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Like a living Samurai film, Trek to Yomi borrows the aesthetic of Seven Samurai or Thirteen Assassins to give you that same sword-swinging drama you love so much. I sat down and played the first two levels of Trek to Yomi, an upcoming side-scrolling action game. While I came in expecting to be delighted by the looks, I was also pleasantly surprised to find that Trek to Yomi had an interesting game under the hood, with some promising action combat with a variety of moves and matchups to explore.

Switching seamlessly from free exploration to side-scrolling in environments with a fixed camera, Trek to Yomi makes the most of its film influences, taking the dramatic lighting and understated duels of Akira Kurosawa’s films and blending in the more cinematic violence of directors like Kenji Misumi and Takashi Miike during action combat.

Trek to Yomi sounds as good as it looks, the crackle and pop of fire overlaid by a dramatic soundtrack and the clash of swords from backlit silhouettes. The use of sound is key to make the genre work, and it seems like Trek to Yomi gets that. The voice actors also delivered pretty solid performances in what I played, with all dialogue in Japanese with English subtitles.

Many environments reminded me of the better scenes from the original Final Fantasy VII.

I can’t say enough how much I enjoyed the environments of just two levels. Though the title and story promise at least some connection to supernatural events, the environments I saw were very mundane rural and woodland places. It didn’t matter: They were generally rich, well-composed scenes that took advantage of the fixed camera angle to give a really cinematic experience. Effects like lighting were well-placed, as were background movements. The driving storm and lightning that came during one section were wonderfully used. Many environments reminded me of the better scenes from the original Final Fantasy VII.

Of course, all of that wouldn’t matter much if the fighting wasn’t good. The dramatic, tortured protagonists of Samurai movies are awesome, but the other half of why they’re awesome is the swordsmanship. Protagonist Hiroki is a master of the blade, but only as far as you can take him. You’ve got very limited health, and the stamina-based combat system encourages you to be more active than opponents.

Protagonist Hiroki is a master of the blade, but only as far as you can take him.

A lot of combat was about timing your blocks as parries, picking the right attack set for the situation, and reacting swiftly. For example, you might want to swing from below against enemies holding their swords high, or stab against enemies with a horizontal sword ready to block. Slow enemies call for heavy stunning combos, then execution. Spear wielders are easiest if you keep inside their guard.

If that sounds familiar, yes, it’s a lot like other recent action games. You’re going to die, and die, and die, and die, and then finally take down that one guy you died to in a very satisfying manner. Thankfully, save points were well-distributed and generous. There was also a cinematic difficulty for experiencing the story, along with a hard mode… and a harder mode.

I can’t say that the combat in my preview build was perfect. Animations sometimes didn’t line up smoothly, especially when parrying. It wasn’t always clear why certain inputs combo’d and others didn’t. But those were the kind of things that I’d expect to see smoothed out before release. So far, at least, developer Leonard Menchiari, Flying Wild Hog, and Devolver Digital have the basis for a very fine action game.

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Author: Ryan McCaffrey

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