Games nowadays often borrow existing mechanics and inspirations from other titles, but sadly end up falling a bit short on capturing what makes those titles great. It often is hard to understand where exactly a game is just copying something and where it’s paying homage to it, especially when there is some innovation present. Personally, however, I don’t mind mixing innovative and new ideas with old concepts. In fact, I believe that Eastward did an excellent job at conveying what made the media that it drew influences from so amazing, on top of also creating something entirely new that feels fresh and innovative.
Developer: Pixpil Publisher: Chucklefish Genre: Indie, 2D, Adventure, RPG Release Date: September 16th, 2021 Reviewed on: PC Available on: PC, Switch Copy was purchased.
Set in the near future, Eastward explores a universe where society is on the brink of collapse mostly due to a deadly phenomenon known as the Miasma. Those that were able to escape the miasma, fled underground to start a new life but with a tyrannical major, Potcrock Isle’s future isn’t looking too rosy. The plot follows John, a stoic man of action, and his companion Sam, an energetic little girl who he found underground, on their journey eastward. After a turn of events in Potcrock Isle, the two are being exiled into the deadly overworld – which surprisingly isn’t as deadly as they were led to believe. Hence, they board Charon and move onwards on a great adventure in search of the mythical Ester City as well as answers regarding Sam’s past.
Throughout their journey, the two’s father/daughter relationship is taking presence on an adventure along eight chapters. The game is able to convey to you how much John cares about Sam without him uttering a single word, mainly because of how stoic he is towards protecting her from this world. When the story gets a bit darker with a few different turns of events, Sam, on the other hand, is able to brighten up the room with her energetic and happy attitude. This dynamic between the two is what keeps the game from feeling too dark or gloomy and it makes the experience feel rather special. On top of the two, you’ll meet a bunch of different characters in all sorts of locations, all unique in their traits and habits, making the game feel diverse and lively. While the diverse cast is a lot of fun, however, I found John and Sam to be my personal highlight with their interactions and the way they interact with everyone around them. In fact, the diverse cast is maybe a bit too diverse with many great characters that end up failing to highlight individual strengths. Because every single character is special and unique, nobody is unique! Hence, John and Sam really stand out the most since you stick with them the most. Meanwhile, other characters end up being forgotten shortly after their appearance, partially due to how the game progresses from one location to another with no point of return.
The story itself is amazing with a few turns of events that felt maybe a tad predictable, yet entertaining. I really enjoyed the way that characters from the early stages are brought up again here and there and how they’re linked to later characters, which could potentially make a second playthrough even more fun. There are some issues with the pacing in Eastward where cutscenes end up feeling a bit too long or where somewhat dark events are followed up by relatively relaxing and bright chapters… But I believe that this is honestly a great way to change up the feeling of the game. The story picks up pace but then lets you rest up a little bit to process what exactly just happened and then after you calmed down a little and enjoyed the brightness emitted from Sam, the game is ready to pick you up again with another plot point and more serious events again. This sort of rollercoaster never ends up feeling as if it was “too much”, in fact over about 30 hours, the story feels quite memorable, especially because of these alternating stages of peacefulness and sorrow. The only flaw I see in the great writing of the game is that there is a lot of unskippable dialogue that ends up feeling as if you’re watching the game rather than playing it. Being able to skip it or being able to speed it up a little could help out the pacing quite a lot here.
What makes Eastward stand out a lot is its presentation, though. The amazing soundtrack never disappoints and the bright and colourful world feels so lively, even if some of the inspirations for this game were drawn from Fallout. You can see how the world has paid homage to games like Mother 3 and Zelda with its level design and characters, and it’s paying homage quite well to the Adventure game and RPG greats… to the point where there’s even Hayao Miyazaki making an appearance in the game. The art style combined 3D lighting with 2D Pixel Art, which is something I haven’t seen too much yet if at all, and it honestly really works amazingly for the game. On top of that, the pixel art doesn’t actually feel too pixelated and the world’s design reminded me heavily of Ghibli movies, which actually made me feel quite nostalgic at times.
Similarly, the gameplay involves a lot of mechanics that you may know from games like Zelda. You have an attack button that you can charge up as John, different gadgets from a flamethrower to bombs, and by switching to Sam you have access to her small physique and her energy blast, making some of the puzzles quite interesting. The puzzles themselves never felt too difficult but also offered some challenge to me at times, which was surprising and enjoyable as every adventure game out there seems to have the same puzzles in it. Combat itself is relatively simple and the boss fights themselves felt a bit too plain for my taste but since combat isn’t the main point of the game, this can easily be forgiven. Oh, and there’s a cooking minigame in the game where you combine items to create healing items, and you also can play a game called Earthborn within the game, which is basically a direct homage to early Dragon Quest… and it’s surprisingly fleshed out. In fact, I’d love to see an actual port of Earthborn to Steam!
Concluding, Eastward is a great homage to RPG greats that features amazing 2D Art with 3D lighting, a great soundtrack, unique and interesting characters, and some new mechanics that I really enjoyed seeing. Despite the inspirations taken from other games, this game feels incredibly unique and innovative and manages to highlight what exactly those games it drew inspiration from made great. It’s not a copycat or a rip-off, it’s actually a well-designed homage with only a few flaws that don’t ruin the experience. I highly recommend this title and this might actually be another Game Of The Year candidate for me.