Trek To Yomi results from game director Leonard Menchiari‘s experimentation with using black and white images in Unreal Engine. The result is a warm, grainy film-noir aesthetic that is impossible to look away from.
And that’s great because this is very much an experience you’ll want to engulf in fully.
Trek to Yomi has repetition problems
Trek To Yomi excels at telling a blood-soaked, black and white tale of Hiroki, a ronin navigating the death of his master and fellow warriors, the disappearance of his love interest and the twice destruction of his village, it does so in a way that drags, paired with mechanics that just don’t add enough to keep you strolling down the path that is very much a prime example of Akira Kurosawa and the enduring Japanese film legacy of heroes overtaking or taking on for their masters. The hero emerges from the depth with their strength and resolve, and traditional Japanese music works in tandem with Western visual elements to complement the hero’s journey.
While Hiroki’s story is a captivating six-part tale of pain, suffering, understanding and the perseverance present in so many samurai showdowns, still, I couldn’t help finding myself wishing it would persevere just a little less.
It’s hard to fault Hiroki for continuing to charge from the left of your screen to the right, but his trek becomes overwhelmingly dull and painfully overbearing in how it reflects his misunderstanding of the situation he’s genuinely in. Trek To Yomi is supposed to be a meandering voyage into helping a man through pure helplessness. But the sadness and deftness swell just a little too much. As time presses on, the melodic dissonance of minor-tuned transitional music gives way to bold, villainous battle tracks mixed with the near-constant cries of NPCs begin to take their toll. I just wish that it wasn’t trying so hard at making me feel like I should turn my back on it.
Same slices, different screen
While Trek To Yomi is somewhat of a marvel when it comes to story and atmosphere, its swordplay can feel basic and also repetitive at times.
As you progress along Hiroki’s journey, he’ll learn new techniques from NPCs he saves, scrolls he finds throughout the world or select enemies that he takes down. They vary in terms of complexity and right or left character orientation.
I’ll admit that it’s exciting to watch Hiroki grow in his knowledge of the way of the blade, depending on how thorough you’ve chosen to be with your trek. Searching for all of the skills adds a layer of replayability to the mix that, in theory, should let you take up new strategies against those in your way.
The problem is that enemy types often repeat themselves. And even on the harder difficulties, you’ll likely find that one or two techniques work well enough to ensure that you won’t be needing them more complex skills. That’s not to say that there aren’t a few screens and enemy configurations that won’t test your ability to recall the game’s more dynamic teachings, but it’s hard enough to make this feel like something special.
And yet, I find myself feeling as though Trek To Yomi might be just a game built on some Sunday afternoon experimentation with Unity and not anything groundbreaking. It’s what I need right now. Mainly in that, it’s a short, narrative-driven sidescroller that only asks you to master its swordplay, find its collectibles and do it over a few times. In a space saturated with massive open-world adventures asking for hundreds of your hours, lending a few to this Samurai epic seems like quite the palate-cleanser.
Samurai slick performance with a few drawbacks
I was playing Trek To Yomi on PC with a press build that was pretty solid for the most part. Despite being a game with some pretty high-quality, life-like assets, the game ran at a consistent 60FPS on “High” settings. There was the occasional jump cut present in scenes after where the beta demo left off.
I only experienced one game-breaking bug, but it was one Bobby, and I joked it would be right at home in Elden Ring. During one of my combat screens, I stepped back and out of frame. It’s something that should be blocked by a film-grain barrier wall that collides with you. I was surprised to have made it to the previous screen without the wall appearing. After taking a break to stretch my hands, I was even more surprised when I realized that the enemy I’d left on the combat screen just ran back and forth without attacking. After dispatching him, I realized that all future enemies were also refraining from attack. After facing no resistance from three combatant groups, I decided I was cheating the game and reloaded the app to find fights were fixed.
The sense of accomplishment I described in my beta test period has lived on through its voyage to the land of the dead. Feeling Hiroki’s growth comes as a result of your own is a hit of endorphins belonging to the best of virtual experiences. But just like the finest of Japanese steel blades, there is a tempering to it all in the form of a lingering sadness that’s hard to swallow at times, as well as a combat mechanics system that has trouble complimenting the story the way the aesthetic does.
Day One patch
Today, Devolver Digital is announcing that a Day One patch is available that will fix a lot of the bugs that streamers and press have reported to date. These Fixes include a number of visual textures; ironically, Japanese localization; some of the combo and difficulty issues and more.
Visual glitching fix
Various enviro fixes across all levels
Fixes of Hiroki model
Water material fix
Various animation improvements and fixes
Deleted unnecessary hints not used in the game
Fixed missing skills in Kensei difficulty
Fixed texture streaming
Improvement of Japanese and Polish localization
Fixed combos unlock on Chapter 4
Fixed incorrect unlocking of particular skills
Updated Shrine textures
Fixes to dialogue triggers
Adjustments for skills
Frame dependencies fixes
Various Music fixes
Various Collisions fixes
Various Dialogue fixes
To die on one more sword pun, I feel like I’m teetering on the edge of the knife when it comes to recommending Trek To Yomi. It doesn’t exactly reinvent any wheels or add any new mechanics to the world. Hell, it’s mainly just a short passion project built from some developmental noodling. So it’s impressive to have a visual and narrative experience that’s so captivating along for the ride. The road to Hell is paved with black and white Unity development, or so it seems! But this one isn’t going to be everyone’s tea.
It’s tightly scripted and linear, which is a great refresh, but it’s one I recommend you demo or Game Pass before purchasing.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]
Reviewed on: PC
Lots of replayability and customization
Music and atmosphere is great
Looks like real life
You'll learn a lot of moves, but you're unlikely to need many of them
Repetitive battles and too many battles between chapters