A Promising 2D Side Scroller That is Equal Parts Tough and Rewarding
With the dearth of top-shelf games at this year exacerbated by the latest COVID related delays, games from newer and smaller studios have a great chance to grab attention and mindshare. Eastern Exorcist, despite the bland name, is one such game.
An Old, New Setting
For centuries, we have had a fascination with Ancient China, this near-mythical land of dragons, ancient combat techniques and some of the oldest civilisations on earth. Just look at our collective fandom of Hong Kong martial arts action films that has led the likes of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Jet Li to achieve superstardom in Hollywood. For whatever reason, Ancient China as a setting for games, with the rich history and mythology has not penetrated our collective psyches. The last game that had a Chinese theme was the Andy Serkis led Journey to the West game on the last generation of consoles and even that took the myth into a post-apocalyptic future. The only other franchise I can think of that uses the Chinese setting to its fullest is the Romance of the Three Kingdoms series.
Eastern Exorcist changes that by taking full advantage of the unnamed ancient Chinese setting. From the VO work being all in Mandarin, to the art style and character design to taking inspiration from Chinese myth and legend. It is a refreshing change to the usual Japanese themed games we get in this setting and opens a whole new world of possible art styles and narrative choices.
You play as an Exorcist a warrior trained specifically to hunt and destroy demons who prey on ordinary citizens. After a mistake in judgement that led to the deaths of your brothers in arms, you are expelled from your school leaving you to wander the world seeking redemption. A simple story but the execution so far is exemplary in that simplicity.
An Art Style That “Pops”
The art style takes its inspiration from paintings and art of yore. The gorgeous 2D backgrounds should be familiar to anyone who has seen even the cheap reproductions of Chinese art adorning every cheap Chinese Restaurant.
This style extends to the character designs with the boss monsters taking inspiration from Chinese Myth. If you have seen recent films like the Detective Dee series and any others dealing with demons and monsters you will recognise these creatures. The Giant Karp that you confront early on reminds me of the demon that Young Detective Dee faced off against.
The only place I would criticise the art style is in the colour palette. Given that the land is under siege by demons, I get the idea that things should look dull and dour, but everything just looks boring. Even the golden scales on the Karp are dull instead of a vibrant gold. And this extends to the main character, his design is just too plain, so plain as to make him unmemorable. I hope that in the final release they can add some colour to the game.
A Familiar Game with Something Added
Mechanically Eastern Exorcist follows the tried and true 2D brawler format. You move left to right confronting enemies as you move forward. The game adds a little bit of verticality, like any good brawler, by allowing you to jump up or down the stage to confront enemies or hunt for collectables. Where the game starts to differ and follows more recent examples in the genre like Bloodstained or Dead Cells is that the game has added a simple skill tree and levelling mechanic. Levelling simply increases your health and attack power, while the skill tree allows you to unlock more powerful version of the six basic special attacks, four of which you can map to the cardinal points of the right thumb stick. Tapping the right bumper on your controller activates the special attack making boss fights much more manageable.
The control scheme is simple, left stick or D-Pad controls movement, RB activates special attacks, RT is the important Dispel button and the face buttons control attack, jump, dodge and health potion consumption. Left Trigger is the parry button and LB is block. It is no more complex than that. Timing in this game is everything, a perfect dodge, block, or parry opens enemies up for a devastating attack, easy to understand how to pull off but not to actually pull off. I like that a well-timed parry will send a ranged attack back at the enemies and after you defeat an enemy using Dispel sends an energy bolt at the other enemies to do some added damage, really helpful when you are feeling overwhelmed.
However, you should never feel overwhelmed, I cannot remember ever facing more than five or six enemies on screen at a time and the bosses are usually by themselves, no minion scumming here. The Dispel mechanic is interesting as once you defeat the enemy you have a short time to activate Dispel otherwise the enemy resurrects with what seems to be a higher tolerance for damage. The problem here though is that you cannot cancel an attack so if you are facing off against enemies and have defeated one and have already started another attack you have to wait for the animation to finish before you can trigger the Dispel. In the final version, a way to cancel attacks would be immensely helpful.
The game has four difficulty levels and I would suggest you skip the easiest mode as that makes the game far too easy. Normal is about the right level for the average gamer, giving you a heckuva challenge but not one that will have you dropping the game. You will die but you will want to come back for the challenge. Higher difficulties up the challenge, but even I didn’t find the challenge a step too far.
A Game to Keep An Eye On
Wildfire Games has a potentially great game on its hands, my time with the Early Access version, available on Steam now, shows an understanding of the genre of a more mature development house. Keep an eye on this games if you enjoy side scrollers and a challenge.
Eastern Exorcist is available on PC, Currently in Early Access and can be purchased here for £13.49, not sure you want to purchase grab the free demo.
Written By Lynley James
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Eastern Exorcist is a stunning 2D side-scrolling action RPG set in a fictitious eastern world with the infestation of vicious demon monsters. Play as a skilled exorcist against chaotic evil to fight your way through the brutal world, and experience unforeseen entanglements of complex beings.
Product Currency: GBP
Product Price: 13.49
Product In Stock: Not Available