Watching samurai flicks from Akira Kurosawa is synonymous with enjoying John Wayne westerns, Jean-Luc Godard French cinema, or Alfred Hitchcock horror—reveling in an art form of yesteryear. While rigorously searching for something similar to satiate the thirst for these classics, it’s always a pleasant surprise to find someone who just gets it, especially when given in a different medium. Trek to Yomi is one such example, where the loving art style and aesthetic just splashes everything Kurosawa imagined across the screen, but this time, allowing the player to make their way through the story first-hand. While the developers nailed the same vibe as the source material, the gameplay can leave a lot to be desired, and the Nintendo Switch hardware struggles to keep up with the beautiful visuals.
As a young boy, Hiroki is still learning under his master at the dojo. But when marauders attack his hometown, his master loses his life, and Hiroki vows to protect the village from here on out. Along with his master’s daughter, Hiroki grows up, continues his training, and becomes a lone samurai against whoever stands at odds with this pleasant hamlet. Reuniting in battle with his master’s killer, the journey of revenge begins across the countryside, where Hiroki must save the town, protect the girl, and seek vengeance against the bandits who have mercilessly killed so many. While Trek to Yomi doesn’t try to break the mold with out-of-left-field storytelling, it succeeds in everything it tries to do.
The cinematic nature of Trek to Yomi is compounded by its storytelling, but it’s the visuals that really make it something worth seeing. Utilizing a style reminiscent of the original Resident Evil games, where the camera is set at sometimes-odd angles in order to really portray a cinematic quality, Trek to Yomi does everything it can to make the player believe they are in a movie, sticking mostly to a side-scrolling viewpoint. Even though this can cause some wonkiness with the controls and the distance set can occasionally be detrimental to performing some gameplay functions, the game sacrifices in those areas to immerse the player fully into its intended visual style.
Additionally, the black-and-white tone and cutscenes take things even further, where every moment from beginning to end feels continuously like the player is melting into the place of Hiroki. The excellent sound design and soundtrack keep the richness going and the perfect Japanese voice acting is a must.
This is where things take a little bit of a turn, however, as Trek to Yomi’s Nintendo Switch port leaves a lot to be desired. While framerate and performance keep up with the combo-filled gameplay, the visuals themselves fall short with the highly-detailed environments. The shifts in lighting from very bright to quite dark are noticeably hard to play through on the Switch, while plantlife and objects get a rough edge to them that isn’t found on other hardware.
While the visuals take a knock on the Nintendo Switch, specifically, the gameplay is monotonous regardless of the system you play it on. Much like other combo-based titles, Trek to Yomi has a combat system headlined by attacks, dodges, parries, and blocks. Through these, combos can be learned and used to make each encounter easier, but at the end of the day, simply hacking and slashing through the basic enemies will usually get the job done. This becomes even more evident when the range-based weapons are brought into the fold, with shurikens and a bow-and-arrow at your disposal. These attacks take ammunition that you must find around the world, but as long as you’re taking the time to look around, it is pretty plentiful. Boss fights are much more interesting in terms of the fights themselves, as well as the backing from the story, but all in all, Trek to Yomi is here to let you play in a samurai movie, not wow you with its systems.
Following that line of thinking, the world itself is filled with more story points to be found, but other than that, it is mostly a straight-forward, linear trek from point A to point B. Collectibles are available to be discovered with either a new combo to be learned or some items to be found. Traps can be found in order to make upcoming fights easier, such as a hanging log that can be dropped on unsuspecting enemies. Otherwise, the player’s main goal is to find the next shrine, which functions as a save spot, à la Dark Souls’ bonfires.
Trek to Yomi is a love letter to classic Japanese cinema. Fans of the genre will be fully immersed and giddy about being able to experience something like this, and it is something to behold visually even for those who don’t come with prior knowledge. Unfortunately, those visuals are best experienced on systems other than the Nintendo Switch, which only makes the monotonous gameplay more evident. Incredible storytelling, though cliché, boosts Trek to Yomi towards something worth experiencing, especially when the game can be beaten in an afternoon.