Trek to Yomi emulates the style of Akira Kurosawa’s iconic black and white samurai films: rice fields in the wind, villages in flames, a great black vortex in hell. Okay, so Trek to Yomi goes to some places the Kurosawa movies didn’t. But the path there is full of flaws, and I only managed to get past the delicate, floating combat to see where my samurai’s descent into madness would take him.
Need to know
What is that? A 2D side scrolling game in which you take on the role of a vengeful samurai.
Expect to pay: $19.99
Developer: flying wild pig
Editor: return digital
Revised in: Intel(R) Core(TM) i7-5600U CPU @ 2.60GHz, 2.59GHz
After his city is sacked by bandits, protagonist Hiroki must decide whether to remain bound by his duty, protect his loved ones, or seek revenge. It’s a classic samurai thing, but the story is well told as Hiroki faces his personal demons (also literal demons) and I have to make decisions that influenced exactly how this samurai tragedy would end. All of the Japanese voice actors deliver raw performances, and the Hiroki actor in particular manages to convey his downward spiral of anger and regret.
I also like the supernatural elements of Trek to Yomi. Hiroki crosses the line between life and death as he travels through literal hell for the second half of the game. It reminds me of the supernatural elements of Uncharted 1 and 2, monsters and ghostly apparitions taking me by surprise in what I thought was a more grounded world. They add intriguing mysticism without being overbearing.
Unfortunately, combat is light and repetitive, and most of the journey in Trek to Yomi is spent swinging a sword. I spent most of the game repeating the same combos, occasionally parrying enemy attacks to create openings. I had a limited supply of ranged weapons like shurikens and arrows, and I learned some new sword skills along the way, like a flurry of quick attacks and a piercing slash on armored enemies. They all ended up feeling irrelevant when the same parrying and slashing routines could essentially kill all normal enemies.
I was constantly frustrated with how difficult it was to tell when I had parried an attack. Visual feedback is sparse, and the vocal cue is so clipped that I could never consistently capitalize on the opening I made. Combat also feels sloppy elsewhere: I could sometimes see my sword swings clearly connect with an enemy and get no reaction. Are they hiding their hitboxes inside their bodies somehow? (If so, that’s a samurai technique I never learned.) Even when I landed a clean hit, I didn’t feel any kind of impact unless my opponent staggered backwards, which was consistently difficult to trigger.
The wooden controls and animation just can’t match the fluidity of the movie duels that Trek to Yomi so wants to emulate. After dispatching an enemy, I pressed R to turn around and face what was behind me – and nothing would happen. I would have to knead several times for Hiroki to register the action, and the seconds I lost on my back caused me to lose HP and sometimes die.
Dodging is also inconsistent: sometimes I would be able to roll behind an enemy, while other times it would be like rolling straight into a brick wall.
The variety of enemies isn’t Jornada’s forte for Yomi either. At first you’ll be fighting bandits and then supernatural creatures and ghostly apparitions. These enemies use the exact same character models throughout the game. Bosses are a rare break from the monotony and were the only enemies that challenged me to do more than mix up the same combos. One boss made me constantly adjust my positioning on the battlefield. If I got too close to one side of the stage, his wind attack could knock me over and it would be an instant game over.
Exploration mostly follows linear paths from one story to another. Sometimes easy puzzles got in my way, but solving them was trivial because they all used the same design.
Outside of combat, a fixed camera with 3D movement lets you explore collectibles and upgrades such as increased stamina and health. You’ll often find two paths: one that advances the story and one that leads to some sort of collectible or upgrade. The issue here is that it is sometimes difficult to tell which is which.
Wanting to find as many upgrades as I could to make Hiroki better in combat, I would pick one path and keep going, hoping to find what I’m looking for. But if I chose the critical path, I would end up falling off a ledge that wouldn’t let me back up. Trek to Yomi is generous with savepoints before and after almost every encounter, so restarting from a checkpoint is usually an easy option. But it’s strange and counterintuitive to have to save up just to explore these alternative avenues.
I could have forgiven some of Yomi’s design misdemeanors if it weren’t for the glitches blocking progress. Sometimes I would cut the ground after jumping off a ledge. Other times, my character would disappear into thin air after falling off a collapsing roof, nowhere to be found. I would have to restart from a checkpoint to try again or close the game and restart it.
Sometimes, enemy encounters just didn’t trigger, and enemies that were supposed to spawn just didn’t – including the final boss. I had to relaunch the game every time I died and I wanted to fight again because otherwise the arena would be empty.
For all its visual grandeur, Trek to Yomi isn’t much fun. He tries to tell a story worthy of a samurai drama, but the combat never leaves the boring part of a sword training montage: it’s just the same moves, over and over.