REVIEW: ‘Trek To Yomi’ Does the History and Beauty of Edo Era Japan Right, While Missing the Fun (PC)

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Trek To Yomi - But Why Tho

Many developers have attempted to accurately portray historic Japan. Not nearly as many of those developers take the time and effort to make sure they’re doing it right. Developer Flying Wild Hog and publisher Devolver Digital are members of that few who did with Trek to Yomi. To make sure that the game encapsulated Japan’s historical Edo period, the developers did their due diligence to make sure they got the details right to be historically accurate.

For instance, the developers consulted with Aki Tabei Matsunaga, a Japanese historian who helped the developers make sure the Japanese dialogue spoken had the correct time period’s dialect as well as ensuring decorations on walls or the ways people dressed were correct. They even made sure that the recording studio, Emperia Sound and Music, used historically accurate instruments to make the music sound authentically Edo period. But did this game not only hold up as a historical portrayal but as a game worth playing?

In Trek to Yomi, you play as Hiroki, an orphan who is raised by Sensei Sanjuro and trained to wield a katana. When a bandit raid leads to the death of Hiroki’s wife and village leader Aiko, he goes on a mission of honor and revenge to confront this threat. Who is this the person behind this exactly? The first person Hiroki truly fought, the warlord Kagerou who also killed his sensei several years ago. This journey takes Hiroki on a quest through not only a neighboring village under attack, but the realm of the dead itself, Yomi. On this journey, Hiroki will not only discover more about himself but how he can truly fight a person who seems unkillable. I apologize for the simple overview of the story. Trek to Yomi is beautifully told, and I don’t want to spoil any moment of it for you. I felt for Hiroki during my time. Not only that, but the occasional decision-making felt like an actual meaningful choice because of the writing and quickly caring for him and those around him. There isn’t just one driving factor in the story, and each one is very well acted out vocally as well as shown on screen.

Plus there is a minimal yet heavily weight branching narrative. At several points, you will decide what Hiroki’s motivations are. Is he on this quest to avenge the loss of his love? Is he on it for honor? What about just because he’s angry? These decisions, while at first do not feel meaningful, manifested really well in the end. I chose honor as Hiroki’s motivator because that’s how I related to him as a character. And the ending showed me just exactly what that meant for Hiroki once everything was said and done, wrapping up my journey in a very melancholic way that I appreciated.

As for the set pieces, these may be the biggest positive and highlight of Trek to Yomi. With the whole game being in black and white, the detail needed to stand out in the world to make it distinctive. Flying Wild Hog did just that. At times I even questioned if the areas were made digitally, or were physically made like in Square Enix’s mobile game, Fantasian. There was a surprising amount of detail and distinction in the world itself that really brought the world to life.

Black and white color schemes are nothing without lighting, and this is what enhanced my adoration for the level design. With all the fire in the destruction and lighting in houses, the lighting is another major high point. Many of the setpieces are raided towns that are on fire or murky caves. No detail is lost. Fire in particular makes the destruction even more prominent as well.

Another huge plus is that Trek to Yomi is full of collectibles. They’re hidden in hard-to-find areas or just off the beaten path. Because of the lighting, they’re not impossible to find. It’s clear which houses you can go into, where a path is that leads to a collectible,  and what exactly you can pick up. As a gamer who loves completing games 100%, the finer touches to make things a little more obvious via lighting are a good touch.

As for gameplay, I have one positive and a very big negative. The positive is adding on to the last paragraph, explorability. For a very linear game, I loved how much the game pushed me to explore. Not only were there collectibles and upgrades, but there were also multiple ways to clear out enemies to avoid a fight. Environmental hazards are hidden down certain paths as well. Triggering them could lead to, for instance, logs rolling to crush a large number of enemies in your path. While few and far between, just knowing these existed pushed me to look in just about every corner for a chance at finding everything possible. Especially if it meant the game was a little easier and I avoided combat.

Why was I trying to avoid one of the biggest parts of this game? Because combat is boring and stale. My biggest issue with the combat is it is presented as simple yet deep with combos and ranged weapons. Sadly, the enemy’s attack patterns negate the combos and ranged weapons only felt useful to take foes out at the start of a fight. You know when a fight is coming. The more free-flowing movement becomes 2D (backward and forwards on a single path). Each time it sets the stage that an epic fight should be coming.

Enemies either jump from roofs, stop what they’re doing, or slowly approach and present a challenge. It feels big! Like a cool confrontation leading up to an awesome swordfight in a Kurosawa film. Sadly, the combat combos hold those moments back. Close combat is fought with 3-4 buttons; a heavy and light attack, a block, and movement. As you progress, you unlock more and more combos that could lead to very cool moments that felt like Hiroki is an untouchable samurai. Outside of those very few moments? The sword-fighting is just trading blows or waiting to counter an enemy with the same animation that leads to a massive or killing strike. I tried my damndest to do combos. If they worked regularly they would’ve made my experience much better, but they don’t. In an attempt to pull off a combo that would stun a hard enemy and let me pull off a finisher, they’d swing. Trying to block it would reset the combo. Taking a hit would reset the combo. No matter what I did, when an enemy swings wildly while I’m hitting them it would reset the combo.

Refinement is sorely needed to make combat more fun. Even boss fights which are few and far between just end up being trading blows, or trying to unload all of my ranged weapons to get as much damage done as possible as soon as possible. One fight, in particular, is extremely poorly designed. In about chapter 6, you fight a demon at the end of your trek through Yomi. For a supernatural fight, it’s extremely unfair. Numerous moves deal too much damage.

There is also an insta-kill move that yeets (and I mean this in the most unironic way possible) Hiroki off the map with no telegraphing that it’s coming. To get through him I just had to find a way to cheese the boss before he did this game-breaking move. This move feels like a bug too simply because of how hilariously fast Hiroki gets launched. For a massive portion of the game, combat needed more fine-tuning to feel much better than how it did.

Trek to Yomi raises the bar high for historical accuracy. It’s clear how hard the developers worked to make this game feel like an act of love and admiration for the Edo period of Japan. However, the well-written story, great voice acting, and beautiful setpieces are held back by the combat. For a substantial part of the game, swordfights feel stale. Especially with little use for combos which are given a big emphasis via unlocks. If the combat was given the attention that every other facet of this game got, Trek to Yomi would have been a big contender for my Game of the Year.

Trek to Yomi is available on PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5.


Trek To Yomi
  • 7.5/10
    Rating - 7.5/10
7.5/10

TL;DR

Trek to Yomi raises the bar high for historical accuracy. It’s clear how hard the developers worked to make this game feel like an act of love and admiration for the Edo period of Japan. However, the well-written story, great voice acting, and beautiful setpieces are held back by the combat. For a substantial part of the game, swordfights feel stale. Especially with little use for combos which are given a big emphasis via unlocks. If the combat was given the attention that every other facet of this game got, Trek to Yomi would have been a big contender for my Game of the Year.