[PREVIEW] Trek to Yomi – One sharp lookin’ samurai story

Justice, courage, benevolence, politeness, honesty, honor, loyalty, and self-control. These are the eight principles of a samurai. Known as the virtues of Bushido, many tales of heroic warriors carry out these core values. In order to become a respected samurai, one must have discipline. Or – as my 45 minutes hands-on time with Trek to Yomi has shown me – you can get there by ignoring your sensei’s command to stay put and watch him get split in half in the process.

In a way, Trek to Yomi tries to convey that classic ‘samurai in training’ story. As young Hiroki gets taught in the ways of the warrior, we – the player – get taught in the ways of Trek to Yomi. Always keep your guard. Never turn your back on the enemy. But most importantly, never disobey your fucking sensei, you bitch-ass punk kid! Then again, it’s a good thing that young Hiroki would rather listen to his side chick than his master. Because if Hiroki would have obeyed his sensei, he’d miss out on some great action and the last breath of his teacher.

So far, Trek to Yomi might not sound like anything we haven’t seen before. And to be honest, it isn’t. I even posted a trailer a few days back, so you literally have seen it before. Anyway, this classic feudal Japans styled vengeance story pretty much follows standard protocol. In my first 45 minutes with the game, Trek to Yomi introduces me to my kid protagonist, his beloved teacher, and then takes that loved one away in a brutal way. A course to revenge is set and many years later, we get dropped smack in the middle of the action leading us to that vengeance. We plow our way through meaningless goons until enemies of significance cross our path. And then… silence. Calm. Serenity. The flash of the blade breaks the tension. But who’s the one dealing the lethal blow? The next stylish angled shot will reveal the victor.

And that’s where this game excels. Telling a story told countless times before, Trek to Yomi does so with impeccable style. When you choose to play with all cinematic filters enabled, Trek to Yomi looks and feels like a 100-year old Japanese flick. Dramatic yet believable Japanese voice acting and various cinematic camera angles really know how to sell the experience. It even makes you forget that you’re basically walking from shot to shot, or rather confrontation to confrontation. Especially when playing on the easiest mode, combat gets fairly repetitive because goons go down way too easily. But if you up the ante, that aforementioned training will serve you well. Once you start facing fierce combatants – wielding different kinds of weaponry and calling in reinforcement as you strike – Trek to Yomi can demand you to show your true prowess.

Luckily, Trek to Yomi does try to spice the routine encounters up a bit by letting you find alternative pathways. A duel to the death can be avoided if you take the time to find shortcuts. It might even lead you to a collectible or two. Some of these shortcuts are obvious, some aren’t. But searching for them usually pays out, without making them feel like a cop-out. Then again, you might feel like sticking to the beaten path. Not because of the search for the alternative, but because of the tricky camera angles that can come with them.

You see, Trek to Yomi isn’t your standard 2.5D action-adventure game. It’s fairly playful when it comes to camera angles and how they get switched around. It adds to the ambiance, but can also add to slight frustration when maneuvering Hiroki to his destination. It is probably one of those things to get skilled in, requiring practice to make it perfect. So to that matter, it ties in perfectly with the entire premise, I suppose.

But hey, as I was saying before, Trek to Yomi is still in development, and my experience got limited to 45 minutes of it. Keeping that in mind, this game can really go places. It has all the ingredients of becoming on helluva samurai story. It has the style, the vibe… it just works. And with a little bit of extra Flying Wild Hog love, Trek to Yomi might just surprise all of us when it launches. Now I just have to work on discipline while I wait for the rest of the game.