Onward And Eastward
Released during the late summer of 2021, Eastward is an interesting take on a genre that isn't featured enough in gaming. In most anime and manga, the term "slice-of-life" means something that features a "day in the life of a group of characters." Eastward features a community, located in Eastward, with each having its own stories and quirks. The protagonists, John and Sam, are what the game centers around.
John is a miner who works with his fellow co-workers daily, although it would seem he's the only one remotely serious about the job. An early example of this is when the mining facility is overrun by slugs. While everyone is doing everything possible to avoid the problem, John takes matters into his own hands with his wit and trusty pan. Accompanying him is a young girl named Sam who is under John's care. While John is a silent protagonist, Sam becomes both his mouthpiece and Eastward's morality pet.
A Beautiful Sight Even From The Gutters Of The Mines
Things quickly become not what they seem in Eastward as there's a distinct caste system between the wealthy and the working class. Eastward itself is a heaping mass of metal filled with archaic technology and trailer parks. The mayor, by comparison, lives in a lavish manor and constantly treats the working miners like crap. This even goes so far as paying them in what's essentially turnips instead of money. These are taken as dark humor yet the less the player takes for granted, the more out of place everything seems.
Back to the "slug infestation," the gameplay shifts from its Earthbound aesthetic to a Zelda-like experience. John waves the frying pan like Link with his Master Sword and the longer the player holds the button, the stronger the attack. There's even a life system in the form of heart capsules, where damage range from half hearts to full hearts. It seems after solving a specific challenge, the heart capsule capacity increases. There are even bombs that John can use which act the same way as they would in a Legend of Zelda title.
Earth Born - The RPG Within The Action RPG
While I didn't play enough of the game to explore Sam's powers, stopping short of the end of the first chapter, there was a pleasant surprise that awaited me. Eastward is one of those titles that has a "game-within-a-game," which in itself is a reference to the game it draws inspiration from in-name. There's an "RPG" in the game titled Earth Born, that totally doesn't reference the overall Earthbound or Mother aesthetic of Eastward.
"Earth Born," plays itself like a very early version of Dragon Quest combined with "gacha" games. It even comes complete with its own in-game story, an in-universe anime based on the game, and a group of friends who are obsessed with the title. It's something that's purely optional, but the fact that it's included in Eastward helps tremendously with its world-building. The characters all speak with the occasional "blips" and "bloops," yet each happens to have a personality that rivals games with voice acting.
Eastward Is A Unique Graphic Beauty
The graphics are all sprites, yet meshed with amazing lighting that gives it an almost hand-drawn appearance. Street lamps reflect upon the environment, giving the town a warm haze. The ambiguity of the time of day also meshes well with the aesthetic itself. While many will compare this to Earthbound, I found it similar to the way SaGa Frontier handled its graphics. Eastward has a similar modern retro feel where it doesn't try hard to be "a classic," it's just naturally so as it is.
Eastward is Pixpil's first title as a small indie developer based in Shanghai and it's easily a hit among many who played the game. With a physical release on the horizon for the Switch, Eastward will be a perfect fit on any collector's shelf. Whether it's an eShop or Steam library, or even physical, it remains an underrated classic. While my experiences only exist up to bashing slugs with a pan, it'd be fun to revisit this and see how quirky Sam and John's journies become.
Eastward is available on the Nintendo Switch and PC