Video Games: ‘Eastward’ Review

Screen capture of the characters John and Sam in ‘Eastward’. Copyright goes to Pixpil.

Hey! Hallie here!

Recently I’ve been really interested in cozier games I can casually play on my Nintendo Switch. During my search I came across ‘Eastward’ in a list that was specifically for cozy games that aren’t farming sims, and because I get very easily tired of farming sims, I really wanted to give this a shot. Especially because of the art style, which is absolutely gorgeous. After finishing the game I have a lot of thoughts, which I’ll get into below, but I want to clarify something. This game is pretty high stakes and also has an in-depth and confusing storyline. It even gets quite dark at parts. So while I might call this game’s color palette or wholesome characters “cozy”, I wouldn’t necessarily call this entire game cozy, nor would I recommend it for someone looking for a calming game to unwind with. But that misconception isn’t the fault of the game, just some of the people who’ve recommended it. So with that warning out of the way, let’s get to what I liked and didn’t like in this game!

The Good:

The Protagonists: John and Sam are both really interesting characters that are equally fun to follow. John is a completely silent protagonist which isn’t unusual for an old-fashioned RPG like this one. He’s known for being reliable and kind, though with him actions clearly speak louder than words. The game also spends a good amount of time driving home that he’s an excellent cook just to make him even more likable. But what adds most to his character is his relationship with our other protagonist, Sam. While the player takes the role of John through most of the game, Sam is still a character players will spend a lot of time playing as. Sam is a little girl who’s backstory is mysterious due to the fact that John found her in a tube in some sort of laboratory. She does speak, often on behalf of both herself and John, and constantly demonstrates a huge heart and an earnest desire to befriend everyone she meets. On top of her easily likable traits, Sam is also a badass with crazy powers that prevent her from being any sort of damsel in distress. These two act as a father/daughter duo that’s both heartwarming and heartbreaking as the events of the game unfold. While Sam is clear that John isn’t her real father, John sees himself as Sam’s parent and acts according to that role more and more as the plot goes on. The lengths these two go to to protect each other is the entire driving force of the game and it’s a very effective emotional hook for the audience.

The Side Characters: There’s a whole host of side characters in this game, and while not all of them are winners, most of them are, in my opinion, even better than the main characters. First there’s Alva, a princess and a technician who protects her city from danger with her inventions. She’s bubbly, adorable, and hilarious. And she’s also openly LGBTQ+ as she’s actively dating Isabel, a woman who was built(?) to protect her. Isabel is another great character. She’s the most skilled and feared fighter in the world of ‘Eastward’, as well as the most capable person (Aside from Sam and John) at defending her world from the darkness that’s sweeping across it. There’s also William, an inventor who left his family behind to prove that a world existed outside of the underground village he called a home. William is interesting in that he’s very obviously flawed. He travels around with a robot of his own creation named Daniel, whom he treats like a son, but his real life son named Daniel was left behind when William made to escape his hometown. William is haughty and a bit difficult to understand at first, but the ways he displays his devastation over leaving his family behind are quickly understandable. These are my favorite NPCs, but there are plenty more. There’s Jasper, the outlandish performer who shows a surprising amount of care for the protagonists at the beginning of the game. There’s also Lee, the menacing casino boss who has a soft spot for Alva that makes him endearing. The characters in this game are full of so many quirks and fun backstories that it’s hard to walk away without having at least one character you love.

The Art: I already mentioned the art above, but I’m going to take a bit more time to gush about it. This game is full of vibrant colors and gorgeous backgrounds. From lush forests to bustling cities, to strange labs, this game is breathtaking to look at. There wasn’t one frame where I wasn’t amazed by the color palette. The mix between bright colors and duller tones is eye-catching. And the character designs are all unique and satisfying to look at. They inform the character’s personalities so well that I wanted merchandise for each character even before I actually started the game. There are even pieces of art in the game that pop up towards the ending that are a completely different art style from everything else. As if the rest of the game didn’t already look like a storybook, the occasional fluid, abstract style we get towards the end elevates that storybook feeling. To be honest, I partially bought this game because of the art and I do not regret spending around 25 hours staring at it.

The Gameplay: The gameplay is very satisfying and not too complicated. While I, once again, would not call this game cozy, it’s not stressful to play gameplay-wise. You spend most of the gameplay fighting, but fighting mechanics are simple and, once you get the hang of dodging, most fights are a breeze. As long as you can button mash and you fully utilize Sam’s abilities to freeze enemies, you shouldn’t have any problems. There were very few fights that I had to restart during my time playing this game and even fewer that I had to restart multiple times. You get a few weapons you can choose from during fights, but each are straight-forward, can only be occasionally leveled up, and some are more for puzzles than fights. Speaking of puzzles, there are plenty of fun puzzles you can solve using both John and Sam. These puzzles aren’t too difficult, but they also aren’t so easy that you don’t feel you’ve accomplished anything once you figure them out. There’s also a cooking mechanic in this game that will provide you with the best healing items you can get your hands on. Cooking is as simple as mixing various kinds of ingredients together and seeing what dish you make on accident, but I did find myself enjoying putting together different ingredient combinations to see what recipe I randomly unlocked.

The Bad:

The Story: Well oof. Although I’m very character oriented when it comes to what I find enjoyment in with video games, a bad story always sours my experience regardless of how good the characters are. And this is a particularly messy story. For this section I’m going into SPOILERS! You’ve been warned! The amount of half-baked ideas it felt like were thrown at the wall and never resolved was frankly astounding. First there’s the identity of Sam, who, as far as I gathered, is one of many clones of a mysterious woman. The purpose of her creation was to help usher in a mass extinction of humans so they could be replaced with artificial “better” humans. But who’s she a clone of? Is it someone specific? Is it the person who decided that replacing humans was a good idea for no reason? Why did there need to be more than one clone? There’s also the fact that all of the characters refer to Sam as “mother” when they either praise her or blame her for ushering in the darkness that’s supposed to be the catalyst for replacing the human race. But who’s mother? What motherly role would Sam or the other clones serve? And though I do like that Sam rejects the idea of destroying the human race and puts a stop to it all herself, who’s the alternate version of Sam that keeps trying to convince her to go dark? Is she another clone? The dark side of Sam? The original creator of the clones?

Then there’s Solomon, a character who claims to work for “mother” and appears at various stages of his life throughout the game. He’s a kid when you meet him, but soon afterwards you meet him as a teen and then as an old man. Who is this guy? Why does he work for “mother”? Is he time traveling, or are the three versions of him clones like Sam? And why does it matter that he changes from a teenager to an old man if he’s just going to play the same “evil dude” role either way? And THEN there’s Isabel, who we’re told was built for Alva but then that piece of information never gets elaborated on. Is she even real? Also, why does she try to clone Alva and plug her into Sam’s human-destroying program at the end of the game? And how is Alva’s spirit able to suddenly appear and talk her out of it? I’m fine with a story leaving questions unanswered, but this many questions pertaining to this many main characters feels more like unfinished storylines rather than open-ended conclusions. I also have to complain about the tone here. It quickly switches from light shenanigans to dark themes frequently, but sometimes it’s so jarring that it’s a detriment to the story. For example, Alva dies pretty suddenly in this game. And I didn’t even realize she was dead until I left her city and came to the conclusion that Alva wouldn’t be coming back. Sure we see Isabel carrying her dead body, but she could easily be unconscious for all we know. And after the mostly humorous shenanigans right before her death, it’s hard to just immediately assume the worst there. This happens so often. One minute we’re messing around on a movie set run by monkeys, and the next Daniel the robot dies a gruesome death. Huh?

Sexism and Insensitivity: It’s undeniable. There are some unacceptable characteristics in the character design for some of the NPCs here. The ones I noticed most had to do with a few of the women in this game. While the main characters, such as Alva and Isabel, didn’t have this problem, a large amount of NPCs who happened to be women were given abnormally large breasts. To emphasize this, their breasts moved independently from their bodies during their idle animations. This is a specific trait I haven’t seen for a long time in games and it was kind of insulting to see it come back as an added trait for so many characters. Not to mention that one of these characters isn’t over-sexualized until her circus troupe, made up of men, forces her to wear a dominatrix outfit that not only gives her an abnormally sized chest, but also completely changes her personality. Then there’s the interpretation of a group of homeless people within a large city. All the designs for this population are made to be purposefully ugly and each character deliberately sounds unintelligent in their dialogue. Because that’s a great way to depict an underprivileged population. These details aren’t included in the most important parts of the story, but the fact that they’re there at all irritated me quite a bit.

I wish I liked this game more. After seeing the art and hearing the plot, I thought this would be right up my alley. And in some ways it was. I did enjoy many of the characters and I loved the art style. But the story was a mess and some of the old-fashioned ideologies made me cringe. This game needed more time and more people to look over it before its release. It’s definitely not a bad game. If you love games like ‘EarthBound’ and ‘Undertale’, you’ll absolutely enjoy this one. But don’t expect the same richness in story you get from either of those titles.

Don’t do anything fun until I get back!


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