During our chat with Trek to Yomi producer Katarzyna Szymczak-Shalska, we also discussed the possibility of the game getting a photo mode, if we’d ever see a colorful cut of the game and door hinges of all things . The game releases May 5 on PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and PC.
It seems like an exhausting effort has gone into making Trek to Yomi authentic, including sourcing incredibly rare instruments for the score. Approximate value of the rarest instrument used?
Syzmczak-Shalska: We intended to harmonize the music with the visuals and the story. A more current contemporary theme would have distorted the reception of the game. We began looking for composers who would match the mood of the game and ensure the historical accuracy of the sound. Needless to say we found them!
Composers Cody Johnson and Yoko Honda, who have true samurai heritage, only used Japanese instruments from the Edo period. In part, the score was based on the sounds of gagaku, an ancient form of Japanese imperial court music. Gagaku used techniques of counterpoint, i.e. several melodies sounding together, hundreds of years before European composers.
In terms of ballpark value, we don’t want to pick favorites. All the instruments used in the score were invaluable, as they helped create the unique atmosphere of Trek to Yomi.
For anyone unfamiliar with Akira Kurosawa, the main inspiration for Trek to Yomi, which of his works do you each consider essential viewing?
SS: The first choice is a no-brainer, “Seven Samurai”. I mean, it’s such a classic that it doesn’t get better. This is Kurosawa’s magnum opus. The staging, the lighting of the montage, the frames and the lighting. Everything is epic! It laid the foundation for contemporary action films.
Next up is “Throne of Blood,” Kurosawa’s take on the Shakespearean classic “Macbeth.” I mean Toshiro Mifune has reached god level acting in the role! To be honest, if you like action movies, you can’t go wrong with Kurosawa movies.
Devolver seems to have had a good strike rate with Xbox Game Pass, how has the move to the service benefited Trek for Yomi and the team?
SS: Trek to Yomi is a new IP. Right now it needs to be exposed and the best way to do that is through Xbox Game Pass.
Some of my favorite games are considered short, and Trek to Yomi would be around five hours long, which is music to my ears. While I’m sure the journey itself will be worth it, how has the team ensured there will be some replay value?
SS: Trek to Yomi can be beaten in five to six hours, and beating the game grants you access to a new difficulty mode. It’s essentially “one shot, one shot”, in other words, a game changer!
The game also has four different endings, so there’s plenty of room for replayability in Trek to Yomi.
After obviously working on Shadow Warrior for so long, was Flying Wild Hog the natural choice to pivot to a project so rooted in Japanese culture and its mythologies?
SS: Trek to Yomi was produced by the Rzeszow team. Our team has only provided limited support on Shadow Warrior 3. That being said, we’re still Flying Wild Hog, so fast-paced, action-packed games are in our DNA.
Japanese culture was something relatively new to us, so we had to delve deeply into it and quickly become familiar with it. I guess you can say something like Trek to Yomi had to happen anyway.
I feel like a lot of the more fantastical footage of Trek to Yomi – its supernatural elements etc. – have been largely kept secret. How weird does the game get?
SS: Trek to Yomi gets weird, especially in the Yomi part of the trek. Look what I did there? More seriously, you will see a lot of weird and fantastic scenery and creatures later in the adventure.
As someone who spent time with the first hour, I noticed the fight starting to decline. Granted, I had mostly only used the katana, but how do things stay interesting throughout Hiroki’s journey to hell and back?
SS: Hiroki acquires many skills during his journey.
It’s a constant adaptation to new enemies and learning to defeat them. On top of that, you’ll be able to use skills that weren’t available to Hiroki at the start of the game. Yomi is the real crucible where we test your ability to use those skills with some pretty terrifying enemies. That’s why the first part can feel a little serene, it’s all about letting the player get used to the mechanics and skills.
Although the layout is lavish and releasing it in any other form would do the beauty and scenery of Trek to Yomi a disservice, is there a color version somewhere?
SS: From the beginning, we intended to have Trek to Yomi in black and white. We had to take a lot of steps to make sure the game looked great in this type of environment. Enabling colors would render all our previous efforts useless.
Is it something that can just be flipped, for lack of a better term?
SS: No tipping, black and white is the way to go and we intend to stick with it.
And what about plans to integrate a photo mode after launch?
SS: Since the scenes are presented from a carefully designed angle, the introduction of the photo mode will not be available. However, the game will be available in 4K, so we implore everyone to take some great screenshots.
I know I already have a screenshots folder. If the game exceeds expectations and there is demand, do you think the world of Trek to Yomi is ripe for expansion or do you feel like it’s a unique story?
SS: The story told in Trek to Yomi is a closed case. That said, the setting is so rich that, who knows, maybe we’ll dive back into it later.
As a 2.5D platformer, Trek to Yomi feels a bit like what a modern take on the classic Prince of Persia might be. Did you draw inspiration from anything to build the systems of the game?
SS: Prince of Persia is a great game and still holds up to this day. Trek to Yomi doesn’t share the arcade features of Prince of Persia as we felt that would spoil the immersion. We’ve taken a bit of both worlds away. Hiroki can move in all three dimensions, but the fight is fought in 2.5D. It sounds a little weird on paper, but believe us, it’s fun!
Like all things, gaming trends come and go. We had war, zombies, post-apocalypse, battle royales. Right now, it feels like the feudal era of Japan is in full swing. What do you think we’ll see next?
SS: I think any good idea can turn into a popular game, regardless of the prevailing trends at the time. Trek to Yomi, as an idea, was born before Ghost of Tsushima.
If you ask me what I would like to play? Something with dinosaurs, maybe another episode of Turok?
Turok? Yes please. Keeping it straight and authentic has got to be tough, what are some of the funniest anachronisms that almost got thrown around?
SS: Japanese culture is not something obvious to us, but one of the things we had to get rid of after consulting specialists was… the door hinges. Turns out that wasn’t a thing in Edo period Japan. We have a similar encounter with fireplaces in households. It was a very instructive experience, I’m not going to lie.