The style isn’t the only thing black and white
By Alex Orona
Developed by Flying Wild Hog Studios and Published by Devolver Digital, Trek to Yomi is the newest indie outing that gives lots of cinematic action with a heavy dose of 50’s and 60’s samurai inspiration. Through its use of 2.5D side scrolling, we act as a samurai slicing and dicing their way through countless enemies to protect family, country, and a personal quest for vengeance with a surprisingly large amount of historical accuracy.
Yomi is the japanese word for the Underworld, so it would make sense that a revenge tale of a young man named Hiroki could inevitably face death. Hiroki’s story begins as a student, learning the ways of a samurai when suddenly his village is attacked and his master killed in front of him. From there it moves quickly with time jumps to another instance of an attack on his village and his persistent quest to find the ones responsible.
I mention the quick pace because the game really moves you from set piece to set piece. We start in a mostly 2D plane that includes some variable 3D-ish spaces for depth and optional exploration. You are rarely in a single locale for long as levels are mostly linear with some off path optional areas or paths that can lead you to upgrades, ammunition or collectables. Outside of those optional alternative routes, you are pretty much moving forward through levels, chopping down any enemy in your path until you get to the boss of the chapter.
Combat occurs in the same 2D plane, but enemies could be waiting in the foreground/background and cannot be interacted with until they enter that space. Some enemies have armor or ranged attacks, but are mostly pretty one note. You have your basic light attack, heavy attack, roll, parry and a projectile. Progressing the story unlocks new combos that provide some extra flourish, ease in combat, or varied ranged weapons to avoid repetition.
All of these things are great to see but are rarely necessary. Combat can be boiled down to waiting for a shine indicator to parry, attack, repeat. Combos and finishers add extra style but oftentimes I felt myself going back to the same pattern of combat leading to an overall bland feeling. I found that while combos looked cool, they didn’t have the same effectiveness as purely using your parry and light attacks. The enemy attack windows were pretty small, so to get more than one attack in without being hit didn’t feel worth the combo attempt. Sadly combat is the least compelling part of Trek to Yomi.
What really stands out in this game is the style. Everything is played in a black and white film grain in hopes of bringing the nostalgia for films like the 1950’s film Seven Samurai. It’s a really cool aesthetic and done well. Also, the collectables in the game are models of real world Japanese historical items. Each comes with some extra information in the menu to actively teach some of Japan’s rich samurai history. As a Japanese history buff, this was a neat little addition that had me slow down in my game play if only to read more.
Outside of the history and style, Trek to Yomi is sadly all style with little substance. The Samurai fights are pretty bare bones, even with ranged weapons and combos. They seldom felt necessary and combat in general was used to slow down your progression down a relatively straight path forward. Of course there are other paths but they are few and far between. The levels, despite being straight forward, were interesting and diverse. Sometimes you are chasing down raiders in a monsoon, the next you’re in the underworld fighting demons. If you’re going to play on a single road, at least make it an interesting path. One comment to note is in the game’s difficulty.
There are lantern check points that would reset your health and stamina while also saving the game. These were in abundance to the point that it felt humorous. I’d hit a lantern before a bridge, fight two enemies on the bridge and there would be a lantern waiting for me on the opposite side. There were times that I’d be on a particularly difficult run of multiple enemies that I’d have to keep repeating the fights over and over, but these were infrequent and weren’t until the final chapters of the game. I played on medium so there’s room to adjust the difficulty to your tastes but it still felt much easier and safer than what I’d initially expected.
Trek to Yomi is a unique and varied historical samurai game that wants to tell a new tale of that world. They focus so heavily on style and historical accuracy that in the end, they forget that the minute to minute gameplay needed to be equally engaging. That isn’t to say that there isn’t anything to like here. The value is found in realism and story writing. Bringing history to life in a visual interactive medium is always a fun conceit. The newest Assassins Creed trilogy is a prime example, but unfortunately with this game, the overall gameplay mechanics just needed more to keep me fully engaged.