There is a lot of be owed to the samurai films of the 1950s. In 1958, acclaimed director Akira Kurosawa released The Hidden Fortress. This grand action samurai epic quickly became one of the most universally acclaimed movies of all time and had a significant influence on the creation of Star Wars in 1977. Many other samurai movies would be influential in the coming decades, especially The Seven Samurai. Trek to Yomi feels like a tribute to those classics while being it’s own experience.
Trek to Yomi is an action-adventure that puts players into the shoes of a young samurai bound by honor and sworn to a promise he made to his fallen master. A joint venture with Flying Wild Hog, Devolver Digital, and Leonard Manchiari, this action experience puts players into the heart of their own grand samurai epic. Trek To Yomi made a big impact when it was released in 2022 and it does so again this year on Nintendo Switch. Trek to Yomi is an adventure of honor and tragedy unlike any other in games.
The Master and The Learner
Feudal Japan. A boy and his master. The way of the Samurai is a journey of discipline and strength. At the center of all Samurai is the noblest of all values and that is honor. Honor is sacrifice and unflinching devotion. Such a commitment can break even the strongest of men. For Hiroki, he knows of this journey and embarks on it, knowing full well the challenge it brings. Witnessing the sacrifice of his master, Hiroki makes a promise to complete his training and grow into a samurai to protect his village. Hiroki grows into a warrior and fights for the people he loves. On one fateful evening, darkness falls and an unholy fire ignites the night sky. Hiroki is put to the test. As a man. As a Samurai, one bound to the code of honor.
Trek To Yomi envelopes itself into the world of 1950s samurai films. It doesn’t merely wear it on its sleeves but instead, fully weaves its thread into that aesthetic. The entire game is in greyscale with multiple haves of black and white. A film grain fills the screen and even distorts the view if players venture into a forbidden area. The audio presentation is from a more analog time in cinema, far before digital processes took over.
Trek to Yomi lives and breathes the world through the lens of the late great Akira Kurosawa. Trek To Yomi holds up very well on the Switch in its presentation. The OLED screen highlights the ruggedness of the film grain and the game holds steady. There is the occasional texture pop-in but nothing that can’t be buffed out in a patch. The sound sampling is crisp with no stutters or interruptions. Trek To Yomi strongly succeeds with its rugged cinematic look on Nintendo Switch. This makes Trek to Yomi a feast for the eyes and ears.
Patience is a virtue
The gameplay for Trek To Yomi can be polarizing. This samurai adventure is not a swift and quick hack N slash that players have become accustomed to from Onimusha to Samurai Warriors 5. Trek To Yomi puts weight, momentum, and force into its gameplay. Players learn the basics from the onset. Each swing of the sword has a sensation of weight and heft. This is not a lightsaber or beam sword but a sword of steal and agility. Each swing of the sword is to be mindful as to where and how it will strike.
Furthermore, Hiroki is human. Hiroki can take a few hits but is vulnerable to enemy attack. Swinging the sword uses a stamina meter that depletes and recharges. Trek To Yomi encourages players to take a few moments to think before acting. Mindlessly slashing will lead to dead ends. Knowing when to dodge, strike, and parry is essential to victory. The combat has visual cues as to when to parry and when to deal a final lethal blow. Armored enemies and mounted soldiers are just some of the ways the combat is mixed.
A Civilized Weapon for a More Civilized Age
Combat does take getting used to. Once players exercise patience, Trek To Yomi has a rewarding combat system where every enemy felled feels like a rewarding victory. Over time, players learn combos and moves that give players more capability in combat. Using roll attacks and learning to turn on a dime are important lessons as the enemy surrounds the player. Combat is locked into a 2D focus but enemies exploit players when the player lacks defense. Enemies use various weapons as well from spears to bows and arrows. Players may use ranged weapons, such as kunai, to defeat foes as well.
The presentation heightens the sensations of combat. Trek to Yomi uses a variety of cinematic viewpoints to highlight the sense of danger and excitement. A sword fight may take place from above or below the subject. Another fight may take place within the shows of a room. Simple battles with enemy regulars become hallmark set pieces. Fighting an archer on a fiery bridge feels like the money shot out of a trailer. It’s an exhilarating choice to make that adds immersion into the game. Boss fights don’t feel like mere obstacles but fateful duels to the death.
Just Like the Movies
The dimensions in combat mean that Trek to Yomi may not necessarily be for everyone. When players think of action and samurai, one immediately brings to mind a kinetic, frenzied sword-based action game, such as Ninja Gaiden or Strider. Trek to Yomi is a more methodically placed action game. Fighting enemies in Trek to Yomi require the right combination of attack combos, parrying and dodging. It’s intentionally more methodical to line up with the cinematic influences the game is replicating.
This direction does make Trek to Yomi a significantly refreshing take on the action-adventure and samurai genre of games. Its gravity is felt with every move and button press, not just because of the wise use of HD rumble but the intentional slowing down of the action. Trek To Yomi gives meaning to the action and combat. The game encourages players to soak themselves into the world that has been depicted.
A long journey
Trek To Yomi does have a few setbacks. The first is the length of the adventure. Trek to Yomi clocks in at about 6-7 hours on a normal difficulty. This is a good length for the price but some might be yearning for more than 7 hours. There are multiple difficulty settings for players to test their mettle with. However, after one playthrough, players may be inclined not to pursue those modes.
The repetitive nature of the combat may also be a turnoff for players. Given the artistic intention, there are no flashy attacks or supercharged abilities. Some may deduce it to be a case of rinse & repeat but it is a satisfying mechanic despite the repetition. As for technical performance, Trek To Yomi holds up very well. The texture pop-ins and the occasional slow-down don’t do much to hinder an otherwise fantastically enjoyable experience. A patch or two should iron the issues out.
A grand epic
When all is said and done, Trek To Yomi is an exhilarating tale with rewarding action and incredible cinematic set pieces. It’s a tale of blood, swords, and honor, portrayed in a cinematic lens that is remarkably immersive and tremendously satisfying. The development team worked to create a love letter and tribute to Akira Kurosawa and succeeded in doing both as well as reinvigorating the side-scrolling action game. Metal Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima has frequently mentioned how in his works, movies and games blend together.
Trek To Yomi is a huge accomplishment of that philosophy. The world of pop culture, including video games, owes a lot to the Samurai films of old. The team should be commended and I cannot wait to see what is next. It is my sincere hope we get more games like Trek To Yomi as there are many artistic visions that have yet to have their time in the gaming spotlight. Trek To Yomi is great. It is simply unlike anything I have played before.
Trek To Yomi was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch OLED model thanks to a key generously supplied to Marooners’ Rock thanks to Devolver Digital and Tinsley PR