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A homage

A lot of Japanese games, broadly speaking, often come in two forms; either there is a focus on anime style visuals or samurai-esque gameplay and characteristics. (There are however notable exceptions such as games produced by capcom, square and Konami to name a few.) Here, Trek to Yomi falls clearly into the latter category. 

However rather than merely hand-picking certain qualities of the genre and implementing them in a contemporary fashion, Trek to Yomi swan-dives unequivocally to the heart of the samurai trope and delivers a samurai game that could make even the great Akira Kurosawa take note. 

Akira Kurosawa, the famous Japanese director, may seem like an odd choice to bring up regarding a video game; however, Trek to Yomi is a game you arguably watch just as much as you play due to its undeniable similarities to the great samurai movies of old — many of which Kurosawa directed himself. 

It’s a Japanese game that couldn’t be more Japanese if it tried and is certainly aiming at a particular audience. So is it worth playing? Continue on to find out in my Trek to Yomi game review.

Familiarity and folklore

Trek to Yomi is a story told through the eyes of our protagonist Hiroki, at first as a young samurai in training, and then as an adult. It immediately kicks off with a somewhat familiar story arc of bandits attacking the village and Hiroki running off against the advice of his sensei to try and help. This sets him on a path of battle; both physically and internally; against bandits and his own duty as a samurai, all of which visually play out during the course of a fairly linear and condensed narrative. Like I said, quite familiar. 

With familiarity comes a degree of predictability, and with predictability comes an element of disinterest. To put it bluntly, the story is not something that Trek to Yomi will be remembered for nor is it the reason to pick it up in the first place. That’s not to say that it’s bad, the game just doesn’t grip you enough in what is essentially a story driven narrative.

That being said, Trek to Yomi does try to mix up the situation around half way through, relocating the narrative from familiar to fantastical through the journey to ‘Yomi’. Yomi, meaning land of the dead in Japanese, is part of old Japanese folklore most commonly associated with Shinto

Here, Hiroki undergoes a personal journey and battles with his own duty of being a samurai. Although different, it doesn’t necessarily make the story more exciting; however, It’s a pleasant environmental change that visualises an aspect of Japanese culture that remains relatively untouched in video games. 

Alongside this is perhaps a good time to mention the in-game collectibles. 

Hidden across every scene are objects to find and pick up. This is relevant as every item comes with a brief story or description related to it. While those found outside Yomi explain traditional Japanese objects; those found within offer up insights into Japanese tales, myths, and legends. While serving absolutely zero purpose beyond a collectable stand point, for someone who has an interest in Japan, traditions, and customs, they somehow fascinated me — enough to want to actively seek them out to learn more.

But as I said before, the story is not something you will want to play Trek to Yomi for, its everything else.

Love letter to cinema

From the word go, Trek to Yomi tells you upfront the kind of game it intends to be. The window closes to a letterbox, the sounds of the Japanese language fills your head, and yes; your graphics card is working perfectly — Trek to Yomi is entirely in black and white. 

Its an intentionally nostalgic feature that tries to capture the essence that the likes of The Seven Samurai first graced us with. Along with the inclusion of a film grain overlay effect that is applied throughout the entire game, it really cements the whole aged cinematic feel. Yet, there is one more element that brings the whole experience together.


By definition, Trek to Yomi is a side-scrolling action game, which conjures up a flat sided panel viewpoint of the action. This is grossly understating. What you will find instead much of the time, are clever and imaginative angles from which the action and story is displayed. Looking down at Hiroki through rooftops, peering through a gap in the trees, or through the eyes of an off-camera onlooker are some examples; all the while following and adapting as you move, changing focus, snapping to different perspectives — all as if a director is calling the shots of a movie. 

And while this is all starting to sound like some overzealous fan project (to some degree it is); the truth is it gives Trek to Yomi a charm and uniqueness that is often lacking from many other games released in the last decade. 

Without over-stating it, in this regard Trek to Yomi is truly captivating, immersive, and will make you want to return to witness its majesty.

Simple and satisfying

Whilst you are busy gawking at the nostalgic beauty that Trek to Yomi showcases, there will occasionally be some sword-swinging opponents to contend with; after all it is a samurai game. 

The combat is very satisfying as you sweep your katana in a myriad of ways; the smoothness and precision makes it all feel grounded in an element of realism and feels impactful as strikes hit and enemies ragdoll to the floor or off the scenery. It’s a fairly simple combat system that involves movesets and correct input sequences in order to pull off corresponding strikes, (much like a fighting game) but of the numerous you unlock, you will inevitably revert to just a handful. 

However, going all out attack in this game will quickly see you meet your end. Timing and parrying is a core mechanic that you need to pay attention to. This is especially true on harder difficulties. While Bushido is a great difficulty for a first playthrough and ronin will see you challenged throughout; Kensei will allow you to one-shot and be one-shotted by all enemies. 

No matter which difficulty you first choose, there is a personnel skill progression you embark on. The first act takes a bit of getting used to, but by the end of the game you do begin to feel like a fully-fledged samurai and a skilled combatant. 

It also does begin to feel a little repetitive through the limited number of skills that you will inevitably use as well as the somewhat limited enemy types, but holds your attention enough to make it through to the end. 

Final thoughts

Trek to Yomi is somewhat a bit of an oddity. It’s a simple being that resembles games from a time gone by in terms of content and gameplay; furthermore, it’s a homage to an era and style of film that is older still. 

There can be no doubt that the games cinematography and stylized graphics are the key attraction here, and as much as they are beautifully and exquisitely implemented we have to remember that this is still a game and not a film. 

The rest of the game’s components are however an average affair that leaves little incentive to pick it up for a second playthrough; this leads us on to the replayability factor, of which there is little. 

In all honesty, it’s worth trying Trek to Yomi just to witness what has been achieved in terms of artistry. It’s much like being part of a once in a lifetime event, where you are grateful to have been a part of it but will never do it again.