Review to the East
A man and his adopted daughter make their way through a whimsical post-apocalyptic landscape. Frying pan and psychic powers at their fingertips, they might stumble to save the world as they explore. With all the styles of a retro JRPG, you might expect Eastward to play like one, but this relaxing action adventure is more Zelda than Dragon Quest. John and Sam’s triumphs and mistakes take place in a charming pixel-art landscape rich in charming characters and intricately designed locations. Even where the story dragged on for a while, or the simplicity of the challenges seemed condescending, the parts of Eastward that spoke to me more than made up for it.
Our headliners are John – a silent protagonist surrounded by disheveled hair and a bushy beard – and Sam, an outrageously precocious girl with nascent psychic powers and a penchant for causing trouble for both. They are lovable characters with a bushel of personality and a sort of timeless appeal. They left their home under questionable circumstances and ultimately find their way … east. I loved switching between the two as they journey through a cute but dangerous doomsday world of small towns and dam towns. Along the way, you play through low-key story chapters and explore the stories of the people you meet. There’s a lot – a lot – silly little mini-games along the way. Baseball, rafting, slot machines and ubiquitous cuisine.
The hike to the east is fairly linear, but the areas you explore are laid out like small dungeons, with curling paths to wind your way through as you battle goofy monsters and solve simple puzzles. John does most of the fighting via simple but satisfying hack-and-slash action, but Sam’s powers – like freezing enemies inside large psychic bubbles – are useful for combat and vital for puzzles.
It took me a little over 30 hours to complete the main quest, but I know there are secrets to explore and little NPC stories that I skipped that are worth returning to. In fact, Eastward’s overall story is good enough that I’ve judiciously avoided spoilers in this review, to the point of being too vague in places, but trust me, it’s for your benefit. There’s also a pretty detailed roguelite JRPG game in the game, called Earth Born, to play – and it was fun enough that I spent about six extra hours in it.
The vibrant pixel art landscapes are so creative and rich in detail that I often found myself stopping to look.
Eastward’s real draw is his world. The vibrant pixel art landscapes are so creative and rich in detail that I often found myself stopping to look at a city street or a new train station. Much of it is alive with little animations like running water, glittering metal, or spinning fans. I loved details like the laundry on the lines between buildings, the boats overturned and turned into houses, and the countryside beyond the windows of the trains.
It’s a loving take on a world that sits somewhere between a Studio Ghibli movie and a classic JRPG – Castle in the Sky meets EarthBound. It’s all covered in a pretty low-key soundtrack that isn’t anything fancy, but it’s pretty good, with a variety of instrumental and chiptune arrangements.
My favorite robot runs a construction company and has a bad hip.
However, it’s not just the backgrounds that stand out. Eastward’s characters have great sprites and animation that’s packed with personality. They are well-designed weirdos who all have something unique to them, a lively style that has become all too rare. The style and personality of the people you meet differ wildly, ranging from gruff ranch hands to a bustling trio of aunts, a sleepy small town mayor, or a cigar-blowing casino owner. Not to mention the circus performers, conductors, crooks and awesome robots. (My favorite robot runs a construction company and has a bad hip.)
Small salvage quests take you around the world, but it’s not that bad when the world is pretty. Much of the best Eastward has to offer is just smiling at the guy meditating on a rooftop as you walk past his part of town. I’ve passed it a dozen times now; what is he doing up there? I do not know. He is happy. The guy is vibrating and it’s nice.
It’s a relief that the world is so appealing and the characters are so appealing, because Eastward’s biggest weakness is his writing. The dialogue of the characters is haphazard, with more than a few lines of clichés and real stinks. I’m talking about a unironic use of phrases like “I’ve run my whole life.” Frankly, it’s because writing doesn’t know how to step back and let action or movement convey words. He uses two sentences when one would do – or, more often, one sentence when neither would do. The dialogue that should pop up in the background – laughs, exclamations – is most often in a bubble that requires a button to progress. The only time I felt impatient or bored with Eastward was during the long dialogues.
The fights are straightforward and most enemies can be easily defeated with judicious application of John’s Frying Pan.
Exploration and combat is a welcome break from all this looking and reading. The fights are straightforward and most enemies can be easily defeated with judicious application of John’s Frying Pan. Everything else is sensitive to the shotgun or neon-colored flamethrower. There are plenty of weird enemies out there though, like a giant frog, sprawling plants, or super-tough zombies, and they all have their own attack patterns – but I’ve generally taken them down the same way no matter what. that they were. But let me be clear: simple isn’t always bad. It was fun to sidestep the attacks, hit the mutants with a pan and detonate them with the shotgun.
It’s strange that even though you interact with Sam often enough to do puzzles, I rarely felt the need to use him in battle; its ability to put monsters in frozen bubbles is useful for some things, but you don’t absolutely need it to win. If you had a psychic sidekick, wouldn’t you want her to do a little more?
Likewise, it’s a little depressing that the puzzles Sam helps solve never get too complex, only get difficult when it comes to a challenge of timing or skill – or to access a few hidden chests. delicate. More often than not, you will have to notice something like a wall to be blown up with a bomb, a puzzle of what cables to connect, or what obstacles to remove to have a raft float where you want it. The more difficult puzzles will have an element of timing – moving quickly after tripping a switch, or throwing a bomb through a narrow opening from a moving platform. It’s not a complex thing.
Simplicity bothered me sometimes. While some parts of the fights are good in their simplicity, others are just basic. This is in part because the single-stick controls seem inadequate for aiming weapons. It’s fun hitting with a frying pan, not so fun making sure the characters both dodge incoming projectiles.
The relatively infrequent boss and miniboss fights are an exception there, requiring a bit of finesse and switching between John’s weapons and Sam’s powers. I liked them a lot more than the platform and platform pieces. puzzle, and a lot of them really tested my ability to use all the tools in my arsenal for a clear victory. One in particular stands out, an enemy knocks down bombs that you try to place at a vulnerable point. To win I needed a skillful hand to drop bombs as John, then switch to Sam to use his powers to distract the enemy, then back to John to deal damage after the trigger was triggered. bomb. This is the kind of synergy that Eastward’s fight needs most of.
A delightful journey from start to finish, Eastward has charming characters and beautifully animated vistas to explore. The story is well laid out, and the chapters tell standalone stories that are darkly fun, if a bit overwhelmed. The straightforward battles, laid-back puzzles, and cute mini-games maintain a wide variety of gameplay and a pace upbeat enough to carry you through to the end of the story.