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Eastward Review: Putting Our Best Foot Forward (Switch)

Eastward is an action-adventure RPG by Pixpil that really blew me away recently. A good story well told, with fun gameplay, stunning visuals and a brilliant soundtrack? What more could I ask? It may not be for everyone, but I definitely won’t be forgetting Eastward any time soon!

Eastward Review Putting Our Best Foot Forward (Switch)

Eastward is an action-adventure roleplaying game, developed by Pixpil, that I picked up on the Nintendo Switch recently. It’s also secured itself as one of my favorite games. It’s a really wonderful thing when you find a game you love, but it genuinely felt like Eastward was made specifically for me. There are flaws, but I loved every minute of it. Stellar writing, simple but polished gameplay, gorgeous visuals, and sound design all come together here spectacularly!

As you may have guessed by now, I’m going to be recommending Eastward. But please note, I don’t think this game is for everyone. It’s very cutscene heavy, for a start. Normally, that wouldn’t be my jam, but they are done so well that I was hooked. This was the first time in a long time that a game made me feel for its characters. I desperately wanted to help nearly everyone I came across! It’s a silly, yet tragic, ultimately wholesome experience that I’d recommend to anyone! Eastward is available for purchase on the Nintendo eStore and Steam for $24.99.

Eastward - Launch Trailer - Nintendo Switch

Story – The Best in the East

Trope on a Rope

The story of Eastward isn’t anything new. John, the top digger in the underground city of Potrock Isle, finds a young, magical girl floating in a vat. The young girl, Sam, becomes his daughter in that very video game way of neither of them saying it out loud. However, she’s plagued with visions of the surface and desperately wants to go there. Her wish is granted, and she and John embark on an odyssey of discovery, friendship, fun, and tragedy. Little do they know, the Miasma is waiting.

This probably all sounds pretty familiar if you’ve played video games or watched anime before. But, the real strength of Eastward isn’t in the story itself, it’s in the telling. I haven’t seen character interaction like this in quite a while, and it makes a world of difference. It’s an absolute joy to watch these characters talk to each other, to the point that I went out of my way to talk to as many NPCs as I could. I really started caring about the people in this world, and interaction of that level is what made a story I’ve seen a thousand times before feel fresh again.

Whitewhale Bay, a city to the East of the Potrock Isle

Whitewhale Bay, a city to the East of the Potrock Isle

Old, but Well Told

One thing that took me by surprise was how the story interacted with the gameplay. Specifically with John and Sam. John is a bit of a blunt instrument, but very adaptable. Which is shown in his multipurpose weaponry and his signature pan. Sam, on the other hand, is limited as a child, but very helpful. So her magic is useful for puzzle solving, holding enemies in place, and so on. It’s also worth noting that the game rewards you for talking to people, usually by giving you a heart orb or some other prize. The story and gameplay feed into each other.

Eastward is filled with tropes, referential humor, and a level of wackiness that some people may find off-putting, but there’s unmistakeable charm here. It can be a bit of a slow burn in the beginning, but it uses that time well to establish the world and the people who live in it. As I said before, delivery is important, and Eastward nails it. I was enthralled from start to finish, even in the weaker chapters, even when a joke didn’t land, I still wanted to see what happened next. If that isn’t the measure of a good story, I don’t know what is. 

The train station above New Dam City

The train station above New Dam City

Gameplay – Pantasticly Polished

The Fun Rises in the East

Hope you like Zelda games, because Pixpil certainly does. Eastward is an action-adventure RPG with environmental puzzle-solving, multipurpose weapons, dungeons ending in boss fights, and big chests with a collectible item that gets you more hearts. You can switch between playing as John and Sam, which is where the interesting stuff happens. Sam’s magic can’t actually hurt enemies, but it stuns them for a bit, allowing John to get some free hits in without taking point-of-contact damage. The rest of the time it’s for puzzles, which also make use of the tandem gameplay.

I was expecting the gameplay to be the weakest part of Eastward, but I’m happy to say it’s fun. The puzzles aren’t super difficult, but that’s because the game teaches you its mechanics well and gives you all the visual information necessary. A lot of the boss fights are puzzles themselves, which is a nice counter-balance to the lack of difficulty. Switching between weapons and characters is fast and easy, and I love how the game world opens up when you figure out another use for a weapon. It’s just a very polished experience.

Sam charging up her magic attack to solve a puzzle

Sam charging up her magic attack to solve a puzzle

But Sets for the Best

This is, however, where most of the problems lie. As I said before, this is a cutscene-heavy game. The gameplay is really here as a vehicle for the story. It holds up on its own, but some players might get annoyed at how much it’s interrupted. The Switch version also crashes a lot. That isn’t usually an issue, Eastward diligently autosaves, but it can be really annoying to watch a cutscene or fight a boss twice. Aiming can also be a bit tough. Again, the game doesn’t punish you heavily, but it does call for precision that would be easier to achieve with a mouse and keyboard. 

I will say, I don’t think these problems would have stood out as much if the rest of the game wasn’t brilliant. That’s the problem with reviewing a game you love, I guess. The closer something gets to becoming perfect, the worse its imperfections look. I enjoyed every part of the gameplay, perhaps some less than others, but every part nonetheless. It fit the tone they were trying to set, allowed the story to progress at a good pace, and looked good. Simple but well-executed is my favorite kind of gameplay, and Eastward does not disappoint. 

The pure combat boss fights are less interesting, but still fun

The pure combat boss fights are less interesting, but still fun

Audio & Visuals – An East for the Eyes

There’s a saying that goes something like “you eat with your eyes first.” If that’s true, then Eastward is serving a feast. This game is gorgeous! It’s in a 16-bit style, and clearly inspired by more than a few Ghibli films, but it took my breath away. I was amazed at how emotive the characters were. They just oozed personality. The story brought me back, but part of me was playing just to see the next amazing view! Each character is distinctive, easy to recognize, and nice to look at. No complaints!

Eastward hit me with another first by being a game I didn’t mute once. My usual habit is to turn off the volume when I needed to concentrate, but I loved the music too much. It’s brilliant! The soundtrack kept me pumped during action scenes. It brought a new weight to the tragedies. Every city felt unique because of it. Some of the sounds might annoy you, like the doots and deets of 16-bit dialogue boxes. But for me, I can’t think of one thing I would change.   

Eastward was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch with a code provided by Pixpil

Summary
The biggest problem with trying to score a good game is figuring out what it deserves. Eastward has its issues, and as I've been saying, I don't think everyone would enjoy it as much as I have. However, I believe the best way to determine if a piece of art is good or not is based on how it engages you. I couldn't put Eastward down for three days straight. Nearly everyone I talked to about it commented on how they haven't seen me this excited about something in a long time. Maybe it was just in the right place at the right time, but I loved it! Give it a try! Maybe you'll love it as much as I do!
Good
  • Good Story, Well Told
  • Fun Gameplay
  • Beautiful Visuals
  • Awesome Soundtrack
Bad
  • Crashes a lot
9.5
Amazing
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