Old-school, turn-based RPGs were my favorite genre growing up, and they’ve changed a lot since I was a kid. “Turn-based RPG where you farm your own ammo” was all it took to draw my interest in Earthlock, and the “Farmoury” is far from the only side-wackiness that’s presented here. However, many games have tried throwing lots of awesome ideas together – is Earthlock able to lock all those unique, intriguing concepts together, or is this “Shouldhavebeenedition” as Snowcastle Games calls it a mess of improvements?
Note: Earthlock: Festival of Magic originally released September 1st, 2016. In early 2017 the developers decided they wanted to improve on the original game before moving on to a sequel, so they dropped the subtitle and added a bunch of improvements to the game. In the blog post, they refer to this as the “Shouldhavebeenedition” (which I also think would’ve made an awesome new subtitle!). This review is based on the Switch edition of this new release from March 8, 2018 (a whole year and a half after the original!), but ANYONE WHO OWNS THE ORIGINAL GAME (aside from on Wii U) CAN GET THIS SEPARATE, FULL VERSION OF THE GAME FOR FREE ON THE SAME CONSOLE AS THE ORIGINAL!
Developer: Snowcastle Games
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Game Version: Final
Review Copy: Provided by Developer
Interface: Handheld Switch Console
Available on Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One, Steam (Windows, Mac)
Note: Earthlock: Festival of Magic is available on Wii U, but this version of the game IS NOT.
Desert scavenger Amon soon finds himself in his life’s adventure when he crosses paths with a most peculiar creature back home in Zaber. Join Amon and other remarkable heroes in this turn-based fantasy RPG, on an unforgettable journey across the world of Umbra a mysterious, beautiful but harsh planet that stopped spinning thousands of cycles ago.
With a unique set of customizable characters, all with their own personalities and journeys of self-discovery, you will scavenge, explore and fight your way from the everlasting day-side and into the darkness of perpetual night. To save Umbra you must unlock its secrets, expose the shadows, and defeat a growing evil beyond your wildest imagination!
Earthlock throws you right into the midst of a fantasy world called Umbra where six main characters’ lives will unite to stop a threat that could take over or destroy the entire world. Like many turn-based RPGs, each of these six characters have their own unique personalities, abilities and goals, and as they all start to assemble together the bigger picture is made more and more clear. This is the story of a scavenger with a mysterious artifact, a nervous hogbunny on a mission to prove himself, a pilot (and her awesome dog) seeking revenge for betrayal and two others; for one of the first times out of all the turn-based RPGs I’ve ever played the reasons for going all over the place and doing “small things” on the way to one huge potentially-world-ending quest actually make sense!
However, Earthlock is about far more than just characters and story. In fact, now that the game is over I honestly don’t even remember the villain’s name or most of the story. What made my 30 hours with Earthlock fun was the gameplay – roaming around beautiful terrain, fighting dozens of types of enemies, seeing Gnart the adorable hogbunny fill out his journal as you progress through the story and completing all sorts of sidequests. The map isn’t gigantic, but it’s packed with stuff to do and loot to find. In some cases that’s more literal than others – as you go through the game you can find and buy treasure maps and then roam the map, swap to Taika (Ive’s awesome dog) and dig it up! In fact, all six characters have their own unique map abilities, like Gnart who can gather plants, Ive who can sneak past enemies and Olia who can draw the attention of all nearby enemies.
Speaking of drawing enemies together, this is perhaps one of the most unique things about Earthlock. After a battle you get Dalers (money), experience (of course) and possibly some loot as well. However, you’ll also get some HUGE XP boosts based on additional bonuses, and one of the biggest bonuses is how many enemies you fight at once. In the image above I took on 8 enemies at once as a party of 3, so I got “Outnumbered +5” and “Multi-Enemy x8” bonuses that gave me a ridiculous boost. Each enemy shows up on the overworld, so you’ll see every single enemy before you fight them. You can either try to get them all together and take them on as one huge group, yank them away one at a time if they’re too powerful as a group or avoid them entirely! This gives the battles you face a new spin – it feels like a challenge to take on as many as you can.
The battles themselves have some nice touches as well. You can bring up to four characters into battle at a time, and they end up paired into two groups. Each group get one super meter they share, and the more enemies a pair beats together throughout the game the stronger their battle bond will get. There are five levels, and not only do higher levels allow you to do more with your super stance (an extra powerful mode of some of that character’s standard moves), higher levels also grant the pair special bonuses like resistance to different status effects, higher max HP and all sorts of other things. The battle system is rather nifty as well, with each character having two unique stances – Amon, for instance, can use a powerful blaster against enemies in one stance or swap to being a nimble thief. As you level up and as you reach certain levels of bond with different characters you’ll gain TP which allow you to unlock slots on the talent board. There are three types of talents – they can give a character new skills, boosts to their stats or give special buffs. Once a spot is unlocked a talent can’t be removed, but you can always swap the same type, so you can swap your earth resistance for fire resistance anytime or give yourself a boost to your magic defense instead of physical defense if you’re going up against a powerful enemy who primarily uses magic.
Because of all the different combinations of things your characters can do, most boss battles are based around strategies rather than grinding until you’re powerful enough to take them down. In fact, characters can’t level past 20; my main group didn’t gain XP for the last 20% or so of the game! Instead, you’ll need to take the right party, set them up properly and battle your heart out. One battle has you facing off against a train, and every so often it’ll start gaining steam. If you aren’t prepared for its full impact, you’re dead! For what it’s worth, if you die against a boss you can get some tips on how to handle the fight, something I had to do a few times myself.
Unfortunately, there’s a fair bit that still felt a bit flat. The Farmoury was a bit of a letdown – you can only get plants when the game is ready for you to have them, and if you want to have plenty of healing items and ammo you’ll be running around, harvesting and watering your plants quite a bit. This gets really tedious when you really just want to get out there and explore, and the process of harvesting and watering isn’t really fun. Also, while Plumpet Island is a cool place full of potential, lots of it felt underwhelming. The sidequests were hit and miss too, and many are rather similar, but they do make for a good way to level up weaker characters you don’t normally use since characters that aren’t in the party during battle won’t gain any XP at all. There was also a glitched sidequest, one that seemed very important to the plot of the story, although the developers very recently fixed it on Steam and I’m assuming that fix will be coming to other platforms soon as well. Finally, there was one incredibly difficult challenge toward the end of the game that seemed far less rewarding than it should have been.
Overall, Earthlock is a game full of character. It’s rather gorgeous, especially up close on the portable Switch console, and I did enjoy most of my 30 hours with the game. The fact that Snowcastle Games went to all the trouble of making all these improvements for free is remarkable. From the list of improvements and changes over the original on Steam I can’t even imagine what the original was like, but fans of classic turn-based RPGs with some lovely 3D art and plenty to do will get at least a couple dozen hours out of this one.