The Power of Swords Compels You
HIGH The dragon chase and fight.
LOW Unbelievably cheap enemy archers.
WTF The priest that can’t stop failing to save people!
If nothing else, one must respect Eastern Exorcist for the brevity and directness of its title. It’s upfront about its focus — demons will be fought — and promises a significant twist on the expected proceedings. Armed with a sword instead of a crucifix and battling demonic animals rather than possessed children, an ‘Eastern Exorcist’ is apparently a member of a brotherhood of warrior monks, tasked with battling hideous monstrosities which exploit and are created by humanity’s worst impulses.
A side-scrolling brawler with skill-focused gameplay, Eastern Exorcist puts players in control of Lu, the disgraced survivor of a massacre. Shunned by his order after his brothers are killed by a giant mandrill — the self-proclaimed beast-king of the area — Lu becomes a wandering exorcist, traveling from city to city and putting down zombies and demonic animals that bedevil the countryside.
As he explores each new area, Lu discovers secrets that the locals have worked hard to keep buried, exposing the cruelty and hypocrisy which drew these evil forces in the first place.
EE has a fairly clear worldview which it restates over and over again — if people want to survive, they have to support and protect one another. According to the game, the moment it becomes inconvenient or costly to look after widows, orphans, or the disabled, there’s a drive to discard them so that everyone else can continue their comfortable lives. In the world of Eastern Exorcist this is the worst sin imaginable, and time and again Lu finds himself putting his life on the line to rescue people who may not deserve it.
It’s a bleak worldview, and one that’s reinforced by the art design. The levels are dark and fog-shrouded, the ground is rough and craggy, and even the grass seems oddly sharp and dangerous. Enemies are hunched and sinister nightmares that crawl from the earth, grown from seeds of evil sown by corrupt citizens. Even the narrator contributes meaningfully to the mood by screeching in a high-pitched, mocking voice. I didn’t understand a word he said (the game is in Mandarin, with multi-lingual subtitles available) but his intent is clear through nothing more than tone.
Eastern Exorcist‘s combat is a bit of a mixed bag, which is a pity because combat is the entirety of gameplay.
Yu is armed with a magical blade which can’t be upgraded or altered in any way. Combat is built around parries and dodging enemy attacks, as well as watching a stamina meter to make sure Lu doesn’t wind up staggered at the wrong moment.
The core mechanics are solid, but I had issues with enemy animations. With the kind of parry-based combat that the player must master, learning enemy tells and timing is of paramount importance. Unfortunately, some enemies have such quick or poorly-telegraphed attacks that fighting them became frustrating at all but the easiest difficulty.
Thankfully, Eastern Exorcist‘s bosses don’t suffer from this problem, and I found each of them to be thrilling opponents. From dragons to anthropomorphic animal warriors to a few… unpleasant surprises…. each of the fights is a pleasant surprise, and there are enough of them that there’s always one right around the corner.
While the basic combat is simplistic — slash and counter enemies until they’re out of health, then dispel them before they regenerate in a stronger form — the magic system adds a welcome amount of complexity.
Lu has access to seven different magical auras, each one providing combat bonuses as the player charges up a power bar by getting hits on foes. There are a wide variety of options — anything from big damage via constant critical hits to summoning projectiles for bonus strikes, and more. There’s an option for most playstyles. However, it won’t be possible to fully upgrade all of these abilities in one playthrough.
While it’s easy enough to fully level up Lu himself during a single journey through the story, high-level magic requires collectible orbs and currency Lu earns by felling foes, and there just aren’t enough orbs to max out more than one or two of the powers. Anyone interested in taking another run to earn more orbs can check out Eastern Exorcist‘s New Game+ mode, and I’d estimate everything could be done in less than ten hours overall.
Eastern Exorcist is brisk and engaging. Despite a few rough points, the combat is solid, the world is beautifully rendered, and the extremely depressing story is was interesting enough to carry me through to the end. After the credits (which are entirely in Chinese, just FYI) there’s footage promising DLC or a sequel that’s is already in production, and I’m absolutely interested to see how this franchise moves forward.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Wildfire and published by bilibili. It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 5 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: This game was not reviewed by the ESRB, but it contains this Blood and Gore, Alcohol Use, Intense Violence, and Suggestive Content. Not only is this an extremely violent game — Lu’s only form of interaction is sword slashing, after all — but the story goes to rough places featuring, murder, sexual violence, torture, human sacrifice, and more. It’s bleak and children and younger teens should be kept far from it.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played much of the game without audio and encountered no difficulties. All dialogue is subtitled and all important information is provided via text. Text cannot be resized. This game is fully remappable.
Remappable Controls: No, the game’s controls are not remappable.