Devolver Digital is one of my favorite publishers. And yes, I'm starting this review with favoritism, what of it? They have teamed up with the lovely people at Flying Wild Hog (Shadow Warrior 3), to bring us a 50's inspired Samurai Game based on Japanese mythology called Trek To Yomi. And without gushing about it in the first paragraph, I don't see how this game is only $20. It's really good. Like really. really good. The audio, the visuals, the controls, all of it. You should play it. And you should play it multiple times.
To give some background, Leonard Menchiari started writing the script for this game in the year 2000. His sources come directly from 19th century Japan, and the Edo Dynasty; he even went to the Edo museum in Tokyo to make sure this game was depicted accurately. The developers also had help from Kakehashi Games and historian Aki Tabei Matsunaga, so they really did everything to make sure this game hit all historical points. The game really does look like an old samurai movie, from the characters, to the fact that the entire game is in black and white. The dialog is all in Japanese with subtitles. Even the villages and the people who inhabit it all have that feeling that you are a immersed into an epic, memorable journey.
You start the game with a younger version of Hiroki, the Defender. Voiced by Masayuki Katou of "Naruto Shippuden, "Sword Art Online", Hiroki is in a training dojo with his sensei Sanjuro, The Mentor (Voiced by Hiroshi Shirokuma of "Naruto, "One Piece"). This training session is the tutorial. And I cannot express enough how important this tutorial is. If you're like me, I usually take the tutorial with a grain of salt, and go in with swords swingin' and clingin'. Sanjuro won't let you proceed without completing his instructions. It also shows your life bar and stamina bar. You can swing your sword different directions depending on your button inputs. To turn around, to face an enemy behind you, you have to hit a button. That means you will always be facing the enemy you're fighting. You can also block, and parry, but this costs you stamina. Swinging your sword, or increasing your speed (with a separate button) also costs you stamina. If your stamina runs out, you enter a tired state, and will be susceptible to high damage. I implore you to remember as much as you can. Of course if you can't, the move list is readily available with the click of a button. After you finish the tutorial, Sensei Sanjuro is rushed off, because someone is attacking the village. After a quick conversation with Aiko, daughter of Sanjuro (voiced by Sarah Emi Bridcutt of "The Rising of the Shield Hero"), you decide to take your 3 moves and a sword bigger than your body out to see what's going on.
The game lets you free roam in certain sections, and most of them happen when you're not fighting. The first village is sort of a tutorial on that. You can go pretty much anywhere. This free roaming mechanism will be helpful throughout the game. You can get permanent increases to your life and stamina bars, as well as being able to hold more ammunition for your eventual range weapons. You start off with a bo shuriken, and get more as the game progresses. This free roaming also allows you to interact with checkpoints, which double as save points. These check points refill your life and stamina. Running during these free roaming areas does not decrease your stamina. You are also able to interact with villagers, go into houses, push carts, and use environmental kills, like cutting the rope to a bridge. You can also find collectibles, which are cool because you can view and see the lore behind them.
Once you've done all the things in the village, you will start running into bandits. These are your regular run of the mill, low level thugs. Except they don't feel that way. These enemies sometimes talk and move as if they're here to end your day. They don't care that you've reduced them to one shot antagonists. They want to make sure you got that tutorial down. They won't tolerate you blindly swinging at them, and they will kill you quickly if you don't use technique. There are also sections where there are 3 or more enemies at at time. The cool thing about this is, though they will get on either side of you, only two will attack at a time, and sometimes they even switch out with other enemies. With every new type of enemy, they introduce themselves, usually telling you that you won't survive. These enemies take a little (lot) more skill to defeat, and will not be taken lightly. Use caution, and see what works. Sometimes when you defeat enough enemies, you get a new combo to add to your repertoire, as well as more weapon upgrades. Last but certainly not least, are the bosses. And these bosses are massive. Again, using your parry and skills you learn throughout the game will help you here, but these bosses will kill you in one combo. They're not easy, and I think after slashing through hordes of enemies, it's fulfilling when you defeat them. If you are defeated, you start from the last check point. There are no lives. And if you hit a cut scene the first time, it will automatically skip it for the next battle, so the boss doesn't repeatedly tell you how many ways he's going to kill you.
Graphically, this game is gorgeous. It's in black and white, but you can see the expressions on enemies faces, the environments, the villagers and even the animals all come in crisp. If you kill an enemy on a bridge, they will fall off said bridge, into water, and then float up stream. The fires, the lightning, and the beams of light all pop through. You can control the contrast and brightness in the options, as well as other graphics settings . You can turn off the 50's film grain, as well as the bloom filter, but I don't know why you would want to do that. The game looks amazing, and I truly don't understand how they are able to offer it for only $20. They really did a great job with everything. I will forewarn you that if you're playing this on an underpowered PC, it will not work out well. Play it on console instead.
What stands out the most to me is the audio. You can hear every conversation by the villagers. The enemies are having side conversations as they await your arrival. The rain, the fires, the enemies' shouts as they run toward you. Each clink and clang comes through clearly. There there's the music. Your traditional and typical samurai themed music, but it's really really REALLY good. Especially the battle drums when you fight multiple enemies. The way the emotion pours out of Hiroki as the game becomes more and more tragic is entrancing. This game should be listened to in Surround sound, or some really good headphones. Listening to it in stereo is cool too, if that's all you have.
Yomi means Land of the Dead, so I'm not going to spoil it for you, but Hiroki feels EVERYTHING. And he's going to Yomi on purpose. He is battered. He is broken. After disaster strikes during the prologue, you control Hiroki as an adult. Between the collectables, the range weapons, the combos, and the choices you get to make in game, the replay value far exceeds the price point. Yes, there are multiple endings, and yes, there are multiple difficulties, including "Kensei". One hit kills to the enemies, except for the bosses, and one hit kills to you, too. That means if that archer smacks you from the other side of the screen, it's over for you. There's also "Kabuki", which is easy and lets you focus on the story. The story is very rich, and will keep you intrigued. You get to choose how it ends, which is a super cool later discovery.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Joseph is the resident streamer for Gaming Nexus. He grew up playing video games as early as the Atari 2600. He knows a little about a lot of video games, and loves a challenge. He thinks that fanboys are dumb, and enjoys nothing more than to see rumors get completely shut down. He just wants to play games, and you can watch him continue his journey at Games N Moorer on Youtube, Twitch, Twitter, and Facebook gaming!View Profile