Why Movies Aren’t Playable
The age of the Samurai has been a media phenomenon in various forms for centuries. The stoic protector of civilians, countrymen, and nobility has been a cultural icon in the modern era as well as a gaming standard for badass protagonists to use sharpened iron and a tested resolve to overcome all obstacles. In recent years we’ve seen big AAA inclusions with Ghost of Tsushima and Sekiro, but rarely do we see the smaller, indie-ish inclusion (it’s hard to consider Devolver “indie” anymore). With Flying Wild Hog, their love for the films of Kurosawa and Kobayashi is well on display in their presentation of a revenge tale with a supernatural twist.
Hiroki is a young budding apprentice following his master’s footsteps to become a swordsman capable of defending those he loves. As Hiroki’s life progresses he’s pressed to turn his sword against bandits, heathens, and wrongdoers trying to pillage his home and slay those around him. In his adult life, leading his village to a peaceful existence, another strong foe with a large force moves closer towards his town and threatens the livelihood of him and his own. Set to end the threat before it reaches his home, Hiroki ventures out to face the threat ahead to not only save himself, but to fulfill a promise and purpose to the duty of the sword.
From the title screen forward, Trek to Yomi’s stylish presentation stands confidently with a premier sheen. Presenting itself in the quintessential visual aesthetic for the time period, Yomi is left void of color, harkening back to the silent films of old and providing a landscape scaled by the grayscale tones and a requested imagination to how bleak or vibrant the land may be. Camera angles are pre-established, giving me Onimusha vibes when traversing each area, lending a deft filmmaking touch to the player experience. No shots left me confused on where to go or left details too hidden to be missed, and the movement of each shot heightened the experience in ways a static 3rd person camera would’ve faltered.
Yomi’s level design is such a treat as well. Each area left me hard pressed not to take a screenshot and make it a wallpaper. Setpieces even more so give an amazing vibe to the scenarios at hand and hype pivotal points in the game to a fever pitch. Crumbling towns under siege by enemy forces, sprawling forests and the maze-like tunnels carved out by man, and the supernatural possessed memories of a past hard fought tantalize at every turn. Each chapter was a visual blast to travel through and beautifully set the tone of a voluminous landscape to be revealed.
These levels are wrapped snuggly by a tight and crisp soundtrack. Soft solemn tones when traveling through landscapes and bustling streets are combated with hard pressing drums when your sword must be unsheathed. Clashes of swords, booming explosions, and the unnerving slicing of flesh is polished and recognizable to both yourself and your opponents. Voice acting is all done in Japanese, providing even more of an authentic and immersive feel to what has been gracefully pieced together at all facets with the love and care needed to appease fans of the genre.
It’s just such a sad realization that Trek to Yomi’s combat was not given the same love. Combat is done on a 2.5D level where enemies will come from your left or right. Fights play much like the Arkham series with parries and combos taking front and center. Light and heavy swings are mapped to be combo’d with directional inputs and pauses to construct an extensive combat list that is constantly growing throughout the game via collecting scrolls around levels. Hiroki is given multiple projectiles to aid in combat, ranging from shuriken to break defenses and timing of foes, to arrows and an ozutsu that practically deletes people. Timing parries will leave enemies open to slicing and thrust attacks that are vital against bigger and armored enemies. Blocking, dashing, rolling, and attacking are all tempered with a stamina bar that will press you to not spam attacks and play the parry game as you’ll eventually get exhausted blocking forever. But while the combat list is extensive and the weapons are varied, I only needed one combo. It broke the game entirely and there’s no reason to not use it. I’ll explain:
Up+X, X, Y.
This combo right here? This combo does everything you’ll ever need. It’s a quick attack to get through smaller foes quickly as well as stunning the bigger foes with the heavy attack at the end. Stunning bigger foes is absolutely paramount as a quick click of the Right Bumper on a stunned foe initiates a finisher which will provide a flashy and immediate kill and provide a small boost of missing health. It’s fast enough to shred boss fights and will have you treating each battle like a Musou fight instead of a life or death duel.
Sure there’s 20+ combos in the game, but why use anything else? Once I received this combo (which is somewhere in the first half of the game), I absolutely breezed through the rest of the story. All of the challenges of learning new moves and the fear of new enemies was removed entirely because nothing frightened or challenged me anymore. Sure, the higher difficulties may require more knowledge of the given abilities, but at Trek to Yomi’s default Medium difficulty I turned this game into a joke with one combo and the occasional ozutsu blast to rid myself of the big heavy hitters near the end of the game. Trek to Yomi’s story also provides small choices that branch the story into multiple endings, but with such a flat experience taking up the majority of my time the thought of trudging through the same enemies with little to no resistance just to pull a different 30-45 second ending does not appeal to me in the slightest.
And it’s a real shame, because on the surface Trek to Yomi absolutely dazzles with an astounding palette of movie-quality audio and visuals, stout camera work, and a world that was engrossing and beautiful and left me wanting to see what was next. But with combat becoming stale, second-thought, and essentially broken by its own devices, Trek to Yomi falters in a way no game should ever: by being no fun to play.
Reviewed on Xbox Game Pass.