I am an absolute sucker for these indie games with beautiful pixel graphics – regardless of what the actual gameplay might be. Sometimes it’s a pleasant surprise, sometimes it’s a disappointment and Eastward may be leaning a little too far to one side.
Okay, first things first – it’s important to understand what exactly this game is before going into it. Because if you look at the trailer and the screenshots and all that, you might get the impression that this is some sort of Zelda-like action RPG. In reality, it’s more of a visual novel that just happens to have a little bit of Zelda-like action RPG gameplay and some puzzles too.
Is that gameplay good though? Debatable. It’s less “good” and more so just “basic”, without much depth or really anything noteworthy about it. I mean, the puzzles are decent enough, but the combat is laughable. You simply hit your one button to swing at things until they are dead. You unlock new weapons as the game goes on, but instead of being better weapons, they’re just more gimmicky and clunky compared to the one you started with that does the same job in half the time.
Fortunately, the gameplay makes up a mere fraction of the experience – the bulk of your time (like 80% or so) is going to be spent reading dialogue and going through the story. As a visual novel fan, I am very used to this approach, but at the same time, that also makes me very susceptible to poor writing and that is unfortunately the case with Eastward.
You get this really cool setting and base plot and then an overall story that moves at glacier pacing and with some of the most overwritten dialogue I have ever seen in the genre. Conversations or scenes that could be cut to just a few lines are instead extended to last for dozens and it’s honestly worse than some of the bloated visual novels I have read.
The plot and setting are fine (and were actually part of the reason for why I was interested in even starting this game), but there is so much filler that any interest I had in the characters or where the story was going quickly dissipated. The entire thing is overwritten and prolonged, with too much unnecessary dialogue, tons of slow panning camera shots dragging out scenes, and a surprising lack of substance given the sheer amount of words used in the game’s conversations.
Bundle this with the gameplay and you get a pretty boring game loop. It becomes this pattern of: read a bunch of dialogue, go from point a to point b, sometimes engage in combat there, more dialogue, head back to point a, more dialogue, and repeat. This becomes more prominent after you reach chapter three, which has you running to and from a city completing the most mundane of tasks
It’s unfortunate, because chapter three also highlights the game’s biggest strength: it’s art and music. Exploring this city and seeing all the characters, the small details, the coloring – that was some great stuff. It’s just sadly bundled with some boring story elements and barebones gameplay.
And it’s with that said that I unfortunately cannot recommend Eastward. What was once one of my most hyped indie games of the year quickly devolved into a boring loop of barebones combat, running from point a to point b, and so much dialogue that the game could easily be completed in a third of the time if the filler were cut away. Overwritten dialogue and story does not equate to good writing and that’s ultimately what killed the experience for me.
Quote: Eastward may have some great art and music, but the gameplay is barebones and the story is so overwritten that the game could easily be completed in a third of the time if the filler were cut away.
Eastward retails for $25 USD on Steam and is also available through GOG and on Switch.
I was provided a review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.