With a visual style that reassembles traditional Chinese shuǐ-mò (commonly known as ‘ink-and-wash painting’), the Early Access Steam release of Eastern Exorcist (Steam, $13.59, regularly $16.99) undoubtedly impresses. Backdrops are especially eye-pleasing, with players journeying past ancestral halls filled with expended candles or scenic lakes tranquil enough to provide mirror-like reflections. Although parallax scrolling is common for two-dimensional action titles, Eastern Exorcist ups the ante with blurred objects in the foreground. When paired with a sepia-influenced palette, the game frequently looks downright cinematic.
Regrettably, the game’s animation isn’t quite as adept. Jiangsu, China-based Wildfire Game uses the kind of Adobe Flash-like system where characters move like marionettes. While it lacks the fluidity and charm of hand-drawn art, given Wildfire’s diminutive size (they started with four members and now have nine), the approach is understandable. One the upside, both lead character Lu Yunchuan and most of possessed souls and demons he confronts stir about threateningly.
A Demon’s Downfall
Pleasingly, Eastern Exorcist doesn’t overburden players with long-winded bouts of exposition. Early on, it’s established that you are the chosen one, destined to cleanse the lands of malevolence. That feat is accomplished through a multitude of different sword fighting techniques that Exorcist imparts through instruction and hands-on practice.
Pleasingly, Yunchuan feels deadly, thanks to his extensive arsenal of attacks. At the base of your abilities is a simple sword slash, performed with a button press (a controller isn’t required but highly recommended). Hold the button down for a second and a half, and the exorcist will charge the attack. This not only generates a stylish animation of whirling energy, but also dishes out enough hurt to take out subordinates with a single hit.
Dashes, Parries, and Precisely Timed Attacks
But Eastern Exorcist’s enemies won’t just wait around, waiting to be purified. Instead, they’ll fight back in a multitude of different ways, from lunging at you with outstretched arms to ebbing energy orbs from afar. Mercifully, they’ll all telegraph their attacks, permitting players with a fraction of a second to respond. Here, Yunchuan can quickly dash out of the way, with the move providing a brief window of invincibility. Time it just right, and you’ll execute a Perfect Dash, which unlike a normal dodge, doesn’t draw from your stamina bar.
Alternatively, a well-timed button press can parry a melee or ranged attack, turning the tide of combat. Jumping brings it own set of maneuvers as well, with Yunchuan to attack flying foes, slash downward, or leap over the leads of adversaries. Fundamentally, Eastern Exorcist is about prioritizing your targets, so the latter is especially useful when opponents on the far side of the screen are pelting you with projectiles.
A Mostly Competent Control Scheme
Your assortment of attacks is also complemented by seven different Exorcism Arts, with up to four to simultaneously select from. They prove to be quite assistive, with the first ability, Imperial Sword, launching a barrage of blades at foes when you trigger a combo. You’ll also have to juggle a bit of inventory management, with Eastern Exorcist allowing you to carry up to ten healing positions. Picking up an Aura Essence presents a decision: should you activate abilities on your skill tree or use if your statistical growth at shines which also serve as save points.
At present, Exorcist is responsive but there are a few control related decisions that might not agree with all players. At present, charging your slash repeats as long as you hold the button down, which challenges tradition, and as such feels a bit inelegant. Once you deplete an enemy’s health, you’ll have to dispel them, or else their strength and health will be amplified. Often, this takes two taps of the shoulder button. While it’s not a deal breaker and you’ll often still remove them, the blemish draws attention to the otherwise responsive control scheme. Similarly, the game’s localization has a few flaws, but the developers seem committing to improving the quality of in-game text.
Elsewhere, Eastern Exorcist delivers the essentials of any respectable two-dimensional action adventure. Tasks prod you to move across a variety of environments. Instead of a conventional mini-map, you’ll see an image of the location you need to venture toward. As such, exploration requires a bit of thought and an awareness of your surrounds. Those with an urge for level grinding can find challenges at shrines that can augment Yunchuan’s attributes. Additionally, Eastern Exorcist offers a bestiary of seen demons as well as a breakdown that records an assortment of statistical data about your adventure.
Eastern Exorcist’s intolerance for player error will probably result in comparisons to Blasphemous and potentially, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. But an incorporation of Chinese folklore and art, in everything from backdrops to bosses, endows Eastern Exorcist with distinction. Let’s hope Wildfire Game can expel the game’s trifling troubles before its full release. In the meantime, you can give the demo a try.
A copy of Eastern Exorcist was supplied by the publisher.