In the rich Japanese mythology, Yomi is the place where people's souls are taken after they have died. A dark and nightmarish realm, where the dead, regardless of their behavior in life (no relation to the paradise/hell diptych), continue to maintain their existence in perpetuity as shadows. In essence, Yomi could be paralleled with Greek's mythology Hades, being an integral part of the upper world, even having an entrance similar to the gate of the river Acheron.
Such a bleak place is therefore a prime opportunity to inspire creator Leonard Menchiari and our renowned Flying Wild Hog development team to create a unique game. The game in question is Trek to Yomi, a largely hack 'n' slash side-scroller that has a strong cinematic feel and seems particularly influenced by the old Japanese films of Akira Kurosawa, in terms of graphics and sound.
For those of you who read the preview we posted about a month and a half ago, we highlighted its bold approach with the black and white color scheme, the intense film grain giving it an "old" aesthetic and the classic revenge story it's called upon to tell players. The end result, in terms of storytelling, does not disappoint. Hiroki is a remarkable protagonist, taciturn but very effective with a sword and utterly loyal to his samurai oaths, where his goal is to protect his village and avenge the death of his beloved master by a raid of bloodthirsty bandits. After all, this is precisely the reason why he is forced to travel all the way to Yomi in order to bring about redemption. A redemption laying in our hands, having the ability to choose which path we take to achieve it. One thing is certain, every choice comes at a huge cost and will determine the future of both himself and his beloved Aiko, and the people of the village he loves so dearly.
The truth is that we deliberately avoid giving too much information about the plot of Trek to Yomi for two reasons: firstly, because it is a unique experience worth enjoying without knowing in advance what you are going to face, and secondly, because its narrative and atmosphere are the main reasons to get involved in the game. Of course, this does not imply that the value of the game starts and ends there. It's just that compared to the thrilling experience provided by the nightmarish images it depicts and the excellent direction with masterful shots, the merely above average hack 'n' slash gameplay seemed like a minor issue.
So compared to the preview version we had tested, not much has changed. Trek to Yomi continues to be a completely linear experience. There are very few opportunities for exploration per screen, which mainly involve potentially increasing Hiroki's stamina and health bar, but also the ability to interact with certain parts of the environment such as knocking down a tree trunk to open up paths and/or simultaneously killing a handful of enemies that, under other circumstances, you would need to fight.
As we described back then, combat is based on sword timing and timely action/reaction. Hiroki has a plethora of attacks, which is enriched as we progress through the game, and utilizes few buttons (light and heavy attack, block/parry and dodge/roll), making things pretty simple and straightforward. In addition to the sword, there are some limited ammo gadgets that can help a lot in crowded situations, such as shurikens. Later on, we additionally get the very useful bow and the slow but powerful Ozutsu, a powder-smoking weapon that mows down many people in its wake.
Of course, it is the stamina bar that every now and then limits our movements. Any depletion of it renders us incapable of defending ourselves until it is refilled, the reason for adding it being, obviously, to avoid the rampant use of constant attacks and the "turtle defense" tactic that would make things much easier. However, parry is a move that doesn't consume stamina if we press the block at the right time, and is a key factor in creating openings in enemy defenses. Often, a well-balanced parry leads to a fatal hit, but this ceases to be true at advanced levels, where enemies are no longer poor swashbucklers, but something completely different and eerie. Needless to say, bosses need several... "fatal hits" to revisit Yomi.
However, the difficulty level of the battles depends largely on the level you set at the start of the adventure. At the middle level (Bushido) where we finished the game, the challenge is within normal limits, with the difficulty only increasing quite a bit towards the end of the game. Of course, the bravest can attempt Kensei, which is unlocked after finishing the game once, where everything is one-hit! As it actually happens in swordfights, that is.
Of course, Trek to Yomi proves to be very generous in terms of checkpoints that fully replenish our health in one go, hence the fact that the first playthrough we do will hardly exceed five hours. Otherwise, however, things would probably get very frustrating, as there are quite a few times when the game places us between three and four opponents at once, who don't hesitate to attack us from behind (where is your honor?). We won't hide from you that towards the latter stages of the game, we got a little tired of the high frequency of the battles, as at one point, the gameplay pattern becomes dangerously repetitive (some little puzzles don't offer any kind of challenge).
However, what more than won us over was the atmosphere of the game. Trek to Yomi has the unique ability to suck you into its world and make you feel really uncomfortable with what you see. The images inside Yomi in particular are creepy, especially when combined with the sad feelings of revulsion created by the two-tone color scheme, and the accompanying soundtrack, which plays amazingly with our nerves. If there's anything we could compare the emotions it evokes to, it's Little Nightmares, but we appreciate that Trek to Yomi gets even more intense, to the point where we wanted to leave the suffocating atmosphere of Yomi as soon as possible. I guess the thought that the afterlife could be something like this creates even bigger nightmares.
To sum up, Trek to Yomi is a game you should try at some point, no matter what kind of game you prefer. It may not impress with its combat system and linear gameplay structure, but both its flawless cinematics and unparalleled atmosphere are enough to make it memorable. And if you're adventurous, you might even attempt a new descent into Yomi. It will be waiting for you with open arms.