear pathway. With a little attention to detail, players are able to find nooks and crannies that benefit you in multiple ways.
A hidden cave with a save shrine and a health upgrade. A separate path to avoid an entire series of fights. And, my personal favorite, hard-to-see doors and ladders that let you strafe the upcoming enemies and then trigger traps that take care of the fight entirely thanks to falling rocks or logs. These moments I loved the most because it gave more agency to Hiroki as a clever warrior and not just a sword-driven berserker clouded by rage and his hat.
Also, Trek to Yomi is one of the few games where I feel the shift in difficulty changes the tonality of the game overall, and it’s important to figure out this balance for yourself. At the lowest difficulty, most fights are over quickly and easily, allowing players to get the real “I am Death” mentality going. If you just want this to be a brutal showcase of power, set the game to Kabuki and call it a day.
However, by slotting the game into the medium level, there’s an excellent dynamic of skill and pressure that gives a serious emotion of grim determination. The lower enemies can still be dispatched well (because even Edo-era warlords sometimes hire idiot grunts), but each squad has someone who knows how to use a sword and can stand well as a result. It changes it from Kill Bill to Yojimbo, and the player can let Hiroki be the hero they want. Warning about the highest difficulty level: I just kept getting my ass kicked. Enjoy it if you’re that level of masochist.
So with short game time and even shorter time to learn the game, what’s the appeal? In short, Trek to Yomi is oozing with prestige and presentation. Entirely in black-and-white, this is one of the most cinematic titles I’ve ever played. Not in the sense that the graphics are so close to real I can almost see Norman Reedus’ junk, but in the sensation and feeling of being in a movie.
There’s so much seamlessness to how the game progresses through the different villages and countryside you are enveloped in a blanket of solitude and stress, being alone but constantly surrounded by danger. The different areas feel lifted straight out of a made-for-tv jidaigeki, almost to the point where I feel like I can see a set designer off to the side in one of the caves. The lighting is so stark that you can’t help but stare at the shift from burning huts to sparse forests and everything in-between. It captures the imagination instantly and keeps you locked in.
Also, as a game developed by a Western company, I love the attention to detail in language, even if it’s a bit patchwork. The mixing of different Japanese dialects – using expressions and grammar from Sengoku, Taiso and Meiji eras – showcase the patchwork of how the jidaigeki style has evolved over the years. Instead of just leaning on Kurosawa to do all of the heavy lifting, Flying Wild Hog seems to nod towards Tokuzo (the Zatoichi series), Kudo (13 Assassins), and even Watsuki Nobuhiro (Rurouni Kenshin). Much like how Ghosts of Tsushima touched upon so many elements of Japanese design, so too does Trek to Yomi do its best to acknowledge all the elements that influenced this journey.
From soundscape to visual creation, it’s a marvelous creation that is like a great film unto itself. You can play it once and enjoy it over a long afternoon, or this might become a mainstay in your own collection to revisit as often as you pop in Gojira or Ran. Trek to Yomi successfully locks in the hearts and minds of the players from the drop with dramatic stings, grainy visuals and unabashed affection for the inspirations that made this project come to life.
It’s a shame that, for whatever reason, screenshots have been disabled on the Nintendo Switch, because I would love to show firsthand that there is little difference between the Xbox and handheld versions. Still, it overall didn’t affect my play, and the end result is still the same: a battlefield soaked in blood, a boy fulfills his debt, and the player is left torn between relief and unease. Was this truly the only path to redemption? Or was the loss worth the price of revenge?
Delicious black and white detail to give the full effect of being in a classic samurai movie, with some slightly gritty textures that could either be the Switch’s processor or on purpose, not entirely sure.
Fast, twitch-like swordplay combined with overpowered range attacks means the player masters the core concept quickly and needs to enjoy repetition for the next few hours. Can be rather boring when certain sections just repeat themselves again and again.
Magnificent voicework combined with plenty of soft, period-appropriate notes, some constants can be overwhelming (people screaming, discordant flames), but still captures the effect wonderfully.
Fun Factor: 9.0
I was mesmerized by what I was playing and wanted to keep drinking in the story sip by sip. My death almost took me out of the game, but quick respawn allowed players to push forward as though it were merely a blip on the film.
Final Verdict: 8.5
Trek to Yomi is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, PC, and Nintendo Switch.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
A copy of Trek to Yomi was provided by the publisher.