Trek to Yomi – A Wonderful Slice of Samurai Cinema

Trek to Yomi - A Wonderful Slice of Samurai Cinema

It feels like, in the world of video games, the time of the Samurai has arrived. I don’t mean a historically accurate portrayal of Samurai culture. I mean a series of games that call back to black and white Samurai cinema. Games that try to recreate the feel of that classic sub-genre of movie made famous by the likes of Akira Kurosawa. First, we had the excellent Ghosts of Tsushima a game, that embraced its inspirations while forging its own path, nodding to classic cinema while remaining a modern work. Now we have Trek to Yomi which feels, for all intents and purposes, like a Kurosawa film brought to life. This is a game that not only recognises where its inspiration comes from, but brings that inspiration to life in a brand new medium and in doing so creating something that is familiar to many, yet unique in the world of video games. 

At its most basic level, Trek to Yomi is a 2.5d action-adventure that focuses on combat, style and the occasional spot of exploration and puzzling. In a lot of ways, it feels like a modern reinvention of the gameplay made famous in the original Prince of Persia or Flashback titles, albeit without much in the way of platforming. There is that classic feel to the game, something that hasn’t been present for what feels like an age. This is a game with a very clear beginning and end, no meaningless checklists, no collectable padding and no live service elements. A contained adventure that gets by on its many qualities without resorting to tricks and trends to pad out game time. As a result Trek to Yomi is the first game I have finished in one sitting since Journey. I started at about 2 in the afternoon and just about 6 hours on the dot later I was watching the end credits. It is that sort of game, a game that grabs you and really holds on, encouraging you at every step to just keep going. A call to arms I was more than happy to answer. 

The first thing that grabbed me was the look of the game. Presented in a glorious black and white format, Trek to Yomi is nothing short of stunning at times. The monochrome look is both a wonderful nod to Kurosawa’s films as well as being a unique and striking way to present the game. No details are lost because of the lack of colour either. Both the environments and the character design are wonderfully detailed and authentic to their inspirations. This flows into the way both the protagonist and enemies move and combat animates. Smooth, slick swordplay is represented wonderfully and there is nary a graphical hiccup to be seen. This is, simply put a beautiful game to behold, so much so I took more screenshots while playing than I have in any other game. 

This leads me into the gameplay. Predominantly focused around combat, the gameplay is joyful and challenging but not without its problems. Firstly the swordplay is tight, with a focus on parries and positioning. But if that screams a little too “Souls” for you don’t fret, there are three different difficulty settings to challenge yourself with. My playthrough was completed on medium difficulty and I found that it offered the perfect level of challenge for me. I felt like I was in control of the move set, could face just about any challenge, but never felt like it was a cakewalk like I wasn’t being tested. The game taught me how to tackle and recognise different enemies and situations but it never made life easy in the process. There are some issues here that are worth bringing up however, the first is balance. There are certain sections later in the game that combines enemies in such a way that should they land a particular hit, there is no escape and the player simply becomes stuck in a string of attack animations resulting in death. This feels cheap and frustrating, especially when the game feels so well balanced everywhere else. 

The second problem I have with the game is that a lot of the move set feels, well pretty useless if I am honest. The game gives you a basic set of moves to begin with and as things progress you get access to more and more ways of attack. The issue is that apart from a couple of exceptions (The reverse and running slash) it is more effective to use the base move set than any of the fancier techniques. I never felt the need to use the more advanced techniques and when I did experiment with them it led to my death more often than not. The same goes for one particular ranged weapon that does enormous damage when in the hands of an enemy but is too unwieldy to be useful to the player. These issues of balance don’t take too much away from the game, but they are worth mentioning, especially for those looking to master everything the game has to offer. 

Apart from those minor issues, Trek to Yomi is an engaging, challenging and beautiful ode to a genre of film that has long since disappeared. It has achieved what many games have failed and that is successfully turning one form of entertainment media into another, keeping the joy and appeal of the original style in the process. It is no mean feat and one that should be celebrated. Trek to Yomi is a reinvention, a breath of fresh air and a stylish adventure all at once and should be at the top of your wishlist if you have a love for 2D adventures, stunning games or Samurai cinema. 

Trek to Yomi was reviewed on PC with code kindly supplied by Devolver Digital. 

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