Earthlock: Festival Of Magic is a kickstarter funded RPG from Norwegian studio Snowcastle Games that takes you on an adventure across a world that has stopped turning.
You and your band of intrepid adventurers set out on a quest initially prompted by the discovery of what at first seems like a plain old artifact, but soon leads into a story of kidnap, cults and combat. For anyone who’s played classic RPG’s, particularly ones from Japan, this premise may not sound all too unique.
It is true that this game does embody many of the tropes that one would find in your RPG, there’s the inclusion of a world map, turn based battle systems, item collecting and even the characters embody many of the traits one may find in games such as the Final Fantasy series, Chrono Trigger or Secrets of Mana. You have Ive, a headstrong young woman who wishes to prove to her General father that she has what it takes, Amon, a brave young scavenger from a poor desert community, the loveable Gnart who provides much of the comic relief of the game. Hell, you even have Taika who’s essentially a yellow Red XIII! However, though it does follow many of these RPG traditions I believe it is to the benefit of the game as a whole, and I was very impressed that this small studio were able to craft a fun-filled RPG with enjoyable characters and in a wonderfully designed world.
One aspect of the game which I found to be strong was its pacing. There are many RPG’s, many many RPG’s, that require you to do a lot of doubling back, carry out tedious side quests or take you to a point in which you need to grind for an hour before your characters are strong enough to proceed. Although this in itself can be enjoyable, I was particularly fond of Earthlock letting the player proceed with the story at a decent pace, and it always felt as though progress was being made. I never felt hesitance returning to the game, burdened by the sheer amount of exploring or questing I needed to do (I know, I live a hard life, pray for me). The game’s narrative, characters and world are the driving force behind this game and it lets you experience this in your own time.
This is also one of the reasons I believe Earthlock would make a great “gateway” RPG for people who are new to the genre. Why inject yourself with Breath Of Fire II or Final Fantasy VIII when you can have a taste of Earthlock and see what you think (seriously though, don’t do drugs kids, RPG’s are much safer). The game is very accessible and not overly complicated. The turn based battle system is easy to pick up whilst also being enjoyable, leveling up and using items are completely straightforward and the narrative is interesting and filled with lore without being overly convoluted. I would say that having played quite a few RPG’s prior to this I would have preferred more of a challenge from some of the battles, I do believe there is enough in this game for RPG virgins and veterans alike to enjoy.
What struck me most while playing this game was how well-defined the world was. I genuinely felt that the locations you visit in this game, from desert to city, dungeon to town, were of a very strong caliber that they felt real and never artificial to the essence of the game. The art style also plays a big part in this, being of a quality that is cartoon-like but never overdone. Playing this I was invested in the world and the characters and never took them to be anything other than real. This also goes for the creative design of the enemies and monsters that you battle. If you’ve played any Japanese RPG’s you may already be aware that some of the monster designs can be a little “out there”, but I found the designs for the monsters to be true to the various environments within the game and also unique enough from other RPG’s that I wasn’t constantly reminded of an enemy I’d fought in Final Fantasy VII.
Overall my experience of playing this game was a relaxed yet enjoyable one. It wasn’t some grand challenge I had to put the man hours into to get anywhere or sweat over finding every item on the map. This was a game where I could just enjoy it for its world and characters taking me on a fun journey. Yes it does follow a lot of the stereotypes of the RPG we’ve seen in the past, but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying this game. The game plays well and is accessible for all players, the musical score by Eiko Nichols and Hiroki Kikuta is genuinely one of my favourites I’ve heard this year, it looks great and although cliched, the story is an enjoyable one to play through. For those looking for a more grind-oriented, 80+ hours extravaganza then this maybe isn’t for you, but I will say that I was genuinely surprised with how much I enjoyed this game and can’t wait to see what Snowcastle have in store in the future.
By James Burch