Eastern Exorcist

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: bilibili
Developer: Wildfire Game
Release Date: 2021


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PS4/PC Preview - 'Eastern Exorcist'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on June 7, 2021 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Eastern Exorcist is a brutal melee-based 2D RPG/combat game playing out in a hand-drawn 2D environment.

Eastern Exorcist is set in a fantasy version of China. Players take on the role of Lu Yunchuan, one of the titular exorcists. When on a mission, he shows pity to a fox demon that his fellow exorcists wish to hunt and kill. Unfortunately, the fox betrays their location to other demons, who slaughter and kill all but Lu himself. Kicked out of his order for his lapse in judgment, Lu wanders the land, returning the ashes of his kinsmen to their hometowns and slaying demons along the way.

On the surface, Eastern Exorcist feels familiar. It's a side-scrolling action game with some somewhat standard mechanics. You can attack, block, dodge, and parry, and you can hold the attack button to charge up for an armor-breaking slash. It's easy to pick up and play, which makes it easy to focus on the mechanics that are unique to Eastern Exorcist.

A major part of the gameplay involves the special combo slash. After performing certain actions, if you wait for a heartbeat, your sword glows; striking at that time unleashes a significantly more powerful attack. Actions include perfect dodges and parries, as well as leaping jump strikes. In essence, they are the moves that have risks or consequences but reward you heavily for using them. The regular combo strings don't have as much of an effect as the special amplified slash.

The interesting thing about Eastern Exorcist's combat is that it attempts to replicate the idea of simple movements and samurai-style "single strike" victories. Rather than hacking and slashing, you're strongly encouraged to attack as little as possible. When you attack, it should be swift and decisive rather than mashing the attack button. The result feels rather cool, and every movement feels important. The closest comparison I can make is to something like Sekiro, where wildly attacking is much less effective than choosing the right moment for a decisive strike.

Even the game's magic system plays into that. Rather than being traditional magic spells, the Exorcism Arts function as something that flows naturally into combat. For example, the first spell you get is a magical sword that shoots phantom blades à la Vergil from Devil May Cry. Rather than pressing a button and getting a spell, you build up sword magic with attacks, and you can unleash it during certain actions. Proper parries and combo attacks automatically trigger the swords for no cost, allowing you to work them seamlessly into combos. In other words, you get cooler magic tricks if you fight the way that the game intends.

Eastern Exorcist is just darn fun to play. Even in Early Access state, it is polished and enjoyable. When you get into a proper groove and start cutting through enemies like butter, it feels immensely satisfying, and when you die, it feels more like your own fault instead of cheap blows. There is a little trouble with readability in fierce melees but nothing too significant, and I learned to get the feel for when my sword would glow even if I couldn't necessarily see it.

One minor complaint is that the translation thus far is not particularly great. It's readable but stiff and awkward, and it's occasionally difficult to understand. It's enough to get the gist of the story, but some of the action descriptions don't make sense, and I had to puzzle them out by experimentation. This is common with Early Access games translated from another language, but I hope that Eastern Exorcist gets a more thorough translation pass before its final release.

In general, the presentation in Eastern Exorcist is top-notch. It's a remarkably pretty game, with lovely 2D artwork that does an excellent job of setting the mood and tone of the game. In some ways, it reminds me of Vanillaware titles. The character and monster designs drip with personality, and there are lots of nice touches in the animation that help it stand out. The music is nice, and the voice acting seems mostly solid.

Overall, Eastern Exorcist is shaping up to be a darn fun game. Even in its Early Access state, it is very close to a finished product, and you'd be satisfied if you picked it up now. Perhaps the only thing I'd warn about in its current build is that the keyboard controls are borderline unusable, so make sure to bring along a controller for the ride. I'm looking forward to seeing more of Eastern Exorcist when it leaves Early Access later this year.

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