From developer and publisher Snowcastle Games comes Earthlock, the updated version of the Wii U release with the original subtitle Festival of Magic. Developed initially after a successful kickstarter fund, Earthlock is a JRPG that is a true homage to games that helped to define the genre back in the 90s. While this updated version is only a few years newer than the original, it boasts a more complete and engrossing gameplay experience, making this version the one to play in comparison to the original.
A cataclysmic event has occurred in the world of Umbra that has stopped the planet from being able to spin. This catastrophe has left the planet only partially inhabitable and has also thrown off the balance of a special magical energy called amri.
You begin the adventure as the young scavenger Amon, and after a standard mission goes haywire you find yourself at odds with the Suvian Empire! It is your job to guide Amon and your growing core of characters, as you not only attempt to save your family, but the entire of the planet!
Earthlock takes many of the traditional gameplay elements from the JRPG genre. Throughout your adventure you control a party of up to six characters, and in combat you have two different linked teams of two characters. There is an expansive overworld to explore that links you to smaller areas (like cities and dungeons) that are just as easily explorable. Each of your six characters has a different additional action that they can use while in the overworld. These range from being able to pick plants to digging through piles of materials to scavenge for supplies. While this feature is an interesting addition, the downside to these additional abilities is that you have to switch between the characters in order to use any specific ability while you explore. I think that this feature would have been better implemented if the game auto-switched between the characters for you.
Towns function as areas for you to further the storyline while also unlocking side-quests and stocking up on supplies for your adventure, while dungeons allow you to engage in the classic turn-based combat that games of this genre are known for. Dungeons are also filled with treasures for you to collect and also offer some basic puzzle solving as you progress forward.
The combat system of Earthlock takes all of the good things about turn-based combat and adds to it in order to create a gameplay experience that is simultaneously accessible but also incredibly customizable. You’re able to engage in multiple enemies at any given time through the use of an aggravation mechanic that sees enemies come after you based on how close you are too them. The more enemies you engage and fight with, the greater the EXP bonus is at the end of each successful battle. The controls for combat assign specific moves or abilities to the four face buttons, while the left joystick allows for seamless movement between the different submenus presented.
Each character has a set amount of magical amri that they use to execute different moves in battle. These range from physical attacks to magical abilities that cost a different number of amri per move. The use of amri replaces the traditional need for a magic meter, and is something that regenerates during battles and fully resets in between battles. Additionally, each character has multiple stances they can use while in combat, and even though it costs a turn to switch during the battle some of the additional abilities pay off in the long run.
The customization goes even further by adding a talent tree for each character in your party. Talent points are unlocked as you gain both EXP and create bonds between battle pairs and you can assign a wide variety of talents to each of the characters. These allow for greater diversity in how you craft your team and if used appropriately can create some unique and powerful combinations of characters.
The tremendous depth of content, and uniquely upgraded gameplay elements really creates a strong gameplay experience in Earthlock, It certainly isn’t without flaws though, as there are some moments of frustration sprinkled into what is otherwise a gem. The game relies on a designated save point system, which wouldn’t be so bad if the save points were more frequent. The fast travel used in the game is also very limited in that you can only teleport to additional places from the hub island, rather than being able to teleport from any designated statue. Additionally (and probably most frustratingly), the frequency and length of load screens becomes quite intrusive on the gameplay experience. Every time you enter a new room or area a loading screen greets you; and if you (like me) find yourself traversing different areas a few times to pick up on something that was missed earlier, the loading screens feel nearly constant.
Earthlock is very well executed graphically, offering a very clean and polished look complimented with excellent character animations and enemy designs. The environments you explore are certainly quite grand, but no detail was spared in their creation. Pairing this large world with a fully orchestrated score only adds to the sense of awe and wonder that I always appreciate in adventure games. There was never a moment graphically or sound wise where I questioned why something was in the game. It all works so well together and is a testament to the development teams dedication to making this game with quality.
Trying to make your mark on the JRPG genre is an incredibly difficult task given the rich history of the genre. Earthlock finds its success by taking the key elements of the genre and bringing them in to the modern era by streamlining many things that have been traditionally more tedious, and also by offering a healthy amount of gameplay customization. The overall depth of content justifies the nearly $30 price tag, and whether you’re new to the genre or a seasoned veteran, Earthlock is definitely a Nintendeal.
Platform – Nintendo Switch eShop Download
Publisher – Snowcastle Games
Developer – Snowcastle Games
Price – $29.90
Genre – Adventure, Role-Playing, Strategy
Size – 3.6GB
A native of Minnesota, Brandon has been an avid Nintendo fan for as long as he can remember and enjoys being able to escape into the vast worlds offered in their games. Some of his favorite games include: Pokemon Blue & Silver, Earthbound, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Risk of Rain 2, and of course LoZ: Breath of the Wild.
Outside of gaming Brandon enjoys riding motorcycle, listening to music or podcasts, cooking, watching movies, and is a big sports fan. He is always carrying his Switch with him wherever he goes, so feel free to add him if you’d like to lose at MK8D.