Eastward - the Most Unforgettable Adventure This Fall

Original by Lushark

 I was having mixed feelings when the cheerful closing song of Eastward started.

I just finished a soul-stirring adventure, I feel satisfied, but I do not know when I would get to play a game like this again.

 Developed by Pixpil and published by X.D. Network, Eastward was officially released on September 16 on Steam and Wegame. It is a game with distinctive features that can easily be labeled as "pixel", "nostalgic", or "Zelda clone". But during the 30+ hours of gameplay, I became so immersed that I forgot about all the labels.

 There’s no denying that this game is just aesthetically pleasing. Although the game comes in a 2D cartoonish style, it also has some realistically rendered light and shadows. Whether it is the change of ambient light or the light source caused by the player using skills and items, it would have a real-time impact on the graphics, adding a new layer of expression.

The rainbow in the game is also made to look like it in real-world, as it appears indistinctly with different angles of observation

However, this game is much more than just "beautiful and eye-catching". 

Each chapter of Eastward contains two or three boss battles. While the first few chapters are relatively easy, I started to encounter bosses that got me stuck a few hours into the game. I was running around, struggling desperately with every strategy I could think of, and every item I could use.

Before I realized it, the difficulty of the game had steeply increased, not only that the boss battles had become less forgiving, the mazes also become quite complex and dangerous. I had to dodge around in a limited space and use different combinations of items to destroy enemies. Even being extremely careful at every step, there usually was not much health or supplies left when I reached the boss.

This, on the contrary, made me look forward to each subsequent challenge and play through to the endgame in almost one sitting. The high-quality level design was maintained until the end of the game, keeping me at the edge of my seat throughout.

Starting high and ending low is a common problem that happens to many JRPG and indie games. Developers just could not make enough content, so they start to add grindy labyrinths and recycle previous maps and scenes.  However, this does not happen in Eastward. Just when I thought the game was nearing its end, there was still new stuff waiting ahead of me.

 

There was no trace of work being rushed even until the end, where the game’s scene was still rich in detail

Critics like to use the term "a love letter to the 8-bit era" to describe Eastward. This is probably because the game not only looks and plays nostalgic but also includes Easter eggs that clearly pay homage to the games of the classic era.

 

The game’s animation art style borrowed a lot from the works of Ghibli - there’s even a Hayao Miyazaki-like NPC

Inside Eastward, players can access a separate 8-bit RPG called Earth Born. The mini-game itself is polished well enough to play for hours on its own, but there is more to it than that. Earth Born leaves its own traces in the world of Eastward. Posters for its film adaptation can be seen in towns, and the context in which it was made even touches on the main story of the game. As an Easter egg, it is fully integrated into the story.

 

Players can also gather Amiibo-like collectibles, which can be used as game items

 There is also a section of the game where players will need to bring a girl out of a zombie-infested village. It’s not difficult to understand this is a tribute to the Resident Evil (Biohazard) series. But there’s more to this. Shotguns are the most effective weapon against zombies; the player needs to go back and forth to find keys to open doors. Healing items and ammo are hard to find. This part nails the feeling of the early Resident Evil games.  

As a typical "knight protects princess and saves the world" adventure, the story of Eastward has nothing you haven’t seen. But its narrative is fresh and modern, absorbing the experience of many modern games, and speaking to the player with its own approach. This works surprisingly well.

The protagonist John does not have a single line of dialogue, and NPCs also often portray him as a silent character. This setting is usually for the convenience of the players in front of the screen to substitute into the character. But at the end of the game, John suddenly uses his voice, not through text nor voice acting, but controller vibration to simulate an angry cry.

I was moved by experiences like this, and felt that the developers were not satisfied with reproducing the achievements of their predecessors, but are actively innovating and trying to leave their own mark.

Joel Corelitz, who did the soundtrack to the game, mentioned in an interview that “perhaps what I like most about video game music is the bond between the music and the memories of the game. When you pass a certain chapter and hear the music again, the mood of the game at that time will instantly come to your mind. It's like a perfect souvenir that you can look back on from time to time.”

Many Chinese games try to appeal to their audience by deliberately labeling themselves as a Chinese game, and put heavy emphasis on those elements. Eastward appeals to its audience by being a great game. It is a trend that we all welcome with open arms.

The picture in the end credits of the game is no longer pixelated, but more like a fairy tale picture book

 Eastward quickly made it to the top of the best sellers on Steam after release. Only a few reviews mentioned that the game was developed by a small team in Shanghai, while more compared it to Nintendo's Mother series, acclaiming it as one of the best-pixelated RPGs available. 

To us, it is as moving as the game itself, that’s how a classic game genre shows new possibilities in the hands of a group of young people.

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