Games have evolved in many ways from the titles of yore, which were solitary experiences with the potential of multiple discs. While games largely an remain contained experiences, we see a lot more of the “saga” archetype, with sprawling stories that last for dozens of hours and follow a similar formula with little pieces of expression spread about the middle to make the journey more exciting. Trek to Yomi is a surprisingly refreshing return to form; a very contained game that knows exactly what kind of experience it’s trying to be. Trek to Yomi pulls direct influence from Akira Kurosawa films in the fact that it’s not only samurai themed, but entirely displayed in black and white. An experience really tailored to really feeling like a samurai out of the movies, Trek to Yomi presents an incredibly concise and satisfying experience through both verbal and visual storytelling, with combat that has more depth than expected.
The initial visual of Trek to Yomi felt like it was going to look cool and play a bit weird, which is almost correct after a full playthrough. Trek to Yomi has a surprisingly expansive world and combat system, which was the most surprising part of the whole game. While the visuals seem bleak, there are a lot of small details that allow the player to find the critical path forward for themselves with minimal help, as well as side routes that either offer different ways of resolving conflict or finding collectibles or new sword skills. With Trek to Yomi being mostly a 2.5D side-scrolling action game, the amount of exploration allowed to the player was a genuine treat. Even with the story, critical path, and action being mostly linear, the optional paths and areas to explore for collectibles and upgrades offered enough of a change of pace to keep exploration interesting. There was always a reason to check whether houses were open, or whether breaks in stone fences were able to be hopped through. These bits of exploration always felt worthwhile with the chance of them being health and stamina upgrades, which was incentive enough to seek everything out. Trek to Yomi does a very good job both with introducing the player to new enemies and situations and empowering the player for making correct decisions. As you beat certain enemies or find certain collectibles, you learn new sword combos that work better in certain situations, or upgrade base actions. This is when the game feels incredible to play, as it’s a game that really rewards you for being good at it. After learning a few sword skills and understanding where they work most efficiently, it’s incredibly easy and satisfying to mow down entire screens of enemies that were giving you trouble just a bit before. Pattern recognition and combo memorization work hand in hand in a non-intrusive way to make the entire experience satisfying.
A short game, Trek to Yomi’s story is about as engaging as a movie. It knows what kind of experience it’s trying to be, and seems like it will give you the no frills samurai experience. About midway through, however, new areas and enemies change this and create a more engaging experience for both the main character and the player, using both the story and the environment as a vehicle to explore character motivations and decisions. A young samurai grown into the assistant head of a village, Hiroki knows combat and loss. With the village being attacked from a young age, Hiroki stepped up and became a pillar of strength as well as a local militia leader. As an adult, Hiroki struggles with duty and relationships, along with being haunted by his past decisions. Throughout the game the player is confronted with many of these concepts, which are on display environmentally as well. The actual journey to Yomi is perilous, both for the mind and the body.
Trek to Yomi is a rare gem to find nowadays. An entirely contained experience that provides what it promises with additional depth as well, Trek to Yomi stands both as an art piece and a game. There are some minor hiccups, such as the time-slow on parry feeling a bit off at times, or certain combos feeling less responsive than others. Ranged weapons, while featured, take a backseat to the sword combat on all fronts. It’s entirely possible to forget them entirely while progressing through the game. Overall an experience samurai film fans shouldn’t miss, Trek to Yomi, while short, is an incredibly captivating experience.
Score: 9 out of 10
Reviewed on Windows PC