Title: Trek to Yomi
Developer: Leonard Menchiari, Flying Wild Hog
Release Date: May 5, 2022
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Samurai action games are always conceptually thrilling, but remaining distinct from the crowd is undeniably challenging. With this conundrum in mind, I was unsure if the Devolver Digital-published Trek to Yomi would be particularly memorable due to its presentation being the only noticeably standout factor from a glance. However, after experiencing this journey of grief and redemption, I can confidently state that Trek to Yomi mostly sticks the landing, boasting addictive combat systems and terrific narrative pacing.
Trek to Yomi focuses on protagonist Hiroki as he experiences severe hardship and tragedy, pushing him to confront himself and the path he desires to pursue. While a vague synopsis, this game is relatively brief and detailing plot occurrences would take away substantial impact from prospective players. Still, one of this title’s most qualitative facets is its writing. Each line of dialogue is meticulously crafted to portray Hiroki’s plights and the severity his vicinity faces. Further, the drab aesthetic and coloration enhance this dreary tone.
Above all else, while there aren’t any quicktime events or the like, those aforementioned points coupled with the aspect ratio make Trek to Yomi a genuinely cinematic experience, and that alone makes it worth experiencing. Every locale and combative sequence felt individually memorable because of how much care was poured into the presentation.
Additionally, the sound design and grave score added to the instilled sense of courageous and tragic identity this title emits. Moreover, regarding the cinematic presentation I previously mentioned, each screen has a particular camera angle that enhances that trait. Alongside amping up the scale and scenery, there are a few times where sight is purposefully obstructed during combat. As frustrating as it occasionally was, more creative implementation of this idea could have been genius in constructing the repressive ambiance the game was pursuing in its later stages. But presentation alone doesn’t solidify a game, and Trek to Yomi thankfully understands that.
Players control Hiroki, primarily utilizing his katana and some ranged weaponry earned from select story sequences. Stamina prevents needless spamming from working in various cases, and the 2D-plane battles require a crucial understanding of positioning. The katana gains skills that are all rooted in the same basic light and heavy attacks usable from the beginning. There is also a parry mechanic, which is the crux of the combat system—mindlessly mashing leads to unceremonious, swift deaths, making parrying a vital mechanic to achieve success. Though, the parry timing is rather generous, so as long as you at least remotely detect enemy telegraphs, you should be fine. A fundamental understanding of parrying will be enough to get you through the vast majority of the game, even on its greatest difficulty.
However, the challenge does ramp up in the later hours, with the efficacy of ranged weapons becoming all the more evident. When dealing with crowds of foes or a singular enemy from afar who highly values range, like a spear-user, tools like the bow and arrow can make all the difference. Exploration is another notable aspect that may seem unexpected, given the linear nature of progression. And even though the extent of exploration comprises mini side-paths, a fair amount are relatively well-hidden. They can have a myriad of benefits such as stamina and health upgrades, ornate collectibles, ammunition refills, and more. It’s always worth seeking out these supplemental pathways, especially with how they’re rarely ever out of the way.
One gameplay element I wish was honed in on more were the puzzles, as they felt somewhat mindless amidst their limited number. Most of these elementary tasks solely demand matching appropriate symbols with those perceived in the surrounding environment and not much else. At best, these light genre divergences are moderate palette cleansers, but they could’ve been more involved. In a game thriving with so many thought-provoking pluses, these puzzle incorporations stand out as more head-scratching in meaning than anything else.
Another point of critique I have regards Aiko, one member of the primary cast. While this is ultimately Hiroki’s journey, I would have preferred if Aiko received more screen time to at least better sell the bond she has with Hiroki. At points, she comes off as a blatant narrative device and not much else, when she’s an innate, integral part of Hiroki’s life and purpose. During the game’s introductory sequence, there is a brief period of peace that could have been partially used to showcase more content involving her.
Regardless, even with some gripes, the story was a satisfying experience that even boasts replayability thanks to route divergences in the latter half. There are only a few choices, and they’re abundantly clear in what mentality they induce upon Hiroki too. This simple implementation of player agency effectively shapes certain developments the way one yearns. Lastly of note, performance was silky smooth on PC. This title is not demanding in the slightest, and it’s well optimized so you shouldn’t have much issue with running it.
Devolver Digital seems to be consistently hitting it out of the park with qualitative published titles because Trek to Yomi is yet another home run. This samurai action-adventure embraces its contextual tone with a uniquely stellar presentation, a well-paced story, compelling positional and timing-based combat, and a cinematic flair that ties everything together. In all honesty, it’s impressive how this game managed to richly condense such an experience within roughly 5 hours. I do wish that some boss fights were more challenging and that Aoki was given more focus, but those points don’t take away from how enjoyable, and impactful Trek to Yomi was.
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