Developer Wildfire Game and publisher Billibilli bring us Eastern Exorcist, a 2D side-scrolling action RPG. People who play through Eastern Exorcist undoubtedly draw similarities to titles such as Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and Nioh. However, the game’s Chinese inspirations, as opposed to Japanese, are a welcome change.
The main character is Lu Yunchuan, a sword-wielding exorcist. After witnessing a tragedy involving his three brothers, he must journey throughout a fictitious eastern world riddled with demons to avenge them. The story is very straightforward; Yunchuan has a strong sense of justice as he helps townsfolk along the way while cutting down hordes of demons.
You have to admit it has style
The presentation Eastern Exorcist is absolutely gorgeous, and the art direction is one of the aspects that really separates the game from its contemporaries. It’s hand-drawn in a Chinese ink painting style, and the backdrops and particle effects are beautiful to look at. Everything from casting lightning strikes to launching magic sword projectiles adds incredible visual flair to the combat.
Speaking of the game’s combat, it’s most likely the game’s focal point, for better or for worse, as the biggest praise and criticism will involve that. Eastern Exorcist’s gameplay almost feels like a 2D version of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. You have a health meter and a stamina meter, as well as a set number of healing items that replenish upon interacting with shrines (and yes, also respawns the enemies around the area, just like every other game in the Souls-like genre).
Along your journey, you’ll acquire several exorcisms that cast different spells like the aforementioned lightning casting spell and magic sword projectile spell. You can only utilize one exorcism at a time, but up to four can be pre-set to a controller’s right stick and switched between on the fly.
An orb a day keeps the doctor away
Blue orbs are scattered throughout the levels and are also dropped by defeating enemies. They are used to level up Yunchuan at shrines to increase his stats or to unlock new abilities in the skill tree of each of your different exorcisms.
These exorcisms really help switch up what otherwise would be repetitive and stale hack-and-slash combat. Not only can some of their effects be activated through attacking, but also by dodging and playing defensively as well. Again, the artists did a fantastic job making the exorcism spells look great during combat.
Now here is where the combat falters, and it’s the biggest elephant in the room: the stamina meter. It’s certainly not a bad idea, as Sekiro has one, but it really impedes the combat’s flow sometimes, especially during boss battles.
We need more dimensions
I think the main problem here is that because Eastern Exorcist is a 2D game, it’s much harder to find the distance and space to recover stamina without getting hit. Operating on only the X and Y axes inherently limits the ability to dodge enemy attacks compared to having full 3D movement like Sekiro and Nioh. Since jumping and dashing also deplete stamina, it can become very frustrating when you’re just trying to recover the meter.
Eastern Exorcist is being released in early access. It’s difficult to imagine removing the stamina meter completely, so a simple solution would be to have it recover much faster. As it stands currently, it refills too slowly. Certain abilities in some exorcisms skill trees can replenish stamina when they’re activated, but it’s not enough.
Additionally, blocking and parrying are two entirely different actions tied to separate buttons. Usually, in these types of games, a parry occurs when you block at the last possible moment. It’s a baffling design choice because as a result, I have to think about what button I’m pressing to do which one. When being attacked, I don’t necessarily have the time to do that.
Use a stopwatch?
You can also participate in time trials facing off against the game’s bosses. Defeating them within a certain time frame can yield you extra blue orbs during your playthrough. After you’ve finished a playthrough, New Game Plus automatically starts with you carrying over everything from the previous one, and enemies are stronger.
Eastern Exorcist has a solid foundation, and launching in early access is definitely to its benefit. The game has some localization issues, as some key item descriptions were completely left untranslated from Chinese, which I couldn’t read (sorry dad). However, that didn’t impede me from progressing. With a bit of tweaking to its combat and polishing up on its localization, Eastern Exorcist can be an even better experience.
Also, Yunchuan’s implied love interest has the same name as my mom, so that felt kind of weird.
[Reviewed on PC]