Trek To Yomi feels like a playable Samurai movie, and it’s in its commitment to its aesthetic that it stands out in a sea of 2D titles.
Samurai have been part of video games for years, but Trek To Yomi takes a different stance to the likes of Ghost of Tsushima. Unlike Jin Sakai, protagonist Hiroki is, at the start of his journey, a mere child.
This vulnerability, framed in every shot in black and white, complete with film grain, make the opening hour of this 2.5D title feel full of danger. It’s palpable, and is only elevated by excellent audio effects.
Steel meets steel
Hiroki’s village is under attack, and the flames that lick the wooden structures throughout feel too close for comfort, even in monochrome. Our protagonist moves through the level like a scene in a movie, drawing to mind the pseudo-choreography of Sifu.
The difference here is in Hiroki’s almost unsettling lethality. Our budding Samurai is able to cut down rampaging bandits in a sword strike or two, but he can’t take many hits, either.
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That makes combat feel like a dance, looking for animation tells of enemies and preparing to block — or better yet, parry — in order to counter-attack. Direction inputs allow for additional thrust while slicing twice can unleash an upward slash that can spell the end of an enemy, while also opening up Hiroki to a retort.
It all balances so delicately, but parrying is a little trickier (at least when using mouse and keyboard). It was tricky to tell when I was about to block and when I was about to parry, and while the film grain look of Trek To Yomi is clearly a big selling point, I could’ve done with just a tiny bit more visual feedback there.
Move like water
That aesthetic carries through not only the gameplay but through what little dialog there is, too. Even the menus and opening logos are “shot” in black and white, with grayscale rays of light breaking through dense foliage.
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It’s peak Kurosawa, and the filmmaker’s hand can be felt in every frame, whether you’re sparring with training dummies or playing as an older Hiroki out for vengeance. It makes every combat encounter feel special, and while you’ll likely want to push the difficulty up for a real challenge, every fight feels like one for the ages — as the wind swirls through trees and two warriors step backward to prepare.
The whole thing is letterboxed, too, to add to that cinematic feel. That means it may not be for everyone, but the commitment to its visual stylings is absolute and commendable.
Trek To Yomi could be the next big “combat sidescroller”, but it couldn’t be further from the likes of Dead Cells or Katana Zero.
While those titles exude confidence in chaos, Trek To Yomi’s is found in the calm between the clashes of swords. That makes it a potent mix of iconic Japanese cinema and a good ol’ fashioned revenge tale that we’re itching to play more of.
Trek To Yomi is slated for release in 2022.