Trek to Yomi released yesterday, May 5, 2022 on PC and Xbox & PlayStation consoles. I waited an extra day to post it, because I had one boss fight left and was hoping to finish the game before sharing my thoughts. Since many reviews went up yesterday, I decided to take more of “A Game Diary” approach.
What is Trek to Yomi?
Trek to Yomi is a gorgeous cinematic action-adventure game where you follow Hiroki’s journey to seek retribution. The journey begins as a young Hiroki, but soon jumps forward into adulthood. It all takes place in feudal Japan, during the age of the Samurai.
“As a vow to his dying Master, the young swordsman Hiroki is sworn to protect his town and the people he loves against all threats. Faced with tragedy and bound to duty, the lone samurai must voyage beyond life and death to confront himself and decide his path forward.”from the FLYING WILD HOG website
What makes Trek to Yomi great?
I chose three subjects to showcase what’s so great about Trek to Yomi.
1 | VISUALS
From the very beginning, playing Trek to Yomi transported me back to the world of Ghost of Tsushima (in Kurosawa* mode). Of course, the gameplay, mechanics and art style are all very different from Ghost of Tsushima. Trek to Yomi is not an open world, free-to-roam samurai adventure. This game is more of an adventure on rails. As you travel through this beautifully-stylized world, you are traveling from area to area, screen to screen (it’s a side-scrolling action game).
Over the nine hours that it took me to beat this game, I managed to snap over 150 screenshots and capture over 50 gameplay videos. I found myself stopping to capture moment after moment in this beautiful world. The visuals feel as if the game was worked on with the help of an Oscar-worthy cinematographer, who kept every single moment in mind. At so many points, I took a photo then moved one or two steps and had to take an “even better” photo.
The thing about the visuals is that Trek to Yomi does not feature the most high-quality, high-resolution character design — it doesn’t need to. What makes the visuals stand out is the use of great art direction techniques. Techniques like the grainy black-and-white (Kurosawa) filter, dynamic lighting, the use of depth of field, and even the immersive sound design. These creative choices come together to make one of the most gorgeous games I have ever played.
Hiroki Close Up
It was through close ups like this one where
I noticed the character design was not as
fully-detailed and buttery smooth as I pictured.
Due to the use of the techniques above, it didn’t
really matter. It’s only when you stop to really look
closely that you notice these small imperfections.
A valuable lesson that I have learned from photographing live events, comedy shows, and other times I’ve had to use manual focus is how a black and white filter can salvage most slightly out of focus images. In fact, this tactic can sometimes even turn a simple photo into a work of art.
While I use this tactic to save my mediocre photography, I don’t think the game designers were thinking “This game is ugly, let’s clean it up with a black and white filter.” This was done intentionally. Like I said, every shot and moment in Trek to Yomi is carefully planned out to look amazing.
*Kurosawa mode: the black and white grainy filter that gives the game that old samurai film style, like a classic Akira Kurosawa film. In fact, as I edit this post I have Yojimbo, a Kurosawa film, playing on the TV while I drink tea.
2 | COMBAT
Trek to Yomi begins like most action-adventure fighting games. Hiroki starts off with a basic moveset featuring only a few simple attacks and blocks. Throughout his journey he unlocks new attacks, blocks, combos and abilities. Even after finishing the game, I hadn’t unlocked the full move set. That’s fine though, because I found my top few combos early on, and focused primarily on mastering those.
The quality of Trek to Yomi’s combat is elevated by its attention to detail. The combat system feels fantastic whether you’re ferociously attacking on the offensive, or hanging back and countering on the defensive. Fighting never becomes repetitive, since there are many types of opponents to face.
Some minor details that stood out during combat were unique moments that didn’t happen all that often. For example, in the Bridge Comat video above each enemy falls into the water after being defeated. While it’s just a small animation detail, it adds so much as the bodies float towards and off screen down river — one even fell on a passing boat.
The video below, Mind your Surroundings, showcases two other small details from a fight. It begins with a barrage of incoming fire arrows from across the village that Hiroki must avoid. This happened earlier in the game as well. The second is the shadow fight behind the silk screen. As this was battle was happening I knew I had to capture the moment.
Something I didn’t fully embrace until the final battle in Trek to Yomi was being patient in a fight. Parrying and blocking are the keys to staying alive and in control of Hiroki’s stamina meter. Even though I know I’m better when I focus on defense in any fighting game situation, I still tend to rush opponents like a fool.
It’s because of this mentality that I end up losing the same fights over and over. Every time I come back I believe my rush technique will work, but I end up getting frustrated with the fight and need to take a break instead. Most times (and in many games) I’ve become frustrated with a particular fight thinking I’ll never beat it only to come back later and win on my first or second attempt. I also forgot about my ranged weapons most of the time.
3 | JOURNEY
Overall, Trek to Yomi was a relatively short experience. I was able to beat the game in about a week (or nine hours of gameplay, according to my PlayStation 5). This felt like the perfect amount of time for this game. It wasn’t until the very end, after reviewing my gameplay photos and videos that I noticed the huge difference in health and stamina by the end of my journey.
When I think about my journey as Hiroki, the story never overstayed its welcome. The game never got boring because it continued to add a few new elements all the way up to the very end. I remember reaching what felt like the middle point of the game before working on my first puzzle. Even up to the very end, new enemies, scenarios and mechanics were introduced.
There’s a great mix of exploration, puzzles, combat, and searching for hidden areas in Trek to Yomi. A fight is never too far away, but there are also times where you are safe to explore freely. By exploring you may even come across a hidden trap to take out a group of enemies below — I found a few of these.
Each night, while playing Trek to Yomi, I felt like I had to earn my samurai skills all over again. I played through the story nightly and every time I jumped back in I was a bit sloppy. I didn’t remember my attacks and my parry timing was way off at the start, but after about thirty minutes to an hour I would find my bearings.
The story starts off very grounded in the real world. As your town is being burnt to the ground. As Hiroki, you must fight to save your home and neighbors. From there, the game takes a twist into a sort of Samurai Haunted Mansion in the underworld, where you must defeat ghost samurai to make your way back to the living world.
There is so much that I love about Trek to Yomi and I didn’t get to share all of it here. I hope that what I did share gets someone excited to experience the game for themselves. I’m so happy that the team sent out review codes early, so that I could have the chance to beat the game before sharing my thoughts without feeling like I rushed the experience.
Trek to Yomi is such a visual masterpiece. I can even see myself going back and playing through Hiroki’s adventure again in the not so distant future.
Trek to Yomi is available now on PC and Xbox & PlayStation consoles.
*A review code was provided to myVGBC.com by the publisher.