Review to the East | PC player
Set in a world where humanity clings to pockets of civilization, Eastward draws inspiration from old RPGs and movies like Earthbound, Zelda, and Studio Ghibli to create beautifully desolate locations filled with a mix of puzzles and puzzles. action. While it looks like a pixelated old-fashioned RPG, it is utterly stunning, cramming detail into every setting, just like a Ghibli movie. It’s such a tribute to the famous Japanese animation studio that you can find a version of Hayao Miyazaki himself hidden in the home town of Potcrock Isle.
What is that? Modern homage to JRPG classics
Expect to pay: $ 25 / £ 22
Editor: Ritter fish
Revised on: Intel Core i5-8250U, Intel HD Graphics 620, 8 GB RAM
Eastward follows John, a silent miner who uses a frying pan for both cooking and hitting people, and Sam, a young girl with white hair (that’s how you know she’s mysterious). The two develop a father-daughter-type relationship as they make a living in the underground city of Potcrock Isle, but when exiled to the wastelands of the surface world, they discover that things on top aren’t what they seemed. It takes a bit of a while to start, but really starts to take off when you exit the first area and deeper mysteries are introduced.
The puzzles are a lot like Zelda’s: place weights on the platforms to keep the doors open, throw bombs through spaces, separate characters to fight their way through each other, and find a balance between being difficult without being too frustrating. Some sections seem a bit repetitive, and one part in particular where you have to solve puzzles at high speed to avoid being consumed by a spreading miasma made me step away for a second to calm down. It’s not that the puzzles themselves are difficult, but there isn’t enough time to assess and complete them before you die. The tension has been ruined by repetition and frustration, but this sort of thing is thankfully rare in Eastward.
The monsters are quite cute, like waddling mushrooms and bomb-spitting duck plants, and can usually be put down with a few pot shots. Bosses all have some sort of trick to figure out first – to get them out of their hiding place or to have them stand still so you can give them a good pounding. John’s trusty frying pan has a satisfying result snap but can be difficult to aim, and switching between that and the pistol can slow you down, which has led me to let my guard down more often than I would like to admit. However, swapping between John and Sam to use his energy blasts is incredibly quick and helps keep things fresh.
Where Eastward really excels is its atmosphere. It sort of straddles that boundary between a feel that is both retro in its pixels and modern with its details and lighting. The town of New Dam is a highlight with Japanese-style houses and alleys all crowded together but still teeming with potted plants and power lines. Other areas are troubling, and that unease overwhelms you as you sink in. As you explore a beautiful forest, the next robotic eyes follow your every move. Eastward also does fun things with the vibration settings on the controllers, mimicking the feeling of walking on train tracks or the feeling of a heartbeat in tense moments.
The music stuck with me too, even after I stopped playing. It’s a chiptune love letter to ’90s games that will undoubtedly end up in many “lofi chill beats to study to” playlists. The design of the text is also fantastic: the speech bubbles shake in surprise or stir slowly during moments of tension. It’s a masterclass on how to give personality to characters without dubbing.
Eastward is full of unique characters, and even the NPCs who just go about their business shine. The downside is that when everyone in the room is weird and bonkers, no one really stands out. You feel like you are struck by a wall of constant chatter where it is difficult to say what is important because everything is taken into account. Plus, getting to really know certain characters just so they’re never mentioned again means it becomes hard to feel attached to anyone.
Relatively early on, John attracts an admirer called Uva, and the romantic element is sudden and simplistic, with a bunch of grannies getting involved, each needing to have their own ‘piece’ as part of the comedy. They’re unnecessary and bossy – without all of them the story would turn out a bit better. It’s a shame because individually the actors are all brilliant, but they have to compete with each other to get your attention. John’s stoic firmness stands out because he’s the only one who never speaks.
Along with the main story, terminals let you play an old-school 8-bit RPG called “Earthborn” that features classic turn-based combat like in the early Dragon Quest games. It’s surprisingly deep, and hearing various characters rave about it during your journey makes the world Sam and John explore all the more real. Cooking and finding new recipes for crafting healing items is another fun distraction and features a beautiful bouncy animation that’s as cheerful as that of Breath of the Wild. However, there isn’t enough space in your backpack to store your cooked meals or enough frying pans to cook, making it difficult to heal in dungeons.
As a tribute to ’90s RPGs, Eastward is gorgeous, with a vibe to savor. However, while the central mystery is captivating, it doesn’t quite manage to pull all the different threads together, leaving a few plot holes open at the end. He also struggles to maintain momentum and the characters feel overwhelmed at times. I enjoyed lounging in the sun-drenched forests and curling up in abandoned subway stations, but there were times when I was ready to continue. Eastward was never going to reach the same heights as his inspirations, but he made a commendable effort.