Trek to Yomi - Hands-On Preview
You cannot approach a game like Trek to Yomi without being cognizant of where its soul comes from, and as such the lampshade need be hung, that this owes much to the films of Akira Kurosawa, as do so many works across a multitude of media. This is always a danger, in that so many inspired by such films as Seven Samurai or Sanjuro may do so without a deep understanding, or approach the elements in a superficial way that could reduce the resulting work to homage.
With a steady exhale, this is not the case for Trek to Yomi.
Somehow the developers have been able to bring the same living, breathing world of Kurosawa’s many films to a screen, and done so in a way that doesn’t seem a mere mimicry of what inspired it, but holds the bonafides of Japanese cinema and lets you run with it.
In glorious black and white, with film grain and lighting that accentuates silhouettes and matches the style and camera work, there is no escaping what Trek to Yomi aspires to.
The atmosphere envelops you, bringing the villages and surrounds to life with The way in which the mud splatters in the rain, feeling thick and heavy, or how the motes of dust kick up from the road as you speed across them. The thuds of the village alarm feel especially confronting, with each chime echoing in your chest without the warmth of a copper bell, but metal forged in utility. It would do a disservice to the game to try and rattle off each of the elements that are so viscerally brought to the screen. Part of that magic too is that it does so in ways that feel organic and repeatable, but manage this in an interactive environment.
The controls are simple and intuitive, and a well-timed counter is a thing of complete satisfaction. Though the variations of difficulty mirror the oft-discussed discourse around challenge. It’s far easier to confront your enemies in story mode, harder difficulties result in more strenuous battles, so that every win feels all that more epic. The range of abilities open to Hiroki also expand over time, so that as you face more new enemies, you also have the means to dispatch them in new ways.
Initially you are also limited to a sword, though will later find bo-shurikens, and more to come. You are also able to interact with the villagers you rescue in some cases, uncover collectibles that increase your health or stamina, or visit shrine waypoints to save your progress through each chapter.
Kabuki (Story) Mode is a great way to familiarise yourself with the game, with the attacks from your enemies being much more forgiving, and most of the early enemies beaten with a single attack. The next step up in difficulty is Bushido (Story and Sword) Mode, which will have you hoping for another shrine to save your progress, while Ronin (Experienced) Mode takes things even further. Hidden away in the menu beyond that is Kensei Mode, which you’ll need to discover the pain of by yourself.
The preview covers the first two chapters of the story of Hiroki, first as a young apprentice Samurai to his sensei Sanjuro (we’ll show some restraint and not embark on a tangent about the movie of the same name, nor treat this as an invitation to wax lyrical about Toshiro Mifune), and then later as an adult samurai, bound by duty to his village. On reading more about the game, you can see that these two chapters are merely notes in the story planned for Hiroki, and that violence, honour and redemption will factor heavily in what comes next. Until then, the first two chapters of Trek to Yomi will have to suffice.