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Trek to Yomi Game review

Game review 06 May 2022, 14:30

author: Alexander Eriksen

Alex is a gaming industry veteran of institutions like GameSpot and Twitch. His work has been published on GameCrate, Yahoo News, and The Wall Street Journal. Twitter: @Alexplaysvg

Trek to Yomi Review: A Trek Worth Taking

A beautiful and immersive journey, Trek to Yomi is a game that Akira Kurosawa would have made. Read our review.

The review is based on the PC version. It's also relevant to PS5, XSX, XONE, PS4 version(s).

You’d be forgiven for thinking “Yomi” is an actual place in Japan. It’s not. Yomi, in Shinto mythology, is the land of the dead. It’s not exactly a place you’d want to take a vacation to, much less spend eternity in, but a brief visit in video game form is very worth your while.

PROS:
  1. Great writing,
  2. Beautiful artwork,
  3. Outstanding use of cinematic camerawork.
CONS:
  1. A bit short but multiple endings encourage additional playthroughs,
  2. Could use more enemy variety.

When I previewed Trek to Yomi a few months back it was a stylish side-scrolling take on samurai cinema of the ‘60s. Yojimbo, Roshamon, and The Hidden Fortress (all Akira Kurosawa films) could be felt through Yomi’s black and white colors, authentic Japanese locales, and cinematic camera work. I came expecting your standard samurai tale of honor and revenge and got way more than I bargained for.

You see, without getting too spoiler-y, you as the hero die, are sent to Yomi like all other mortal souls, and have to fight your way back to the land of the living to correct a fatal mistake. It’s a surreal journey through the netherrealm of Japanese mythology that is strange, stirring, and more visceral than the marketing lets on.

You play as Hiroki, a young samurai sworn to protect a small village in feudal Japan. Bandits ride into town one day, kill your sensei, and nearly kill you. Lives are lost but the bandits are pushed back. Years pass and you’re betrothed to Aiko, the daughter of your deceased master. All is well until the bandits remerge and a cycle of blood and violence begins anew.

Trek can be a pretty bleak game. The ancient world was one brutal enough to demand a class of professional warriors. In some sense, we still live in that world; just look at any newspaper these days and you won’t struggle to find pictures of bombed out homes and crying faces. Trek doesn’t pull its punches as the wailing of maimed peasants will meet your ears periodically over its 5-6 hours of gameplay.

Trek doesn’t celebrate the over-the-top gore the samurai genre can sometimes inspire. Rather it appropriately contextualizes it in the history of the ancient world. People were brutal to each other. And sometimes bad people needed to be run through with a katana. But again, the themes at play in Trek carry a grim realism. Here violence isn’t entertainment, it’s a necessity.

Combat is a straightforward affair with a simple combo system, stamina, blocking, and parrying. Some of the moves take some work to master – like parrying and switching places with your opponent – but for the most part it’s easy enough to pick up and run with.

Verdict

Trek could have stayed entirely in the land of the living and still be a surprise hit of a game. It’s gone well beyond that though and cemented its place as one of the greats. The side-scrolling genre has become a place for artful indies to exist but it’s been a while since a game like Trek made gamers take notice; and they definitely should.

In the land of the living you’ll face a variety of bandits, ronin, and archers. On the other side it’s all demons, katana-wielding specters, and ancient Japanese deities. There could be a tad more variety but combat is engaging enough to serve as the game’s foundation.

Where Trek really shines is in its writing, artwork, sound, and music. If this game doesn’t win awards for each of those categories it will be an utter shame. Despite being a game you can beat in a single sitting the themes and ideas are well developed and weighty despite just a few cutscenes and bits of dialogue to set the stage. Trek is about loss, hope, honor, ambition, duty, and revenge. Thanks to economical writing and pinpoint historical accuracy these ideas take flight easily and arc perfectly over the game’s playtime.

Artwork is likewise top-notch with the developers going to painstaking detail to render the sights of feudal Japan. When you reach the underworld this goes into imaginative overdrive with the familiar huts, houses, walkways, and forests of the mortal realm being darkly reflected in the underworld. This twisting of the familiar and normal into strange and unsettling new shapes perfectly match the theme of the story: what we do in life may haunt us in death.

The sound and music are equally good with an original score of all traditional Japanese instruments. Swords tang and swoosh, bandits groan and gurgle as they shuffle off their mortal coil, and the sound of rain pouring down drowns out the din of combat. The underworld is, as you would expect, filled with its own creepy soundscape of wailing spirits and stormy voids.

Trek could have stayed entirely in the land of the living and still be a surprise hit of a game. It’s gone well beyond that though and cemented its place as one of the greats. The side-scrolling genre has become a place for artful indies to exist but it’s been a while since a game like Trek made gamers take notice; and they definitely should.

Trek to Yomi Review: A Trek Worth Taking - picture #4

Our reviews are featured on Metacritic.

While personally Inside was the peak of artful side scrolling for me I still have to give Trek a well-deserved high score. It doesn’t contain anything as mind-blowing or complex as Inside but delivers a thoughtful and well-executed samurai tale steeped in history, art, and culture. If you have Xbox Gamepass you can play the game right now; all others I highly recommend you play the game on your platform of choice.

Alexander Eriksen | Gamepressure.com

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