Review – Eastward

Overview

Developer Pixpil Studio
Publisher Chucklefish
Genre Indie, Action-Adventure, RPG
Platforms PC/Mac (Steam), Nintendo Switch (reviewed)
Release Date 9/16/2021

Going into Eastward, I didn’t know what exactly to expect. I knew it was a retro-style RPG that took place in a post-apocalyptic world, but that was about it. Saying I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement.

Content Guide

Spiritual Elements: Some villages’ cultures believe in and sacrifice to multiple gods, such as the God of the Mountain or the Wind God. In some cities, you can visit locations such as the Buddha Fan or the Wind Shrine. Some supernatural elements are present, such as ghosts, ghost-like apparitions, zombie-like enemies, and seemingly magical energy attacks.

Violence: John’s weapons include a frying pan, bombs, a gun, a flamethrower, and a machine that shoots out cogs. Occasionally, non-graphic blood is shown when you attack enemies and there’s some mild body horror. Gruesome deaths are referenced in conversation.

Sexual Elements: Though not sexual in nature, nondescript child nudity is shown. And while some characters can be seen in provocative outfits, such as fully bare legs, low-cut tops, or backless dresses, these elements are diminished by their pixelated sprites (with some more detailed exceptions, such as a character on a billboard). There’s a lesbian couple, and their relationship is depicted as subtle and sweet.

Drugs/Alcohol Use: There are bars where characters can be seen drinking, and some are drunk or tipsy. Characters can be seen smoking.

Language/Crude Humor: The language is mild to moderate, including using God’s name in vain. Some toilet humor and sexual innuendos are present.

Other Negative Elements: Some locations, sequences, or music have a generally creepy vibe. There are some flashing images that can trigger epileptic seizures (though the player is warned of this every time they boot up the game). You can visit locations such as an underground club or a casino.

Positive Elements: There’s a very sweet found-family dynamic between many of the characters, but John and Sam in particular have a father/daughter dynamic. There are some good messages scattered throughout the story, such as actively fighting against bullying and being yourself regardless of others’ opinions.

Review

In Eastward, you play as John, a strong, silent type who’s a surrogate father to Sam, a bubbly little girl, as they leave their subterranean home to explore the post-apocalyptic world that lies on the surface. All the while, they must evade and maybe even find a way to stop the MIASMA, a dark plague spreading across the land, devouring everything in its path. This is just one of many mysteries that lie ahead, so John and Sam must traverse the overworld to find answers! This action-adventure RPG takes great inspiration from both the Mother and Legend of Zelda series (they say so themselves here), and it shows. There’s this lovely baked-in nostalgic quality that’s hard to pinpoint, but I’ll touch on that again later.

Let me start with the combat mechanics. They’re very straightforward for both characters: John has an array of traditional weapons at his disposal, such as bombs or a gun, as well as some non-traditional ones, like his trusty frying pan. Sam, on the other hand, has some energy-based moves. These can be used to temporarily freeze enemies, remove obstacles, or disperse MIASMA, among other things. 

You can freely switch between the two, allowing for many rewarding puzzles designed around this mechanic. This, combined with the smooth controls and often challenging gameplay, makes for a very satisfying experience overall. Speaking of which, putting in the extra effort of exploring environments and talking to every NPC never feels wasted. Rewards for doing so can be as significant as a heart orb, or as simple as some more info to flesh out the world. 

There are also some fun side mechanics, like cooking meals to replenish health and provide status effects, and playing the almost entirely unnecessary yet very entertaining Earth BornEarth Born is an arcade cabinet within the game that’s heavily inspired by iconic adventure RPGs, but it also has a gacha element thrown into the mix. Using tokens you find hidden across the world, you can buy Earth Born figurines that translate to items you can use in-game. In truth, I’ve hardly touched this since the main campaign is so packed on its own, but I’m excited to get more into this once I’ve completed everything else.

Eastward is one of the most visually stunning games I’ve played. Its pixel art aesthetic is enhanced by advanced lighting techniques, wonderfully expressive sprites, and densely detailed environments. If you’ve got an artistic eye and you’re a fan of excellent world-building, I would recommend this title on those factors alone. Every pixel on the screen feels intentional.

Unsurprisingly, the music is also fantastic. It blends in so perfectly with each environment that you forget it’s even there. That is until you’re going about your day and you find yourself humming it! However, it isn’t all sunshine and roses. 

When I first picked it up, it was a bit buggy. I glitched into areas I wasn’t supposed to be in, I hit some laggy spots, and it even froze and crashed once or twice. Although, that was only a couple of days after release. I haven’t had any issues like those since, so I figure they’ve been patched. Now everything runs great, the only exception being when there are too many enemies and effects on-screen at once (keep in mind, this is on the Switch, so I imagine the PC version doesn’t struggle with this as much). 

Another aspect that feels a bit off to me is how some of its components are directly ripped from other games. For instance, you can collect four heart orbs to get a new heart container, exactly like you do in Breath of the Wild. There’s nothing inherently wrong with borrowing these concepts (in fact, I’ve heard many times throughout my art education that a good artist steals from other artists), but it can be jarring how glaringly obvious they are, somewhat pulling me out of the world I’ve gotten immersed in. But these are both minor issues in the grand scheme of things, they don’t detract much from the experience as a whole.

I want to briefly bring up this nostalgic element again, as it’s really the focal point of why I love this game. It’s not the retro aesthetic or soundtrack, or even the inspiration it draws from classic RPGs, but I think it’s the level of care and passion poured into this project. I don’t think I’ve played anything that felt this deliberate in ages. I know I gushed over this earlier, but its world is so deeply thought out, with each component in each location feeling tremendously dense and tangible. And that’s not to say that it’s archaic. While a post-apocalyptic setting is nothing new, Eastward breathes new life into this concept. It feels energetic and fresh in a way that’s difficult to describe. 

I’ve only scratched the surface of what Eastward has to offer, as I’m only three chapters into its eight-chapter campaign. However, for all the reasons I’ve listed, I know that this is something special. While I’m disappointed I didn’t have enough time to complete the game before writing this review, I’d be shocked if there was a significant enough dip in quality to change my rating. 

The Bottom Line

 

Eastward is one of the most carefully crafted games I've played in a while, with a densely detailed world to explore and endlessly charming characters to meet.

 

9

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Ellie Rush

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