Dark Light

While various videogame franchises like Yakuza, Persona, Shenmue (sigh), and critically-acclaimed hits like Sekiro and the recent Ghost of Tsushima take place in Japan and are highly inspired by the country’s culture, games set in China are harder to come by. Apart from Sleeping Dogs and Deus Ex: Human Revolution – if that even counts – I honestly can’t think of any other games that take place in China, forget about exploring Chinese culture or mythology. This is where Eastern Exorcist comes in.

Eastern Exorcist is a beautiful-looking 2D side-scrolling action RPG set in a fantasy eastern world, developed by Wildfire Games and published by bilibili. Let’s check it out.

eastern exorcist

An Uncertain World of Demons, Gods, Spirits, & Exorcists

Eastern Exorcist is set in a brutal dark fantasy world where gods and spirits based on eastern mythology exist, and waves of demons are a constant threat to the inhabitants. And that’s where you come in – playing as Lu Yuchuan, a trained Exorcist, you help your kind keep the demons at bay by exorcising them in order to keep the people safe. 

eastern exorcist

The game begins right in the midst of a mission – you find yourself in a snowy landscape at the foot of Mount Qi, where you’re in search of King Mandrill, an evil spirit that seems to be behind the recent surge in demon attacks. On the way, you find that your brothers have captured a fox spirit named Xiao Yu and are on the verge of killing it (her?) before you stop them and mercifully convince them to set her free.

Admirable right? Well, seeing as how the fox spirit snitches on you and your brothers, which leads to their death, that turns out to be the wrong decision. Unsurprisingly, you get expelled from your exorcist clan and are left on your own. In this fashion, from the very beginning, Eastern Exorcist makes its morality system crystal clear: there are no clear-cut bad guys and good guys, things may not be as cut-and-dry as they seem. 

eastern exorcist

This proves to be a common theme as you progress in the game, as you learn more and more about the various spirits and demons that serve as the enemies and bosses in the game, and a couple of them are truly tragic tales. This element adds a layer of narrative complexity to the game: the bosses aren’t just obstacles to get through anymore, but beings with tragic backstories attached to them. I definitely didn’t expect this kind of narrative depth going into it, and, being a fan of non-black-and-white conflicts in stories, was pleasantly surprised by it. 

After being unceremoniously expelled as a result of your lapse in judgment, you travel on your own to find and stop the source of the demon attacks, visiting villages and meeting people on the way. These villages and the NPCs inhabiting them flesh out the world very effectively, by offering tidbits of storytelling. Talking to them or overhearing conversations, you learn more about the demonic attacks that plague this world, which contributes to the story. You soon get a very genuine sense of the world and it’s easy to get immersed in it. 

The Presentation

eastern exorcist

Moving on to the presentation, this is without a doubt where the game shines. The art direction is beautiful – multiple layers of 2d hand-drawn art in the Chinese ink painting art style really bring the world to life, giving it a realistic depth of field. The various locations you explore never come across as fake or insubstantial, but instead as a window into a huge, expansive world. 

The monster designs, especially some of the bosses, are spectacular and creepy, you can tell a lot of effort has gone into them. Though the first boss is a simple yeti-esque snow ape (which nonetheless triggered the PTSD in me from Sekiro’s monkey boss), some of the later monsters really bring it in the design department. The rich lore combined with the enemy designs are great motivating factors, which become progressively more important the farther you get in the game since it isn’t a piece of cake, that’s for sure. But we’ll get to that later.

The music is powerful and haunting, with a string-heavy track outside of combat that gets across that dark, horror-esque tone incredibly well. When a battle starts, of course, it switches to a more intense drum-heavy track depending on the location and the boss, which gets you amped up and reflects the serious, epic nature of the battle. 

Along with the music, there’s foley, background environmental sounds of owls hooting, wolves howling, and other strange sounds from beings best left alone that also contribute to the great sense of atmosphere.  

The game also features cutscenes – in the form of the Chinese Opera according to their Steam description, which I’ve never been exposed to so it was lost on me, to be honest. Though they feature decent art, the dips in frame rate and apparent drop in resolution during the cutscenes definitely take away from the immersion, and make them feel sloppy and unpolished. 

However, getting to my biggest problem with the game – the UI and localization is where the game underperforms. The menu screen and the UI, in general, feel amateur and F2P mobile game-ish, which really turned me off at first. The font size is often too small as well and had me constantly squinting at the screen. The localization is honestly not much of a problem, since you get the gist of what they want to tell you despite the bad translation, but the UI definitely needs to be polished up, as it does a poor job of reflecting the actual quality of the game. 

2D Sekiro + Exorcism? Kinda

The TL;DR version, though not 100% accurate, is that Eastern Exorcist mimics Sekiro in a lot of ways, except in 2D. What I initially dismissed as shallow, button mashy gameplay soon turned out to have a surprising amount of depth to it, expecting a level of strategy, patience, and timing from the player.

In addition to the core combat mechanics, you have access to 7 Exorcist Arts, 4 of them equippable at a time, that allows you to stack charges and execute various cool magical attacks – flying homing swords, summoning a shadow clone to help out, lightning attacks, etc. 

The combat feels tight and responsive, and the parry especially feels amazing and oh-so-satisfying, reminiscent of Sekiro’s backstab or final strokes. Similar to Sekiro, bosses have a shield that you have to get through to do any real damage to their health, and this can get a bit frustrating at first. You see, you have a stamina meter to manage, so you can’t spam attacks, and once you finally have their shield down, you’ll find yourself out of stamina unable to do much damage before their shield’s back up again. 

But hey, you just gotta ‘git gud’, strategize, conserve your stamina for the right time, and learn to parry and use your exorcist arts properly, along with memorizing the boss’ attack patterns. Oh and evade every single attack cause each one does considerable damage to your health and you’re not privileged with a rechargeable shield. Do all that, and you’ll be golden! You’ll die a LOT, but once you get the hang of it, chaining together attacks, dashes, parries, and exorcist arts is super satisfying and well worth it. 

Like in Sekiro, you collect and use power (souls) at shrines to level up, but also to develop each of your exorcist arts, each of which has an ability tree! Now, this is where the game lost me a bit. There are so many Arts with so many ability trees, all of which were explained pretty poorly as to how they work exactly, that I just stuck with 2 throughout my playthrough. If the translation on the descriptions were better, maybe I’d have tried other Arts more but as it stands, I had a hard time deciding whether to level up or invest in these Arts, much less decide between the Arts themselves. I do however see the freedom in playstyle the various combinations of Arts you can have provide, and how mixing it up can make some bosses significantly easier, or harder. So that amount of strategy is always appreciated, though not necessarily by me. 

Coming to the difficulty, it’s pretty effin hard as you may have guessed but wait, if you want even more of a challenge, there are the aptly named challenge levels accessible through shrines. In these timed stages, you’re tasked with fighting enhanced versions of bosses you’ve already beaten and/or waves of enemies but if successful, you’re significantly rewarded. 

The only con gameplay-wise I found was that the map just didn’t work at times. Also, you don’t have a ranged attack which can get frustrating, especially when it comes to flying enemies, but that’s where the flying sword Exorcist Art comes in nicely. Still, I do wish there was a more effective way to fight flying enemies, as double jumping and dashing to get in reach of them felt clumsy and ineffective. 


If you’re looking for a beautiful – though a bit rough-around-the-edges – skill-oriented Sekiro-like game with tight controls, deep gameplay, and challenging bosses, look no further. Though the translation can be wonky, the cutscenes shoddy, and the map sometimes just doesn’t work, in the gameplay, visuals, and sound departments, especially for an Early Access title, the game seems pretty much done to me.

The devs clearly knew exactly what they wanted to make, and I have to say, they’ve succeeded.  With 3 chapters of the male protagonist done and more content planned, this is a great one to pick up, even in Early Access. 

Disclaimer: The Early Access code was provided to us by Renaissance PR


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