[Review] Earthlock - Nintendo Switch
Earthlock is a Kickstarter-backed turn based RPG looking to draw it's primary inspiration from 32-bit Squaresoft RPGs. It started off with a rocky start when released on other consoles and PC, under the title Earthlock: Festival of Magic. It had dialog that didn't make much sense, some incomplete side quests, and a few other gaffes. As a pseudo- apology, developer Snowcastle Games made this definitive "should have been" edition to release fresh on the Switch, and to make it available, for free, to anyone that purchased and played the game for the other platforms. Did they succeed in making the game they should have to begin with?
In short, yes. While I can't speak much on how the original iteration of the game turned out, having never played it, I can definitely say that the latest, updated version now widely available seems to be the superior version. Everything seems to fit into a specific place, and it shines with polish. While I wouldn't go so far as to say that it has the same epic feel of the games that Earthlock is paying homage to, it still serves up its intriguing story in a fairly well planned pace with a fee deviations here and there as you pick up side quests.
On to the meat of the game. We all know that while an RPG can often be carried by a strong enough story and characters, we at least need to be able to enjoy grinding our way through the world using a combat system, and have the ability to tweak our party members to our own personal liking. While Earthlock and many popular mainstays of the genre assign classes and appropriate stats to any given party member, we can still use the creative skill tree reminiscent of Final Fantasy X's sphere grid to build up our party members as we see fit.
Upon leveling up, we get a skill point to spend placing a tile that gives a specific stat or skill boost, and can work our way from one occupied spot to the next using adjacent squares to get where we want to go. Also very reminiscent of FFX, is the onscreen battle order that can be manipulated during the fight to enable our party members to move up in the order, or knock our enemies back further to create strategic advantage.
Every party member has two different stances that you can swap between, each of which provides a different way of playing. As one example, our main character, Amon, switches between thief and blaster stances. The thief stance enables melee attacks and the option to steal, while the blaster stance uses consumable ammo for ranged attacks on one or multiple enemies. In addition, each party member can have special stance skills executable based on the level of bond you build between them from fighting together frequently. Switching up your party to utilize these bonds makes for an interesting take on the turn based combat system that has been overused and aged very poorly in many instances.
In place of MP, each skill uses a certain number of energy squares, which refill over the course of a few turns, depending on the character and which skill. This makes the combat flow more smoothly, and prevents the need to refill MP in or out of battle using items.
Unfortunately, the game does restrict us to specific save points instead of allowing us to save whenever we want to. Thanks to modern consoles having a suspend feature that kicks you back to the home screen, this isn't too big of a drawback, as long as you're not trying to play another game in between sessions. The Switch'S portable nature also makes this an even easier workaround as you can be assured nobody else will have the opportunity to kick you out of the game while it's stashed securely in your carrying case or your bag/locker before you can get to the next stage statue. Loading times can be a bit long at times, but it's still much better than actual ps1 era games often were.
While out of combat, you can utilize your party members' specific skills to gather crafting materials to be used for making items. This is easily done by pulling the L button and cycling to the necessary party member.
Earthlock boasts a fun art style and beautiful animations. It far outclasses it's 32 and 64 bit era brethren by a large gap, and sometimes you'll find yourself forgetting that this is an indie game instead of a major developer making a fully featured handheld game.
So, with likable characters, an engaging story, an interesting customization system and dynamic turn based combat system, the developers have really pulled off making a great love letter to classic RPGs in a grand manner. While the world has a little bit of a jilted feel because of what seems to be some disconnect between the world and it's flavor, it is still sufficient for telling the story nonetheless.
I can only hope that we see a sequel or successor from the same team, especially one on a grander scale and some more time to make sure that they get it right the first time around using the lessons that they learned making Earthlock what we expected it to be from the beginning.
Earthlock on eShop
*- Review copy provided for free by the developers -*