Welcome to Save State, where we Muramasa our Demon Blade. Over the last couple weeks, I’ve largely been delving into the beautiful world of Aionios in Xenoblade Chronicles 3. Aionios has a lot to offer, tons to grind, and even more to see, but sometimes you need a fast-paced action game to hold your interest when you’re away from your Switch. This is precisely why I’ve been playing Eastern Exorcist, an indie 2D side scrolling beat ‘em up, that runs great on the Steam Deck outside of some small text.
Eastern Exorcist places you in the shoes of one of two characters- a young exorcist named Lu Yunchuan, and a half-demon with a penchant for exorcism named Xiahao Xue. Each of these two characters have their own stories and will visit different locations, battle different bosses, and experience largely different stories. Yunchuan wants to avenge his slain compatriots by exorcising the demon that killed his friends, while Xue seeks help in healing her brother, whose spirit’s connection with his body was severed. Xue’s brother trails his sister, acting as a useful guide or even an aid in combat, at times.
The story beats of Eastern Exorcist are pretty good, with some events being quite somber or even outright depressing, all thoroughly steeped in Chinese lore. Much of what the protagonists experience are told as mini-episodes on their way to their overall goal- some of these instances being cruel or depressing tales, recounting the greed of a few affecting a great number of people. There are occasional cutscenes that will pop up from time to time to punctuate the beginning or end of a chapter, all beautifully drawn, that really help sell events that would have been banal if they were just text boxes.
Eastern Exorcist has a very beautiful aesthetic- the characters are painted in a way that very strongly evokes Vanillaware games like Dragon’s Crown, though without the sexualization. The environments, mostly simple forested areas at dusk or dank caverns, are expertly drawn and help sell the environment. Most of the areas the characters traipse through are a little on the boring side to navigate despite how gorgeous the visuals are. Each section you go through is relatively simplistic in design because of the need for there to be larger, open areas for your character to be stopped and engaged in battle with enemies. You’ll have your character largely walk or dash in one direction and occasionally jump until the game stops your progress with a battle encounter.
Progression in Eastern Exorcist is roughly what you’d expect- you venture back and forth through connected rooms, are occasionally stopped to battle demons, and your character can’t proceed until you defeat them all. The combat itself is extremely engaging, with you having access to powerful combos that require judicious timing, powerful anti-air attacks, and a variety of exorcist skills you can utilize to aid you through combat. Some of these special powers might include summoning swords to attack your character’s enemies with or imbuing your character’s weapon with lightning after performing perfect dodges or parries. These special abilities can be leveled up, too, increasing their damage, affecting the frequency you can use them, or outright giving you brand new ways to approach combat.
A simplistic leveling system is present in Eastern Exorcist where you can spend souls you acquire by defeating enemies or exploring the landscapes to increase your character’s abilities. The benefits you gain from unlocking nodes on the skill tree are immensely helpful, and the game will feel completely different by the end with restoring stamina to your character through performing perfect dodges and acquiring powerful, guard breaking moves. It’s really neat to see your combat options open up more and more as you progress in the game- while you may have only been able to perform one or two lightning strikes per battle early in the game, the entire screen may be rife with lightning as you close out the third chapter, for example.
As you progress in the game, you can acquire accessories either by story developments, or by clearing boss challenges that each award a new useful kind of accessory your character can equip. The accessory bonuses are also pretty varied and can be leveled up, too. My favorite was the one that generates spirit arrows to damage a boss once you break their armor gauge. So, should you come across a particularly tough boss fight, leveling your character and exorcism skills, unlocking new character skills, and even leveling accessories can oftentimes give your character enough of an edge in battle to succeed.
It is important to note, however, that while leveling your character directly boosts health and damage, most of the other things you can spend souls on are gameplay improvements and new mechanics, rather than just outright stat boosts. So, if you learn a technique that lets you generate a lightning strike every time your character perfectly dodges an attack, you still need to perfect dodges to utilize that benefit! Unlocking the ability to pole vault and attack after a perfect dodge won’t be useful if you never actually use it, same with accessing multiple levels of charged attacks for the purpose of breaking enemy guards or reducing boss armor.
If there’s any one thing that Eastern Exorcist falters at, it’s feedback for taking damage. Sometimes when parrying certain attacks, your character winds up taking some damage, somehow, even if your character landed the successful parry- there’s at least one boss in each story like this. Similarly, some attacks in the game will give your character super armor so you can power them through attacks, taking damage but not getting staggered. Not every enemy hit box matches the animations on screen, so utilizing certain attacks can lead to your character taking substantial amounts of chip damage without even knowing that they’re being hit unless you’re carefully watching your character’s health gauge. Watching your character’s health gauge can be somewhat difficult when you’re looking for them to parry a boss’s attacks and the boss has summoned a variety of mooks you also need to be cautious of.
In spite of this, however, Eastern Exorcist is still a lot of fun even on low level, hard mode runs, if you learn how to properly handle the encounters. Should something in the game such as a boss or random encounter prove too difficult, the title offers a variety of difficulty in levels, and there’s the possibility to grind out a few levels to raise your health and attack rating. There’s also the ability to change which exorcism skills your character is using in combat, or the choice of even changing to a lower difficulty level should things be too tough.
Thankfully, Eastern Exorcist does have a training mode where you can test out combos, as well as tutorials for each new ability you unlock throughout the game so you can take time to learn new actions as they unlock. The title can be completed pretty easily on normal, but should you want a challenge, there is an achievement for beating the whole adventure on hard mode at level 1 (which I’m stuck on the final boss of my level 1 run of Eastern Exorcist. Don’t look at my shame). A single run of either character’s story would likely take about 4-5 hours, if you’re doing minimal exploration and completing all of the various challenges you unlock along the way.
That being said, Eastern Exorcist is a great time. If 2D beat em ups, Chinese lore, or the visual aesthetic don’t tickle your fancy, then Eastern Exorcist might not be the right kind of title to change your mind. However, should you enjoy games like Muramasa: The Demon Blade, Eastern Exorcist might be just right for you. With that, I think we’ll bring this entry of Save State to a close. Remember to keep your arms and legs inside of the ride at all times, and we’ll see you here again next time!