Thanks to the combined efforts of developer Leonard Menchiari and Flying Wild Hog Rzeszów, what was once a 2000 word script has turned into the journey of a fearless but wounded samurai, in a real playable homage to Japanese cinema of the 50s and 60s. In our Trek to Yomi preview we had already exposed the merits of the artistic direction but at the same time we had said we were curious to test the pleasantness and depth of the gameplay along the entire story of Hiroki, which we have now experienced in its entirety. After battling against countless enemies in a mixture of ardor and discipline we are finally ready to sheathe the katana in the saya and tell you what we think of this experience between the world of the living and the afterlife.
The unbearable weight of a promise
Trek to Yomi opens with a painful memory, when Hiroki – Aiko’s husband and village ruler – was just a young pupil of Sanjuro, an affectionate teacher and father of his beloved. Called in a hurry to face an unexpected situation, the sensei had ordered him to stay at the dojo with Aiko but the two refused to know and ran to his aid. As he crossed the village, the young man saw the laughter that animated the streets give way to heartbreaking tears, flames and death, which fell upon the peaceful community at the behest of a ruthless warlord. After reaping his first lives with the katana, he came in the presence of the evil Kagerou and was saved only thanks to the intervention of Sanjuro.
After ending the life of the enemy, the sensei asked the pupil to keep Aiko and her people safe and then he passed away. Back with his mind on the affairs of the present, at the completion of an introductory chapter that exposes the rudiments of the combat system well, an adult Hiroki discusses with Aiko the suffering inflicted on the inhabitants of nearby lands by a group of rogues and, intending to keep faith at the promise made to the teacher years earlier, he decides to leave to quell the threat before he can knock on the doors of his village. Thus begins the perilous mission of the samurai, destined to meet a ghost of the past and follow in his footsteps, to the darkest places in the land of the dead.
This vivid and real conflict but also interior at the same time – because it is intimately linked to the duties of the Hiroki man and warrior – was wisely staged by Menchiari and the developers, who certainly have shown that they want to build the events with a keen passion for Japanese cinema of the mid-1900s. In short, although the implications of him turned out to be rather predictable, the plot of Trek to Yomi is absolutely fitting with the type of playful and stylistic experience, as are its themes. While not standing out for originality, the characters benefited from the excellent dubbing in Japanese, signed by exceptional interpreters such as Akio Otsuka.
Without absolutely wanting to spoil the surprises, know that the adventure can end in different ways – depending on the choice made at a specific point of the journey – and for this reason it is a pity that the possibility to unlock the selection of the chapters has not been included at the end of the first run. To complete Hiroki’s journey with due attention, including the search for collectibles and upgrades, it takes about 7 hours but the reality is that Trek to Yomi doesn’t have the numbers to push players to fully relive the feats of the warrior.
A little while ago we mentioned the classic artifacts to collect, which we had a lot of fun looking for in each of the chapters and not by chance. Flying over those linked to the protagonist’s past – at the center of an attempt at environmental narration that was not really successful – we found the others very interesting, because they are intimately connected to Japanese folklore and mythology.
Of exploration and puzzles
As he ventures into swampy and ghostly scenarios – where the wind blows the waters towards an unreal sky – or in settlements set on fire by the ferocity of merciless men, the samurai can come across not only ammo to collect but also upgrades for the health or energy and even in new attack combinations. The use of fixed and dynamic cameras but in never really large environments, in fact, should not deceive: in Trek to Yomi secrets abound and not infrequently the progression on the “track” of the two dimensions also leaves room for the third. In essence, Hiroki can find secondary paths, enter huts out of sight and go into dark ravines, so as to discover secrets about the game world and become an increasingly lethal warrior.
Among other things, there is no shortage of rescues of defenseless people and a whole series of small businesses which, once completed, allow him to learn further offensive or defensive moves. All these ideas have certainly contributed to keeping our level of attention high but at the same time they have highlighted some less happy choices. The conformation of the levels for example it does not help to understand which are the main paths and which are the secondary ones, with the latter not infrequently mistaken for the former and vice versa. These oversights involve the risk of losing some objects, both because sometimes scripted events block the passage from which you came, and because – if you run into one of the altars used for saving the game – not even checkpoint reloading can solve the problem.
About that, the land of the dead gave developers the chance to insert simple environmental puzzles, often connected to the insertion in a wheel of specific symbols to look for within the scenarios. In general, none of the puzzles proposed really aims to put the fighter in difficulty but at least manages to give him a breather before he launches into yet another battle with the spirits of the samurai and the horrid afflicted that populate the Yomi.
A reaper of men and demons
We then come to talk about the fighting, which sees the warrior make use of the real tools of death used by those who have crossed the landscapes of ancient Japan. From Bo-shuriken, to Ozutsu – a hand cannon used in the sixteenth century – Hiroki’s weapons are absolutely in line with the historical fidelity desired by Menchari and have proved useful in thinning out the larger groups of enemies. Their effectiveness in battle is inversely proportional to the practicality of use, with the cannon that for example inflicts considerable damage but in the face of longer reload times. In any case, it is clear that the real star of the party is the katana, which is at the center of a combat system that is not excessively deep but not unpleasant for this.
Based on the management of an energy bar which, if reset, causes a temporary state of fatigue in which Hiroki is particularly vulnerable to the enemy offensive, sword dances call the player to execute combos with precision, pressing the keys in accordance with the actual execution of the moves on the screen and not all in one go. Sometimes some duels are characterized by a certain basic static but on the other hand the protagonist tears the opponents to life with the grace of a true samurai and credible movements, therefore far removed from Hollywood exaggerations.
The light and heavy attacks, the dodging and the parry system, form the basis of a move list that is expanding more and more, to include slashes related to the directional keys and above all the stun combos. The latter are by far the most effective of all, because once you hit the mark, they allow Hiroki to perform spectacular finishers, full of mutilations and the inevitable spurts of blood.
When he ends the existence of a villain in this way, the protagonist recovers a partial dose of health and it is here that the inevitable consequences of this choice are revealed. The stun combos in fact end up making the other moves substantially obsolete, which knock down enemies without leading to the finishers and therefore to the consequent recovery of health.
This drawback becomes even more evident at the difficult difficulty (Ronin) but vanishes with the challenge level obtainable at the end of the first run (Kensei), which brings into force the law of one hit, one kill. The simple minions, swordsmen and spirits that the protector of the village meets on his path can give him a hard time, sometimes because they are more tough than normal and on other occasions for specific fighting skills. Between the users of Naginata and the inhabitants of the Yomi, sometimes cloaked in a protective aura and able, for one thing, to summon lethal subjects, the developers have come up with a good variety of opponents, including bosses that are pleasant to face and not always easy to defeat.
Japan in black and white
Often and willingly the settings and graphics are, at best, the admirable background of a series of narrated events but in the case of Trek to Yomi the opposite is true: the artistic direction, the style of the shots and the stylistic choices all, they are probably the beating heart of an experience that bursts with love for Japanese culture and a historic era of the Seventh Art.
Thanks to the skilful use of fixed and dynamic cameras, which know how to both linger on the character and show – through the depth of field – the union between the violence perpetrated by men and the immutable beauty of the natural element, exploring the vintage-hued scenarios of the Flying Wild Hog title is a real joy for the eyes and ears.
Strengthened by the support of historians and the material collected at the Edo museum in Tokyo, the insiders gave us glimpses of real life in the villages, tall towers illuminated by a ghostly full moon and places scattered with heaps of skulls, in a meeting between myth and reality characterized by a great evocative power and very elegant contrasts between light and shadow. For these reasons, several times we happened to stop Hiroki’s race to give ourselves to contemplation and imprint in our mind the places we were visiting.
We do not want to tell you more about this world in black and white embellished with a pleasant grain effect, because it is right for you to discover it. If we talk about mere graphic detail and expressiveness of the characters, the Trek to Yomi blade is not as sharp but on the other hand we are talking about a small production and it makes no sense to make these imperfections weigh too much. On the other hand, during the journey that we experienced on PlayStation 5 in 4K at 60 frames per second, there were even some scenes based on the massive use of particle effects, which we liked more than expected. Flying over the anything but incisive use of the DualSense features, of which the adaptive triggers have been exploited in specific situations, we can only spend words of praise for the sound accompanimentwhich in addition to being edited by a composer with samurai ancestors – as emerged in the course of ours interview with the creator of Trek to Yomi – was created in the name of historical fidelity, for the benefit of sounds able to follow the succession of events with punctuality and give an even more distinctive touch to the adventure.
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Trek to Yomi Review: the supernatural journey of a fearless samurai
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