Review – Eastern Exorcist

I stumbled upon Eastern Exorcist when I was searching for new releases to review. From the trailer, it looked to be almost like a God of War set in ancient China. Upon playing it, I quickly realized that this wasn’t the case at all. However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It didn’t take long for me to become hooked.

In Eastern Exorcist you play as Lu Yunchuan, a skilled swordsman and an exorcist of the demons infecting the lands across China. After his brothers are slaughtered, he goes on a path of vengeance to track down the dark forces that claimed his family. Along the way he’ll encounter many others that need his assistance eradicating the evil that plagues their homes. He’ll soon realize that many of the demons aren’t as wholly evil as he once thought.

Eastern Exorcist

The game starts with the brutal butchering of your brothers.

This brings me to one of my favorite aspects of Eastern Exorcist: the mythos. I’ll admit that this game starts off a little underwhelming in the demon department, with many of the normal grunts being mindless carbon copies of one another. Your typical fodder in a game like this. While the first couple bosses are much more fun in terms of gameplay and design, there’s not a whole lot of depth to them.

Then things take a turn around the third boss. You’re actually given a bit more backstory on him and it’s quite tragic. Defeating him doesn’t feel like vanquishing evil per se, it’s more like freeing a tortured spirit from its pain. The next boss has a tale that’s even darker and makes you almost sympathetic toward her. I love when a game has intriguing lore around its characters and world, and this is one area where Eastern Exorcist really impressed me. It adds a layer of complexity to the demons you’re battling against instead of just making them mindlessly evil beings. It reminds me a lot of Blasphemous in that regard.

Eastern Exorcist

Her story is one of the most tragic.

Eastern Exorcist is a 2D side scrolling RPG, with controls that are incredibly tight and responsive. You have your normal attack, charged attack, special attacks, dodge, block, and jump moves that are standard for this type of game. However, much like any Souls game or Hollow Knight, you’ll also need to time your attacks and parry a lot. This is definitely not a button smashing hack ‘n’ slash kind of game. It requires patience, strategy, and careful timing in order to be victorious.

This game can be punishingly brutal, but it never feels unfair. You will die a lot, but once you learn the enemy’s attack patterns and timing, things get a lot easier. However, this is not a game for inexperienced gamers. There is a Casual Mode, but even the bosses and challenges in this mode are no laughing matter. Being an exorcist, you’ll have to dispel fallen enemies within a certain time, otherwise they’ll recover and become even tougher versions of their normal selves. Like I said, this game requires patience and observation.

Eastern Exorcist

Ancient Chinese Donkey Kong.

My biggest issue with the game is with the platforming. While Eastern Exorcist doesn’t rely on too much platforming, the sections that have more of it are the most annoying. The biggest problem is that it’s not always clear which platforms are safe to land on. For example, there’s an area with trees wherein you can land on the bushy parts of the tree, but not on some of the lower branches, despite them looking the same. There are also instances in which you’ll fall through a ledge, even though it looks as though you’ve solidly landed on it.

Being a RPG, you’ll have numerous skills you can unlock and upgrade. These are called Exorcism Arts. Along the way you’ll be able to spend your experience points, called Aura in this game, on either an overall level up for Yunchuan or increasing your Exorcism Arts stats. There are seven Exorcism Arts you’ll unlock and you can set up quick access to four of them at anytime. That is if you’re playing with a controller, which I highly recommend.

The Exorcism Arts are widely varied, with abilities like shooting celestial swords at enemies, summoning a shadow clone to fight alongside you, and conjuring a tidal wave to take out groups of demons. While most of them are more offense focused, there are a couple that will help you if you’re more of a defensive player. I really only ended up using two of the Exorcism Arts, but there are plenty of options to cater to anyone’s playstyle.

Eastern Exorcist

Along the way you’ll meet new allies.

Throughout the game you’ll encounter shrines, which are used to save your game, level up, fast travel, and partake in challenges. The challenges are no joke. They mostly consist of timed trials against demons you’ve already vanquished, but they’re much harder versions of those you’ll face in the regular game. However, successfully beating the challenges will give you huge rewards, so it can be worth the effort.

Visually, Eastern Exorcist is beautiful. It features a striking hand-drawn art style that resemble ink paintings come to life. The cutscenes are delivered in the form of a Chinese opera. It’s a dynamic art design that makes the cutscenes feel even more compelling. Even with playing it on the highest resolution available, there are occasional framerate dips, especially in later levels. Luckily, it’s nothing so severe that impedes the gameplay, but it’s surprisingly most noticeable during the cutscenes.

Eastern Exorcist

The main villain of the game, King Mandrill.

The sound design is very well done. Even though all of the dialogue is in Chinese, you can still tell that they’re delivering solid performances. There are some grammatical issues in the English subtitles, where you can tell it was probably translated by someone who’s not a native speaker. Still, those issues aren’t overly abundant and don’t take away from the experience too much.

All of the sound effects are excellent. The combat sounds are convincing and add to the gritty realism of battle. The score is pretty great all around, although some of the songs playing in the background are almost a little too subdued. The music for the boss fights and cutscenes are outstanding though. You’ll truly feel like you’re in an epic battle when the score kicks in.

Charlatan

Not all exorcists are created equal. In fact, some are charlatans.

Eastern Exorcist really surprised me. Although it wasn’t quite the game I initially thought it was from watching the trailer, it still managed to captivate me. It has some of the tightest controls in a 2D side-scrolling action platformer I’ve played in a while. It can be incredibly difficult, but it never feels unfair or cheap. That combined with its gorgeous visual design and rich lore, makes Eastern Exorcist a game that fans of the genre need to check out.

 

Graphics: 8.0

It has a striking hand-drawn art style. There are some framerate dips, especially in the later sections, but nothing too detracting from the experience. Strangely, the worst framerate drops are in the cutscenes.

Gameplay: 9.0

It’s a 2D side scrolling action RPG, with very tight and responsive controls. The combat is satisfying and not for the casual player. It’s punishingly brutal, but fair.

Sound: 8.0

Even though all the voice acting is in Chinese, I could still tell that the performances were delivered well. The soundtrack can be a little too subtle during the regular sections, but the boss battles and cutscenes are epic.

Fun Factor: 8.0

Eastern Exorcist is a blast, but not for the feint of heart. Its combat relies on precise timing and strategy, much like what you would find in CastlevaniaDark Souls, or Hollow Knight. The lore is riveting and adds a layer of complexity to the demons.

Final Verdict: 8.0

Eastern Exorcist is available now on PC.

Reviewed on PC with an i7-9700k, RTX 2070, and 16GB of RAM.

A copy of Eastern Exorcist was provided by the publisher.