Bad media is often looked down upon. All it takes is a small group of people to get displeased and evidence to back their claims, and word spreads out that the piece of work is bad. Potential buyers will turn away from the product, because why would you spend money on something that you were told wasn’t worth your time? Bad media is unimportant and should be abandoned, but is this always the case? Is there nothing we can learn from bad media? Should we always fall down to the majority opinion and not form an opinion of our own? Is bad media bad because it’s truly terrible or someone told you this through an article? Yahtzee Croshaw, known for Zero Punctuation, released a video months ago which explored bad media and there was this statement. “The sort of thing where you really want to break it down and try to figure out the logic that went into it.” Yes, I know Skill Up referenced the video as well, but what Yahtzee is basically saying is that all pieces of media have vision and intention put into it. The creators behind a product had an image and tried to make it come to reality but failed to execute certain ideas properly and stick the landing. While we may criticize and make fun of bad media you can at least appreciate the effort put into the product. The art.
Some of you readers may try to present evidence and stories which contradict what I’m trying to say. Fallout 76 was bad because Bethesda put too much money into the marketing, didn’t realize the scope of the colossal project, and rushed out a game they knew wouldn’t be functional as past game engines struggled to keep up with the size of their worlds. Metal Gear Survive was bad as Konami attempted to milk the Metal Gear franchise after the departure of Hideo Kojima from the company, appealed by resorting to a popular game genre and cliche ideas, and published a game that’s hard to believe is even related to the Metal Gear series with all the absurdities going on and repetition gameplay loop. Yes, these statements are true and back up the claim that bad media is bad for a reason. However, every once in a blue moon you see bad media that had heart put into it. Bad media that you could look at and understand what possibly happened during development. Bad media that can still come out as art.
There are positive lessons to be found within bad media, but for this case we’re talking about bad video games. Watch Dogs: Legion was another bloated open world sandbox, but the team tried to be innovative by allowing the player to recruit and play as anyone they found within the open world. We Happy Few was a terribly designed game, but there was passion put into making the dystopian setting and creating a story that explored a society built upon deception and lies. Ghostwire: Tokyo is another bloated open world sandbox, but its art design and exploration of Japanese folklore provided a unique horror experience. Bad video games can have good found within them and at times there will be players who ignore all the bad qualities and just enjoy the game for what it is. I struggle to understand these individuals, but I respect the mentality they have. Being able to be happy without critics and sassy gamers bringing them down.
I start the review up like this, because this is the exact same feeling I had with Trek To Yomi. A game most individuals will not enjoy, and I can understand why. It’s short, not good to play, and there are a plethora of samurai games that do what Trek to Yomi is doing, but better. However, if you can ignore the biggest downsides to this game what you may find is a wonderfully presented experience. The aspects I loved about Trek to Yomi were enough to cover up everything wrong with it, and to be honest it’s probably the most unique and underrated game I played so far this year. I think someone already titled a review like this, but Trek to Yomi is a beautiful mess.
You know I’m a huge sucker for games set in Japan or taking heavy inspiration from the people and culture. A majority of the games I love are made by Japanese game studios, and the most talented and well achieved figures I know hail from Japan. I was pretty excited for Trek to Yomi as its visuals and themes hooked my interests. When the game came out public reception was divided. You had the one group of people defending it and saying it was great, and the other group who thought it was underdeveloped. I didn’t know what group to trust and the only way to figure the exact answer out was to play the game myself. I have an Xbox Game Pass membership and luckily I was able to download this game for free. Played Trek to Yomi these past three days and after rolling credits I can say this. “It’s not for everyone, but please give it a chance.” I’ll try not to make this review too long, but I want to talk about why I like Trek to Yomi despite it being bad. So sharpen thine blade and prepare to tread through a land of death.
The story follows Hiroki, a young apprentice to a skilled samurai and protector to a small village. Ever since his master, Sanjuro, took him in as a child he’s been training in the way of the blade. Taught to fight with efficiency and ferocity, so that when he grows older, he may join the ranks of the samurai and protect the inhabitants and governors of the village. One day during afternoon training, the village is attacked by a group of bandits. Sanjuro heads out to fight off the attackers, but the young Hiroki follows with his own blade to help out. Hiroki is also friends with Aiko, the daughter of Sanjuro, and she wishes for her friend to protect her father from death. To not be taken so quickly from her life and be sent down to the depths of Yomi, otherwise hell.
Hiroki rushes off and encounters the bandits who threaten him at first. However, Hiroki gets the best of them and cuts them all down despite being a young child. He takes the blood of a human being at a young age and doesn’t regret it, because he believes he is fighting for a just cause. To protect the people of the village and execute those who stray off the path of honor. Hiroki soon meets the leader of the bandits. This stern figure wields a spear and is armored with hard plated steel. Hiroki fights off against the leader and manages to land a hit across his face, but the bandit leader overwhelms him and prepares to splatter his face along the ground. Luckily, Sanjuro shows up just in time and slays the mighty bandit leader. However, he is cut down in the process and dies right in front of Hiroki. He tells the young boy to protect his daughter, serve by her side and the people, and to remain a faithful warrior even until death. Honor above all.
We cut to several years later, Hiroki is a grown man who fulfilled his master’s requests and joined the ranks of the samurai. He serves alongside Aiko and protects the people of the village. Aiko is now one of the main governors of the village, and she and a bunch of other officials agree to send Hiroki and the most skilled warriors the town has to march across the land and kill whatever bandits and attackers may be running amuck. Hiroki and the other samurai are sent out to do just that and begin to trek across dangerous, unexplored terrain. I’m actually going to dive a bit deeper into the story, and seeing how this game isn’t all that long, it means I’ll be exploring bits that occur around the halfway point. I won’t explain the entire plot, but it is an important point in the story. If you haven’t played Trek to Yomi and this plot interests you, then go play it or watch somebody else play it before moving onto the next paragraph. Spoilers ahead!
Hiroki and the other samurai traverse the woods, and as Hiroki moves on ahead he doesn’t realize his comrades have been kidnapped by bandits hiding in the bushes. He fights his way through the bandits and locates a fortress his comrades are being taken to. Hiroki rushes to save them, but immediately when he confronts their leader, a group of archers are ordered to fire arrows upon the other samurai. Hiroki is angered by this misdeed and manages to cut down the bandits and their leader. However, that wasn’t their leader, rather an apprentice. This was all but a distraction, so that the actual general of this group could lead an attack on Hiroki’s village. With the main plan to kill everyone within it. Hiroki begins to run home to find his village up in flames. People are being slaughtered left and right, and houses are falling apart. Hiroki locates their leader only to be shocked to see who it is. The man who Sanjuro killed years before. Hiroki can’t fathom how a dead man came back from the dead, but before he can figure out he is slain. When Hiroki wakes up he finds the flames of the village out, but something is amiss. Mutated individuals flood the streets, faggots and fog float around in the air, and an illusion of Aiko leads him forward. He then discovers that he was sent to Yomi as he failed to protect his people and lover, who was killed. Hiroki is filled with shame but is told that if he can traverse the depths of Yomi then he may reach a gateway that can resurrect him. Allowing to face the resurrected man once more.
While Trek to Yomi has a pretty complex story to unravel, on the opposite end of the spectrum the gameplay is really easy to understand. It’s composed of two components, navigation and of course the samurai styled combat. Navigation is simple enough to understand. You walk along a linear path and try to move towards where you need to go. You know you are going the right way if more enemies show up. Occasionally the game provides you two paths to go down and secret areas which reward players upgrades which improve their character’s efficiency. There are also checkpoints to stop along the way which replenish your health, and whenever you die you respawn at these checkpoints with the cost being losing all your progress made.
Combat is along the likes of something like Ghost of Tsushima or Sekrio if you have played these types of games. You have a basic attack which can be performed in quick succession, and a strong attack which is much slower but can dish out more damage within a short amount of time. You have the ability to dodge rolls, but that won’t do much as you can’t roll through enemies and hordes are always rushing up to you. Thankfully, you can block their attacks, but doing so will use up stamina. The stamina bar empties whenever you block, attack, or run and when it’s out you enter a tired state. Being unable to attack, moving slowly, and taking double damage. If you time a block right you can perform a parry. Leaving an enemy open for a few seconds and giving you a window of opportunity to land a heavy hit or series of hits. Maybe even perform an execution attack which allows you to restore a piece of health. Beating boss enemies and picking up certain scriptures allows the player to learn new moves. Perform new combos and possibly get more creative with the action. However, this creativity is quite low, and we’ll touch more on this later. Other weapons outside the sword are ranged weapons like the bow, kunai knives, and the cannon. Ranged weapons that do more damage usually have ammo that is harder to come by.
Is there anything else I’d like to add on? No, there isn’t. No, literally there isn’t any other info I can add onto this section because the game is just this. Walking down a linear path, being thrown into a combat section, and getting exposition or a cutscene to the story. From what I’ve said it seems like Trek to Yomi has good ideas and its simplistic gameplay structure makes it much more accessible than the complexity that is introduced in Ghost of Tsushima. Trust me, we’ll talk more about why the gameplay doesn’t work as well as you think. For now, let’s just move on with the review. Hopefully, you can protect the people of the village and redeem your master.
Trek to Yomi despite being a mess to a lot of players is really good to me personally. Despite its many crippling flaws and under delivered ideas it stands out for what it did right. What is done well is done tremendously and I want to congratulate the developers, Flying Wild Hog, for being able to deliver a game like this to begin with. I know the developers of Shadow Warriors and that’s a pretty big series, but I can tell they struggled when it came to Trek to Yomi. They had to work around the limitations and janky features of the game, and they did so despite being hit in the leg with a crowbar labeled with the words, “Bad gameplay.” We might as well talk about this since it’s the biggest flaw with Trek to Yomi and why gamers are turned down by it.
Trek to Yomi isn’t a terribly designed game. In fact, the intentions and ideas the developers had would have worked perfectly if they allowed the game to cook longer in the oven. Enemies approach you in hordes, but they take turns approaching you, so you aren’t overwhelmed and gank squad to death. There’s enough variety to each encounter to keep you on your toes and always consider what enemy to take out next. Ranged weapons are useful, but you are highly encouraged to master melee combat and play aggressively. Break enemy defense or at least parry their attacks so that you may find an opening. What’s surprising is that Flying Wild Hog took the samurai styled combat of a title like Sekiro and applied it to a 2D plane. Showing that it could still work, feel intense, and rewarding despite being limited to a horizontal axis.
The gameplay should have worked, but then the annoying features kick in. One of my biggest problems with combat is that it has a rotation button, so you may turn Hiroki around and face enemies from the other direction. This feels really finicky and can sometimes be the reason why you weren’t able to block an upcoming attack from behind quick enough. You sometimes even forget the rotation button is there, because in every other sidescroller I’ve played with a combat system they allow the player to attack the opposite direction immediately as long as they point towards said direction. Hollow Knight, Blasphemous, and even Super Smash Brothers. They do this because it’s responsive, easy to adjust to, and react with. It’s not just the rotation button which makes controlling Hiroki feel awkward. Your attacks feel really finicky and there is a slight delay when trying to block. I also want to say combat lacks weight. Meaning a heavy attack will feel like cutting through paper rather than clashing it against metal and skin.
The rewards for going off the beaten path are nice and there’s quite a few collectibles to pick up along your journey. Upgrades to improve your health and stamina, or item descriptions which give more insight to this time period and their mythology. Outside of these items however, going off the beaten path is meaningless. From what I’ve seen there isn’t any reward for picking up all of the collectibles. Not even a secret ending and Trek to Yomi has three different endings depending on some dialogue options you choose. These moments of exploration and straying away don’t even last that long, as these optional paths are short and every few minutes a group of enemies is thrown at the player. Combat becomes more annoying as the game goes on. The first few chapters are when combat is easier than it should be, but around Chapter 5 is when the difficulty spikes randomly. You face enemies who can deal double. Attacks that are downright unavoidable unless you kill the enemy preparing them quickly. The game keeps introducing new attack combos, but it doesn’t do a good job getting the player to use them. Plus why would I use these attack combos when the most basic attacks are way more efficient? I do want to admit though, when Trek to Yomi started to become more challenging is when it started to become fun and more engaging.
This is not a really good video game. Combat doesn’t feel great, the game follows an extremely linear path, and the overall purchase is difficult to make since the game is only four to five hours. Trek to Yomi isn’t fun, but it’s enjoyable, nonetheless. Despite gameplay being an important aspect, what Trek to Yomi makes up for is everything else. The art direction was probably my favorite aspect about this game. It all takes place from a 2.5D view and gives these gorgeous backdrops to the scenery behind it. A lot of time was spent detailing the environment, setting up scripted sequences, and the cinematography adds to the art direction by angling the camera in cool ways. Giving us these clever shots at the right time. Trek to Yomi is also a game that doesn’t use color. Everything is in black and white. Stylized after the old samurai films of the past. In fact, the developers listed these films as the game's main inspiration. The audio, voice acting, and sound design is also great. Giving us epic performances, echoes, and quality to match up to those classic films.
Of course, my favorite aspect is none other than the story. It tells the tale of a warrior who failed to live up to expectations. Unable to protect what he viewed as family. Those he loved. Seeing the world around him fall apart and dying before he can face the villain who killed his master. Trudging through hell or what could be a mind game slowly twisting his thoughts. Seeing if he either becomes more doubtful with himself, or if he’ll remain stern and push onward. Hoping to resurrect from the dead and if he can slay the antagonist. The killer, this demon who came back and promised hell was coming. Choosing whether to side with love, honor, or become a monster who will purge the evils of the land. The three endings you can choose from are all satisfying and offer a great conclusion to a wonderful story. Trek to Yomi may have chosen the route of style over substance, but in this scenario the style is the substance. It’s a game with an artistic vision and it lives up to it. Trek to Yomi is a bad game I recommend. I personally enjoyed my time with it and I’m sad the devs are getting so much hate, because this is great. In the end I am going to give Trek to Yomi an 8/10 for being pretty good. Beauty amongst the flaws.
This critique was written by the single man at Review on. Stay tuned for more content and feel free to check more reviews out over at my site!