Samurai slasher Trek to Yomi first grabbed my attention with its Akira Kurosawa-style black and white art – who doesn’t want to take a trip into 1950s Japanese cinema? Add in full Japanese voice acting and 2.5D side-scrolling combat with parrying and button combos and it sounds like a unique proposition that sets the game apart from the recent glut of samurai revival games like Ghost of Tsushima, Sekiro, and Nioh. Unfortunately, underneath its stylishness is mediocre gameplay, a convoluted story, and disappointment at what could have been.
Speaking of classic Japanese cinema, Trek to Yomi immediately draws parallels to Kurosawa’s epic, Seven Samurai; a besieged village needs saving from bandits, and you’re just the kind of fearless warrior for the job. Serving as a tutorial, this section is where you learn the basics of gameplay, like how to attack, block, and parry as you engage the bandits in combat. This is also where you find out that the game has no autosave feature – you have to interact with shrines dotted around levels, which also restore you to full health.
In a breakneck twist, Trek to Yomi goes from Seven Samurai to Onimusha, and you won’t be surprised to find out that Yomi refers to the land of the dead in Japanese culture. The eponymous trek, then, has you descending into the depths. You would think this would have been a good opportunity to introduce some new enemy types to hack and slash your way though, and it does, but they are largely a variation on the bandits that you fought before: nimble bandit that requires blocking, armoured bandit that requires stabbing, and bow bandit that requires rolling.
There are a couple of environmental puzzles thrown in too. Namely rotating a three-tier dial to match the symbol order to the ones glowing in the nearby environment, but these are very simple to work out and barely constitute the definition of ‘puzzle’. There are other puzzles that require you to move a wooden cart to progress – which is hardly the most taxing of challenges. Overall, it feels as if these sections only serve to extend the game’s fairly short play time (which is around ten hours).
Trek to Yomi’s world is a beautifully rendered one, with a flickering screen overlay that gives the impression of a stuttering 35mm camera playing film through its reels. Complementing this is an equally charming traditional Japanese soundtrack of booming taiko drums and plucky shamisen notes. Running through the land of the rising sun’s countryside feels authentic, and that’s helped along by the game’s full Japanese voice cast. If you don’t speak Japanese or you can’t be bothered to read subtitles, you’re out of luck for this game.
Trek to Yomi has a lot of thought-out polish to its world that absolutely nails those classic samurai vibes, there’s no denying it, but that doesn’t translate over to its gameplay. I said earlier that the enemy types are basic and not overly varied, and it’s the same for combat. While there are combos to remember, most foes can be dispatched with two quick attacks (done by holding up on the thumbstick and mashing square/X twice). So, rather than careful, Souls-y bushido battles, you end up just quick-attacking your way through lines of enemies that you were likely intended to square off against by moving forwards deliberately.
There are also three ranged weapons available, including a bow, musket, and bo-shuriken (like from the Shinobi games). You can use these to help you take out other ranged damage dealers, but mostly you’ll be using it to cheese your way forward. That armoured enemy you can’t be bothered to fight? Give him a few arrows and it’s back to doing the up-square-square combo I mentioned earlier. This applies to boss fights too, of which there are a handful.
For some reason, ranged weapons deal a significant amount of damage to bosses, so you’ll sit through a couple minutes worth of angry samurai shouting cutscenes, only to spam all your ranged abilities, roll in for one or two sword attacks and it’s a job well done. That goes for each one except the last boss, which just happens to buck the trend by being the most frustrating and unfair boss fight since Dark Souls’ Capra Demon.
The combat itself is clunky. This is particularly noticeable in one boss fight that requires you to quickly turn left and right (done by pressing X/A) to face the enemy as they move. The character animations take too long and you end up getting hit when you shouldn’t. Overall, it doesn’t fit with the slick samurai theme on display in the audio-visual department. Combat just generally feels off, and your character’s on-screen movements don’t translate well to the controller in your hand.
Unfortunately, the same could be said for Trek to Yomi’s story. There is one, granted, but it becomes harder and harder to follow what’s actually going on, and by the end, you will probably be more confused than not. There’s a short cutscene – with no talking – that caps off the game; it’s going for the wow-moment vibe, but by this point things are so poorly signposted you just sit there as the credits roll wishing the story was more substantial and presented in a different way. As it is, it’s predictable, basic, and hard to follow.
And this is the very problem that plagues Trek to Yomi throughout – while it may look the part of an epic samurai adventure, it doesn’t feel like an epic samurai adventure. It’s a clunky, on-rails experience that squanders its setting and concept by being a rather dull romp through a convoluted story. It’s not a terrible game; it’s not a great game. It’s just more mediocre than I was hoping for.
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Trek to Yomi review (PS5)
Trek to Yomi sets out to be classic Kurosawa in videogame form, but it ends up being hampered by clunky gameplay and a convoluted story.