As a ’90’s kid, I was all about martial arts enjoying properties like the 3 Ninjas, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Streets of Rage, Mortal Kombat, and anything of the like so seeing the recent resurgence of this vibe in video games has been nothing short of awesome. From the utter beauty of Ghost of Tsushima, to the stellar beat-em-up revival with Streets of Rage 4, to even the unique modern take on hardcore action with the superb Sifu–it’s an amazing time to be a fan of martial arts action, and Trek to Yomi is yet another release to put on your radar.
What Is It?
Developed by Flying Wild Hog, a 40-person team in Poland, Trek to Yomi is a game that spent every effort in being authentic in its approach to tell its ’50’s-’60’s-style story. While its old film black and white look will draw comparisons to Ghost of Tsushima’s Kurosawa mode, what was originally a 2,000-word script evolved into a charming visual experience reminiscent of popular stage plays.
The game puts you in control of young Hiroki, a samurai defender of his village who watched his sensei and home fall to the blade of the conquerer Kagerou. A few years pass, and with Hiroki being a fully fledged samurai, more havoc is wreaked near home and Hiroki is met with having to defend and protect his love while also trying to avenge his past.
At its core, Trek to Yomi is a 2D action game that can be as challenging as you want it to be, while also being fully aware of the fact that every movement a samurai makes should never be wasted.
Why Should I Care?
Trek to Yomi is just cool. There aren’t very many other ways to describe this experience. At that, it does a few things weird that I’ll spend some time talking about, but none of this affects the overall enjoyment people will having playing it.
The game’s first level has you playing as child Hiroki learning the ways of the sword from his sensei. It’s a tutorial. You learn the basics–the weak attack button, the strong attack button, guarding, parrying, and pressing a button to face the other way. As you’d expect, defending yourself and utilizing counter attacks will be key to your success, and using the about face button to turn the other way will be pivotal because enemies will often be coming from both directions.
To keep the game from becoming a mindless hack-and-slash, you have a stamina bar that prevents you from button-mashing–you can still do it, but if you fully deplete the bar, Hiroki gets fatigued for a significant amount of time, leaving him vulnerable to fatal combos from virtually any enemy. So while it’s easy to plow your way through enemies, just about anything can still kill you if you’re not careful.
The game has six chapters that I casually went through, playing a chapter a day, with each chapter lasting roughly 45 minutes give or take a few deaths here and there. It has its frustrating points as far as difficulty goes, but nothing unfair or too hard–especially since you have the option of lowering the difficulty. Part of what makes the game even more approachable is the fact that save points (represented by shrines you can pray at) are plentiful, so even when you do die more than a few times, you can get back to where you were pretty quickly. The action can feel a little bland on easier modes, but by all means, it gets far more interesting the harder you make it, so while I’m not saying you should purposely hurt yourself, the harder difficulties are worth trying.
For the most part, Trek to Yomi is mostly linear and you’ll see yourself traveling from left to right the majority of the time, but the game does a good job of encouraging you to explore each screen you’re on as you’ll find not only weapons to replenish your limited supply but collectibles and other power-ups to increase your maximum stamina and health. When you’re “forced” to explore, the game takes an isometric and 3D point of view, and during these sections, you can’t attack and there won’t be any enemies coming, so this is pretty much your opportunity to fool around in the game’s lush black and white ruins.
Trek to Yomi features a fairly formulaic loop of basic combat, to exploration, to miniboss and repeat right before a more difficult boss at the end of each level. While the formula is obvious, the pacing is well done, which is ideal because of how long each level feels, and they do just enough to make sure the game doesn’t overstay its welcome.
To further immerse players in the experience, the game’s cast features an impressive talent spanning multiple popular anime, and you might notice some of the voices if you’re a fan of isekai like Rising of the Shield Hero or Sword Art Online as the likes of Masayuki Katou, Sarah Emi Bridcutt, Akio Otsuka, and Hiroshi Shirokuma all lend their voices to help tell the story. As great as these voice actors are, I can’t say they’re all that necessary because cutscenes in the game are generally short and very few of them actually feature a detailed look at character’s faces–especially since most of the gameplay takes place on a large 2D plain or isometrically, so it mostly feels cheesy as a result. Then again, the style of ’50’s and ’60’s stage plays a big part of the experience so I guess it’s okay if you’re judging from the back of a theater. Still, having to walk by so much death and hearing nothing but crying men and women does get a little agitating.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
You can make a case for the action being fairly bland or the acting being a little over the top for what’s actually portrayed, but Trek to Yomi is definitely one of those games where if you’re feeling its visual style, you’ll very likely enjoy the experience. As through the motions as combat can feel on easier difficulties, it feels a whole lot more deep if you decide to play on a harder tougher difficulty, and whether you like things simple or you prefer to be challenged, Trek to Yomi remains pretty satisfying. Devolver Digital has another winner.