By: Brian Gunn
Earthlock: Festival of Magic is a game from Norwegian developers Snowcastle Games. It’s their take on the traditional JRPG genre. Can these European developers get the typically Japanese formula right, or is it only a pale imitation?
Earthlock controls like most turn-based JRPGs. You have the field maps where you can wander into enemies and then combat is entirely menu driven. There are a few small issues in that the fields are often very cramped so avoiding enemy encounters can feel next to impossible at times. Additionally, each action is mapped to a different controller button and requires confirmation via that same button, which can feel a little counter intuitive.
If there’s one word to describe the aesthetic of Earthlock, it’s unfortunately probably “bland.” While not particularly ugly, Earthlock has many of the telltale traits that make it easy to spot as a Unity engine game.
Characters are all on the generic side with vaguely cartoonish bodies, and everything is rounded in shape. That’s not to say it’s all a lost cause. Some of the enemies show some creative flair, particularly a few of the bosses, but it’s overall hard to get into the game visually.
It doesn’t fare too well on the sound side, either. The soundtrack is perfectly serviceable but won’t have anyone rushing out to buy the OST anytime soon. Effects in combat vary, with some over-the-top attacks landing without the oomph they should. There’s no real voice acting to be had, including simple battle grunts or creature effects that could have added some personality.
Earthlock tells the tale of many characters, though largely stars Amon, a young desert scavenger that seems to be itching to explore a bit further away from his home. He’s bound there by his uncle, who is kidnapped shortly thereafter, which sets into motion the rest of the plot that involves the typical world saving shenanigans.
Attempts to blend the nostalgic with the modern are pretty common, and at times Earthlock succeeds at this. The general game systems are pretty great. There’s a talent point system where you’ll be relatively free to make the heroes your own and makes each level up feel meaningful. Party members can be placed in pairs, which allow them form bonds that unlock a variety of passive bonuses like adding a chance to add poison to Amon’s basic attack.
The battle system itself has some neat gimmicks. Characters start off with a few charges to spend on various abilities and regenerate one per turn usually, so knowing when to blow those high-cost abilities can be key. Each character also comes with multiple stances to switch to, usually switching from more active directed abilities to things like buffing or taunting enemies.
However, all of these systems are let down by the simple fact that the combat just isn’t very compelling. It’s fairly easy and often the basic attacks are likely to get a battle done quicker than the more interesting stance abilities. Battles can also often feel frustratingly slow as you wait for some lengthy animations for even simpler abilities to play out.
The story and world of Earthlock are a mixed bag. It is pretty constantly introducing elements of the game’s world that don’t get explained much to the player, and so all the proper nouns given to every little thing start to run together. The cast are likable enough though they often fail to distinguish themselves, especially the humans. More than a few translation issues are throughout the script, though it’s not too distracting.
Earthlock: Festival of Magic is a simple love letter to the JRPGs of old. While it does have some interesting mechanics, it fails to really make use of them or to really distinguish itself among its peers.