Trek to Yomi is a combat action game developed by Leonard Menchiari and Flying Wild Hog and is published by Devolver Digital. The game released on May 5, 2022 on all major platforms including Game Pass, and is a blend of both linear 3D environments and 2D sidescrolling action combat, with the visuals and sounds of an oldschool samurai movie. Limited to just black and white colours and with a film grain effect that can be toggled on and off, along with the outstanding and authentic Japanese voice acting, the game had me enthralled from the opening sequence to the end several hours later.
The intro cinematic starts with a dramatic scene of a burning village with the narrator Sanjuro setting the scene. You see a young man, the main character Hiroki, head bowed with a sword held in front of him. The scene transitions to a younger version of Hiroki where he is sparring with Master Sanjuro, his sensei, and you are taught the basics of movement, combat combinations, rotation, blocking, parries, and counter attacks. I loved the amazingly detailed 3D explorable environments which gives life and mood to the backdrops of each scene.
Your training is interrupted as the village has come under attack. Master Sanjuro rushes off leaving Hiroki with Sanjuro’s daughter, Aiko. They decide to investigate and head through the village. It’s here where the clever use of fixed camera angles encourages you to explore freely, displaying incredible detail in the villages and environment backdrops around you. Occasionally you will be able to help a villager who will give you a reward such as a collectible item. The use of bright lighting helped show you the direction to head, and before long you’ll come across the first of the bandits who have slain many villagers. The sound design in the villages, with screams, crying and the crackle of fires spread over the place set an intense mood. Then in the forests away from the screams, the woosh of wind through the trees, sounds of bamboo ornaments rattling and bangs on bells or drums come to the fore and really place you into the Japanese setting.
Combat switches seamlessly to 2D sidescrolling gameplay and is fluid, but even in the easiest Kabuki story mode, you need to time your blocks and parries well as stamina quickly depletes and can leave you in a tired state which opens you for attacks. Enemies can sometimes appear out of the background, which is a great effect, jumping down from a roof, climbing over a fence or appearing from behind cover. The first chapter ends on a rather grim note, and you then fast forward in time where Hiroki is now of the age, we see him first in the intro.
By now you have been awarded things like extra health and stamina, found collectibles and unlocked Bo-Shurikens which you can throw at enemies. You can only carry three at a time so need to be used sparingly. In Kabuki mode, a quick throw of a bo-shuriken and a swipe with your sword will take down the easiest of enemies, while the armoured ones take more tactics. The boss fights require everything you have learned thus far to slowly deplete their health, and on the Bushido difficulty, you really had to plan your attacks and defences.
I am not afraid to admit that after chapter three, I switched from Bushido difficulty back down to Kabuki as I started to struggle with almost every fight involving multiple enemies and an armoured character. You do unlock more skill combinations as you progress the game, to the point you can do such manouvers as pressing back, then light attack to turn around and swing whilst turning. You can also dodge and attack which means you sidestep and swipe back at the enemy, as well as the use of finishing moves if you see your enemy in a staggered state.
The overarching story of Trek to Yomi draws you into the samurai life, playing like a dramatic 60s and 70s Japanese movie involving love, loss, revenge and honour. However, and despite knowing there would be a supernatural twist in the story at some point based on Yomi meaning the underworld in Japanese, I found it quite jarring in the chapters that featured monsters. I knew that Yomi was the Japanese word for the underworld and, given some of the strange happenings around Hiroki, it was inevitable, but still the introduction of monsters and ghosts changed the game’s outlook for me. I think in part because some of the basic monsters cackle similarly to Gollum from The Lord of the Rings. They had similar mechanics to the human adversaries with 1-2 hits for easy monsters and then more agile ones requiring better tactics.
The saving graces though were the striking visuals, moody atmosphere with clever use of camera location and shadows, and the voice acting to keep you honed in on the overarching story. I loved hearing Hiroki’s inner monologue as he kept slaying anything that got in his way to find answers about Aiko and honouring his people. Later chapters featured some environmental puzzles which were simple enough and once solved, the effects used to alter the scene to restore crumbled statues and village structures was amazing.
Overall, Trek to Yomi is a fantastic game and I can’t talk enough about how visually and audibly pleasing it was to play. The black and white style with film grain superbly suited the graphic nature of the samurai way and this was backed by incredibly authentic Japanese voice actors. Every scene had me stopping to investigate the background and surrounds to see where I was headed, and the use of lighting to show the way but also offering side paths to explore which usually netted you with a collectible or upgrade. This game, along with Shadow Warrior 3 earlier this year, has me very on board with anything Flying Wild Hog does next.