Trek To Yomi is a notable departure from the titles Devolver Digital is known to put out. The publisher's catalog has been mostly categorized as fast-paced experiences that focus entirely on difficult but satisfying gameplay loops filtered through anarchic, inventive, and even juvenile lenses. Their most high profile franchise is a reboot of a boomer shooter series whose protagonist's name is a dick joke after all. Alternatively, my brief time with this demo was packed with prestige cinematic aspirations, a po faced dramatic tone, and some trial and error combat that felt uneven at best.
Right off the bat, Trek to Yomi evokes its clear love of classic Akira Kurosawa movies. The game's tutorial opens with the main hero, Hiroki, as a child. After the combat tutorial, handled with practice swords provided by his father, Hiroki runs through his village. The camera angles are wide and deliberately chosen. The visual effects use just the right level of film grain, bloom lighting, and texture to evoke the feeling of 1950s Samurai cinema. Furthermore, the cutscenes contain some really solid performance capture and lip syncing on the character's performances.
Everything in Trek To Yomi's first ten minutes declares that this is a serious experience demanding of your time. But, after the first hour, it all plays out like another generic and predictable plot of “Samurai reclaiming his lost honor by avenging those he's lost.” It practically invites comparison to a more high profile Samurai action game: Sucker Punch's Ghost of Tsushima. But with Jin Sakai's journey, there was some sense of pseudo-historical weight thanks to the context of the mongul invasion. By contrast the inciting incident here, a village being burned down, is left wanting.
Combat didn't make the best first impression either. The game teaches you several different sword combos, mixing together light and heavy attacks. It even encourages more deliberate action with a stamina bar and an exhaustion mechanic. Finally, there is a block and parry mechanic where defending at the right moment will stun and open enemies up to counterattack.
Unfortunately, the combat just felt off. In addition to there being very little feedback on connecting attacks, how parries are done is annoying. Rather than have time slow down after a parry is performed, time slows when you hit block at the right time, but if you hit block again, the attack continues. The idea is that you need to hit the attack button during this slow down to actually perform the follow up attack but it never seems to go off. This is especially felt when you fight bandits wearing ringed armor and it looks like you're just hacking away at a health sponge.
Finally, all of these sword fights are on a 2D plane, but there is a button dedicated to turning around. It is a genuinely baffling design decision, something that would be acceptable in a late 90s PS1 title, but not in 2022 title. Thankfully, Trek to Yomi didn't surround me too often. But when it did, it felt cheap and annoying more than challenging.
But while the sword fights feel chaotic and off, the level design is solid. They're mostly linear affairs with generous checkpoints, but they are also peppered with hidden paths. Better still, some of these hidden paths can lead to you avoiding or even taking out enemies with environmental hazards. Given the sour taste the combat left, this was a godsend. Even better, certain hidden paths contain health and stamina upgrades, which helped smooth other the more annoying elements.
Then there was Trek to Yomi's first boss. Unlike every other bandit I had fought up to that point, the boss used a polearm weapon. At first, I was excited. I thought this would mean a new enemy type that would test my ability to read attacks and make use of the wide variety of attacks I was unlocking. Sadly, the fight amounted to me spamming the block button trying to get a parry, followed by some mad mashes of the attack button. The only times I died weren't from the bosses own unique attacks, but because some enemies appeared on both sides and slashed up my back.
The first hour of Trek to Yomi didn't exactly impress me. The dedication to imitating the look and feel of classic Samurai cinema is to be applauded. The inclusion of notable anime voice actors like Masayuki Katou help gives gravitas to otherwise bog-standard material. While the promotional trailers do promise a more literal descent into hell, something that would gel more with Devolver Digital's grindhouse sensibilities, this demo didn't exactly compel me to go further into the darkness.
TechRaptor previewed Trek to Yomi on PC using a copy provided by the publisher. The game is set to release on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X some time this year.