Set in a world the place humanity clings to pockets of civilization, Eastward takes inspiration from outdated RPGs and the likes of Earthbound, Zelda, and Studio Ghibli movies to create superbly desolate areas full of a mixture of puzzles and motion. Despite trying like a pixelated old-school RPG it is completely beautiful, cramming element into every atmosphere similar to a Ghibli film. It’s a lot a tribute to the famed Japanese animation studio that yow will discover a model of Hayao Miyazaki himself hiding out within the beginning city of Potcrock Isle.
Need to know
What is it? Modern homage to JRPG classics
Expect to pay: $25/£22
Reviewed on: Intel Core i5-8250U, Intel HD Graphics 620, 8GB RAM
Eastward follows John, a silent miner who makes use of a frying pan each for cooking and hitting folks, and Sam, a younger woman with white hair (which is how you realize she’s mysterious). The two develop a father-daughter-like relationship as they eke out a dwelling within the underground city of Potcrock Isle, however once they’re exiled to the wastelands of the floor world, they uncover that issues up high aren’t what they appeared. It takes a short while to get going, however actually begins to take off if you depart the primary space and deeper mysteries are launched.
The puzzles are very Zelda-like—put weights on platforms to carry doorways open, punt bombs throughout gaps, cut up the characters as much as clear paths for one another—and strike a steadiness between being difficult with out being too irritating. Some sections do really feel somewhat repetitive, and one half specifically the place it’s important to remedy puzzles at velocity to keep away from being consumed by a spreading miasma made me step away for a second to chill down. It’s not that the puzzles themselves are troublesome, however there is not sufficient time to evaluate and full them earlier than dying. The rigidity was ruined by repetition and frustration, however that type of factor is fortunately uncommon in Eastward.
The monsters are fairly cute, just like the waddling mushrooms and bomb-spitting duck vegetation, and may normally be taken down with a number of pan strikes. Bosses all have some type of gimmick to unravel first—to coax them out of hiding or get them to face nonetheless so that you can provide them a very good pounding. John’s trusty frying pan has a satisfying thwack however may be arduous to goal, and switching between that and the gun can gradual you down which led to me dropping my guard on extra events than I’d wish to admit. However, swapping between John and Sam to make use of her power blasts is extremely fast and helps maintain issues recent.
Where Eastward actually excels is its ambiance. It in some way straddles that line between feeling each retro in its pixels, and fashionable with its element and lighting. New Dam metropolis is a spotlight with Japanese-style homes and alleyways all crowded collectively however nonetheless overflowing with potted vegetation and energy strains. Other areas are unsettling, and that unease creeps up on you as you progress deeper. One second you are exploring a beautiful forest, the following robotic eyes are following your each transfer. Eastward additionally does some enjoyable issues with the vibration settings on controllers—emulating the feeling of passing over practice tracks or the sensation of a heartbeat in tense moments.
The music has caught with me too, even after I ended taking part in. It’s a chiptune love letter to video games of the ’90s that’s little question going to search out its approach into a variety of ‘lofi chill beats to check to’ playlists. The textual content design can also be unbelievable—speech bubbles shake with shock or pip slowly throughout tense moments. It’s a masterclass on how you can give characters character with out voice performing.
Eastward is brimming with distinctive characters, and even NPCs who’re simply going about their days get to shine. The draw back is that when everybody within the room is bizarre and kooky, nobody actually stands out. It looks like being hit with a continuing wall of chatter the place it is arduous to inform what’s necessary, as a result of all the pieces is given equal weight. Plus, getting to essentially know sure characters just for them to by no means be talked about once more means it turns into arduous to really feel connected to anybody.
Relatively early on John attracts an admirer known as Uva, and the romance aspect is sudden and simplistic, with a gaggle of grannies who meddle in it, every one needing to have their very own ‘bit’ as a part of the comedy. They’re pointless and overbearing—with out this complete bit out the story would circulate somewhat higher. It’s a disgrace as individually the solid are all sensible, however they should compete with one another to your consideration. John’s stoic steadfastness stands out as a result of he is the one one who by no means speaks.
Alongside the primary story are terminals that allow you to play an old-school 8-bit RPG known as ‘Earthborn’ that options traditional turn-based fight like in early Dragon Quest video games. It’s surprisingly deep, and listening to numerous characters enthuse about it in your journey makes the world Sam and John are exploring really feel much more actual. Cooking and discovering new recipes to create therapeutic gadgets is one other enjoyable distraction and encompasses a pretty bouncy animation that is as joyous because the one in Breath of the Wild. However, there is not practically sufficient house in your backpack to retailer your cooked gadgets or sufficient stoves to cook dinner at, making it arduous to heal up in dungeons.
As a tribute to RPGs of the ’90s, Eastward is great, with an environment to be savoured. However, whereas the central thriller is charming, it doesn’t fairly nail bringing all the completely different threads collectively, leaving a number of plot holes open on the finish. It additionally struggles to maintain up the momentum and characters typically really feel overwritten. I’ve loved basking in sun-dappled forests and cowering in deserted subway stations, however I used to be additionally keen sure bits to simply get on with it. Eastward was by no means going to succeed in the identical heights as its inspirations, nevertheless it makes a commendable effort.