Years in the making, Trek to Yomi is the vision of indie developer Leonard Menchiari, backed by Polish studio Flying Wild Hog and publisher Devolver Digital. Essentially a side-on slash 'em up, its hook is its spectacular aesthetic: feudal Japan and the samurai code recreated through cinematic camerawork in striking black and white. An homage to vintage Japanese films – most notably those of Akira Kurosawa – Trek to Yomi is a samurai story of revenge and redemption. It dives into the Shinto underworld of Yomi carrying some moral question marks to add a bit of intrigue.
The mood is set in an opening tutorial scene that sees protagonist Hiroki learning sword skills from his master. Suddenly, the master is called away on some serious business and Hiroki sets off in pursuit. What follows is a gorgeous, sweeping run of the camera through Hiroki’s village. Controlling in 3D, as you descend the towering steps from the dojo and follow the road directly down towards to bottom of the screen, the camera dollies backwards along the bustling main street of the village.
Our hero is joined in this scene by his master’s daughter Aiko, hurrying alongside him and daintily rattling down the steps in her geta and kimono as they exchange lines across bartering tradesmen and bickering locals. Light dapples through trees and banners flap in the breeze, lending an impressive reality to the world. We don’t use the word “cinematic” lightly here: the grandeur of this shot is utterly compelling.
Given the importance of the visuals in Trek to Yomi, however, the game does struggle on Nintendo’s rather mature portable system. There is light shimmering through the trees, but there is also an odd, accidental shimmer to the graphics as you run through this early shot, which stops when you stop moving. It breaks the illusion, unfortunately. Typical of many Switch ports in Unreal Engine, shadows are low-res and muddy. Dappled light through leaves sort of works, but it falls apart as more solid objects cast shapes on the scenery. Moving parts of scenes are also sparser than in other versions.
While we’ve focused on the opening shot here, it’s representative of the whole game – the visuals are critical to Trek to Yomi’s appeal, and they’re hampered on Switch to the extent that our imagination was pulled out of the game world, the often excellent mise en scène was obscured, and playability dropped while trying to control a tiny figure in a patch of darkness.
And when it comes to control, the gameplay is quite monotonous. The game is paced as if each fight is a cautious psychological showdown, but Hiroki’s attacks are no more subtle than a classic arcade brawler. The meat of any battle is dodging, parrying, and countering, but it’s usually as simple as waiting for a loudly cued attack, blocking, then executing a lethal slash or stab. The game defaults to the easiest difficulty, where at least fights need rarely be replayed. On harder settings, it stretched our patience.
At just a handful of hours, Trek to Yomi sadly still manages to outstay its welcome. It asks its visuals to carry the gameplay, but their novelty wears off before the final act. This is particularly true on Switch, where dropped resolution and simplified scenery steal some of the magic and ugly character close-ups blemish the overall aesthetic. As imaginatively as Yomi is realised, the game still feels like a trek.
I'm still going to try it on switch and see how I enjoy it. As long as the framerate is good, I should be fine. I enjoyed what I played on game pass.
Noooooo!! Was really hoping this held up. I would have been forgiving of some clunky gameplay just to experience the aesthetic. Sucks that the aesthetic is so compromised. Devastating.
Bummer! (or maybe the Japanese word zannen is more appropriate this time) I hoped the game would review better and the gameplay wouldn't be as black-and-white as the visuals. The shallow-sounding action and compromised graphics may keep me from buying. Or not! I'm really nostalgic for the days I lived in Japan. Does anyone know if the game is based on real-life locations? The overworld locations, that is.
It’s a very, very shallow game with paper thin combat. Visuals are the only thing to carry the game but even on superior platforms they are not consistent in quality, character models especially can dip into mediocrity pretty often.
Was this reviewed played on a TV or on the Switch undocked? Maybe it looks better on the Switch screen?
@aardvaarkchi It's worse in handheld mode actually, because this game wasn't designed for handhelds. The cinematic camera shows some scenes from a distance, while the characters are harder to see in the lower resolution. Playing on TV is better this time. Graphics is part of the experience and unfortunately it doesn't work on Switch.
I was enamoured with this on Series S, though admittedly without the incredible visuals I doubt I would have come away from this feeling as positive as I did as the gameplay is quite flat. Probably one to save for better hardware if Switch is your only option right now.
This kind of game I'd want to play on the handheld anyway. I think I'll give it a shot on a discount. Cheers for the review.
Well that's a shame. I could forgive the simplistic gameplay if it at least had solid visuals.
@larryisaman Same here. Really enjoyed the visuals and the mood they helped set. Not so much the gameplay, so I wouldn't recommend a purchase on Switch.
Switch or not, pass on this boring game. Visuals aside it's a shallow, dull experience with nothing rewarding for completing it.
Why is flippin Goldeneye getting a full review while this only gets a mini? This Goldeneye craze is just baffling to me. It’s a 26 year old game that aged horribly and you give it all the attention of the world.
Thanks for the info @Samuro. Looks like one i’ll need to check out a few reviews for, see some streamed footage or something, before picking up. I like the idea of it.
I’m still hovering between getting it and deleting it from my wish list. It’s not reviewing particularly well I know, but I do like the look of it and it’s not that expensive that I’d have too many regrets if I bought it 🤔🤔🤔
@Teksetter I don’t recall the info about the game mentioning real-world locations so I don’t think so. Unless Yomi is real
(“Gameplay as black-and-white as the visuals” is a great line!)
@aardvaarkchi it was tested on both. I agree with @samuro but would say at least the black and white tones looks pretty great on OLED. I’ve been paying L.A. Noire in b&w too and that looks pretty awesome.
I think I’d politely but quickly see myself out if you or anyone vouched that the Yomi scenes are 100% accurate. 😅
As it is, I guess we can file this in the little sub genre of “Japanese underworld” games. I can think of this and Namco’s Yokai Dochuki in Arcade Archives through the brain grog this morning. There must be others…
Time for a new Best Of list, NL editors! 😄
I had a blast playing and finishing this game. Great atmosphere, music and I loved the graphics. Gameplay is alright, it's a smaller indie game. Don't forget that. There were few dips here and there, but 90% of the time it was great (handheld mode). Unreal Engine should already tell you that there will be a lot of compromises. Still, very enjoyable and I don't give a damn what anyone says. More games like this one please! I do recommend it and I give it 7/10.
I'm willing to against the grain here and say that I absolutely adored my time with Trek to Yomi. It's not often we get indie games with AAA production value. This game is just oozing in both style and atmosphere. And while the combat may be simple, the game didn't exactly stay around long enough for me to grow tired of it either. Plus some of my favorite games of all time have fairly simple controls. It may not be an absolute must play title but for $20 you really can't go wrong with Trek to Yomi
@Robokku Thanks for clarifying that. Yeah i can imagine the graphic really popping on OLED. Oh cool.
@Tchunga @DarrenWarrenV That’s all good to hear. Most of my favourites from last year were indies.
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