Reviving the Classics
A lot of indie RPG games are molded after old games like Chrono Trigger and the old Final Fantasy games. Where Earthlock immediately stands out from the crowd is that it’s inspired by later classics like Final Fantasy VII and VIII. Growing up with those games, I was intrigued by Earthlock, considering that the Nintendo Switch is starving for some quality JRPGs.
After spending time in the game’s world, story, characters, and mechanics, is it a proper revival of sixth-gen RPGs, or does it prove that some games should stay in the past?
It’s worth noting that Earthlock has had a rough development. When it debuted as Earthlock: Festival of Magic, it garnered such negative reviews that developer, Snowcastle Games, put the intended sequel on the backburner and invested all of their time into making Earthlock the best it could be. I’ve not played the original version, but it’s just a bit of history that made me respect the developers more.
Earthlock opens with a quick training exam as you control the daughter of the king of a powerful nation. After that scene, you get to know the protagonist, Amon, as he discovers an artifact with his dear uncle. It’s not long before other forces try to get their hands on the artifact that Amon’s uncle is captured and he must team up with an unlikely set of allies to save his uncle. Along the way, he quickly realizes that his quest is much bigger than him, and he will need the help of his new friends to help save the world of Umbra.
As far as a setup, Earthlock‘s story isn’t bad. It isn’t good either. Each development can be anticipated very early on, and I was never surprised by what it had to offer. It’s just an average story that isn’t the selling point of the game. The same can be said for the dialogue, which is very on the nose. It does interject some personality and humor, but those moments were few and far between.
Wait Your Turn
As an homage to sixth-gen RPGs, Earthlock is a game that demands to get its gameplay right. On a fundamental level, its turn-based system works. Characters are each given their own class with two different stances to choose from. It’s your job to figure out which abilities will get you ahead in each situation.
On top of that, you have to manage consumable ammo, special bond meters that allow you to execute devastating attacks, and points that prevent you from spamming your more powerful abilities. All in all, Earthlock does a good job of making you manage your party’s attacks and forcing you to think ahead on the best way to fight each battle.
If there’s one complaint I have, it’s in how the game handles weaknesses and strengths. There are elemental attributes, but there are also slashing and stabbing attacks. Figuring out what enemies are weak and strong against is a matter of trial and error, which can waste precious turns. I don’t want the game to force feed me a monster’s weakness, but I would like it to be obvious enough that I can at least guess what it might be. This can get extremely frustrating when fighting some of the game’s more difficult bosses.
On the subject of bosses, some of them are quite fun, but others are demanding to the point of being unfair. You could go from breezing through a dungeon before fighting a boss that can knock out your party members in one hit. The difficulty curve, in this sense, isn’t as refined as it should be for a game of this nature. As such, it’s important to ensure that you’re prepared for every fight.
After each battle, you’ll gain experience that will then award you with points you can spend on Talents. This is, in my opinion, where the game puts its best foot forward. Each character is placed on a long board with individual card spaces. Spend one point and one relevant item to unlock one of the card spaces to provide a stat boost, new perk, or ability to your character. The reason why this works so well is because the types of upgrades your character gets is entirely up to you. Even if you wanted to make the thief an expert at magic, you’d have the freedom to do that (though it’s not advised).
The World of Umbra
The characters of Earthlock are placed in the world known as Umbra. It’s a standard RPG locale for those of you that know what to expect. There’s the humble town where you begin your journey, the massive city that you must fight, and even a safe-haven where you can regroup and buy useful items.
On that note, I should address my biggest issue with Earthlock: the art design. The locations in Umbra and all of the characters look fine, and that’s it. Snowcastle could’ve taken the opportunity to go above and beyond, but most of the time, everything looks bland. The character designs are particularly forgettable, with only one or two actually looking appropriate for a magical JRPG. This doesn’t ruin the game for me, but it didn’t give me a good first impression when I played.
On the flipside, the audio design is strangely fantastic. The music is all well-composed (if a bit too inspired from Final Fantasy X at times) and fits each setting well. At the very least, Earthlock has a good soundtrack to bolster its lackluster graphical design.
Lastly, I should point out that Earthlock runs at a mostly solid 60 fps. There were moments where the game would briefly pause and I would have to wait for it to catch up a few seconds later.
System reviewed on: Nintendo Switch.
Disclaimer: A review code for Earthlock was provided by Snowcastle Games.