Visually stunning with some disappointing combat TREK TO YOMI is a hard journey.
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TREK TO YOMI's crackling and popping of a dusty film reel aesthetic hits you quickly when you first load into the game.
This is a serious cinematic experience. We're doing everything in black and white, there's using gorgeous camera angles.
Your character will absolutely slowly shuffle as it hugs cliffside ledges and pushes carts out of the way of footpaths.
It all sounds a little bit familiar on paper. Here is an indie game not just touching on the flare of the Japanese Samurai cinematic masters like Akira Kurosawa, but emulating it.
A story-driven, narrative first experience that feels like it's in conversation with the current big budget epics that fall into the 'Sony First Party House Style' of games.
While its budget may be dwarfed by Sony's big budget releases, TREK TO YOMI strives to reach similar heights, offering a more intimate experience, both on a narrative and visual level.
You play as Hiroki, voiced by Masayuki Katou of Narato and Sword Art Online fame, an orphan adopted by a samurai sensei and trained in the deadly art of flashy sword combat.
The interior emotional push and pull of Hiroki's desire to find glory in combat while also protecting those under his defense is the focus here, as its story snake through key moments in Hiroki's life, from his childhood training under his master Sanjuro and slicing down anyone who stands in his way.
As Hiroki's tale twists and turns, the narrative also shifts towards the metaphysical and allegorical, trekking through mist-filled swamplands and blighted, diseased villages filled with caged prisoners and snarling, frothing townsfolk.
Visually, TREK TO YOMI is a cinematic feast, using static camera angles with gorgeous placement and attention to detail to the max.
There's a real focus on framing here, the camera shifting and adjusting in just the right ways to show you wide-landscapes when Hikori is outnumbered and isolated, and tight carefully framed snippets of pastoral village life and bustling marketplaces.
Yomi was also designed, ground up to be a black and white experience; and uses shadow and light in evocative ways to paint its vistas.
It's hard not to compare this to Ghost of Tsushima's much marketed 'Kurosawa mode' which applied a black-and-white film grain filter to its visuals; but Yomi feels like this pays off as an artistic style as opposed to a bit of a gimmick.
So that brings us to gameplay.
Is Hiroki's swordplay as graceful and cinematic as the world and rich landscapes he explores?
Here is where the game begins to stumble slightly.
Level design is quite simple - most chapters are filled with a mostly linear left-to-right progression, with some occasional hidden paths and branching areas to explore that are littered with collectibles and the occasional upgrade to your health and stamina.
You'll move from set piece environment to combat arena quite often, slicing your way through combat encounters to get to the next save point that marks your progress and heals you back to full.
While you are constantly unlocking new moves and combos to try and introducing new enemies to clash swords with, it does start to feel like it's running out of creative steam pretty quickly.
Combat also lacks a sense of real visceral heft to it; with parries feeling a little awkward and weightless and some combos feeling a bit wonky to pull off.
Death can be quick and furious on higher difficulties if you stumble and you're shunted back to your last save point; where a check-point style system that allowed you to immediately retry a combat encounter to puzzle out its solution may have been a better choice here.
Thankfully, with four difficulty settings, and if the combat doesn't click with you (like it did not for me), you can drop it down and get back to gazing at the rich scenery and contemplating the inner working of Hiroko's emotional state without the frustration.
Trek to Yomi is by Leonard Menchiari and flying Wild Hog and is out now.
A copy of TREK TO YOMI was provided to SIFTER for the purpose of this review.