Trek to Yomi Review: To Hell and Back
When Izanagi, brother/husband of Izanami and the last of the seven generations of primordial deities, desired to rescue his sister/wife Izanami from death’s grasp, not even he could have truly prepared himself for what he would find in the depths of Yomi. A parallel, underground world full of shadows and decay, Yomi held his beloved Izanami captive, for she had already eaten of its food. Although Izanagi would fail to bring Izanami back to the surface, he would escape with his own life — a feat in and of itself. For Yomi is a polluted land, filled with rotting corpses and horrors beyond manmade comprehension, where the dead dwell and the living shall not trespass.
Unfortunately, it is this accursed world that Hiroki finds himself pulled to in Trek to Yomi, a side-scrolling action adventure game that would make Kurosawa proud. Developed by Flying Wild Hog and published by Devolver Digital, Trek to Yomi is a visually arresting black and white cinematic masterpiece that places players smack dab in the middle of their own silver screen samurai movie. A 10-20 hour odyssey available on PC, PlayStation, and XBox for a surprisingly low price of $19.99, Trek to Yomi may be inexpensive, but it’s anything but cheap.
Trek to Yomi opens up on a young Hiroki learning swordsmanship from his mentor. While he may be his mentor’s favorite student, he was definitely not ready for what happened next — a full scale invasion of his village by bloodthirsty bandits. And although he was able to stand valiantly against the horde, his mentor would not survive the ordeal, leaving the governing of the town to his daughter, Aiko. Tearfully attending to his mentor as he drew his last breaths, Hiroki pledged to take care of his people and protect Aiko at all costs, while Aiko swore to lead the village into a brighter tomorrow.
Years passed, and the village knew peace and prosperity thanks to Aiko’s leadership and Hiroki’s protection. While deliberating action against a concerning bandit horde the next town over, a villager arrived to break the bad news: the bandit horde had indeed begun to attack the neighboring stronghold. Determined to prevent the raid from spreading to his home yet again, Hiroki set off to the next town over to stop the bandits in their tracks. Little did he know that this series of events would lead him to his — and Aiko’s — dreadful fate, down in the dreary depths of Yomi. Like Izanagi and Izanami of yore, the pair could seek a way out of the underworld, or they could carve out a new destiny altogether.
I will try not to make this entire article about the overall design, but can I just say… WOW! Trek to Yomi is clearly influenced by Kurosawa’s classic samurai films, but such a statement doesn’t truly begin to cover the visually arresting cinematics that unfolded as I played. To explain this, I must start by saying that, if you’ve played PS2 greats such as Way of the Samurai and Onimusha, you’re already familiar with a lot of what’s happening here in terms of not only gameplay, but entering/exiting areas and fixed camera positions. Despite pouring dozens upon dozens of hours into both, what I wasn’t prepared for was how alive everything around me felt.
For example, moving across a scene might have the camera fixed at one position, but as I progressed, it slowly panned to another point to give a sense of full scale cinematics. Cameras would be positioned in ways that would put you in the “director’s seat,” such as a boat or a window, giving a sort of second person view, so to speak. The scenes themselves were often broken up into several layers, like women wailing in the foreground as bandits rode in droves far away in the background. Halfway through a scene, a burning building might collapse in such a way that becomes part of the fight choreography — a dance between warriors and environment. Slain enemies would sprawl violently across bridges, their hands and legs dangling, until gravity called them into the river’s depths below. If nothing else, Trek to Yomi is a cinematic triumph that should be celebrated for years to come, and is worth the price of admission for art direction alone.
As for gameplay, I feel it important to bring up PS2 games like Way of the Samurai and Onimusha yet again when discussing Trek to Yomi. This is because, while as arguably realistic as players want it to be (i.e., the easiest mode), Trek to Yomi’s battles are fairly repetitive yet still enjoyable. If you’re a fan of fighting games, Trek to Yomi’s move sets will feel comfortable to you, as they’re a combination of button presses that must be performed in quick succession to succeed. As you constantly make your way from point A to point B across seven chapters, enemies don’t change too drastically, nor do they really pose much of a challenge against a particular move learned early on which requires Hiroki to have his back turned towards enemies, only to quickly pivot and strike a fatal blow. In more difficult areas, I found myself moon-walking through enemies to mow them down instead of trying to learn new moves, as pretty much all else paled in comparison to this one move.
Although I very much enjoyed the several story arcs and collecting all the moves and artifacts to be discovered scattered throughout the game, I found myself desperately wishing for better visibility on many fronts. Collectibles often flashed on the ground or on tables, which was hard to pick up without color surrounding the white flash of light to make it stand out. Additionally, the voice acting is in Japanese (thank God), but the white subtitles are extremely difficult to read at times against a grayscale background. Even an option to put a black box around the white subtitles would have made a world of difference. However, I want to stress that these issues are negligible when factoring the overall experience, especially if your eyesight is good (mine… well, isn’t).
Having previously gobbled up the great Ghost of Tsushima, I was eager to find another love letter to Kurosawa in Trek to Yomi. On an aesthetic level, my expectations were completely blown out of the water — the famed filmmaker has been honored like never before. When it comes to gameplay, I’m completely satisfied, my desire for another Way of the Samurai fulfilled, but I can see someone who skipped this era of gaming less enthused. If samurai games of yesteryear were your thing, Trek to Yomi is absolutely worth side-scroll slicing your way through the belly of the underworld for.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: XBox Series X|S, XBox One, PC, PS5, PS4 (reviewed); Publisher: Devolver Digital; Developer: Flying Wild Hog; Players: 1; Released: May 5, 2022; MSRP: $19.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a digital copy of Trek to Yomi provided by the publisher.