Ready to put a spell on you
The indie scene has consistently proven itself to be a dab hand at recapturing the spirit of yesteryear’s games. Titles like Shovel Knight, Super Meat Boy, and Axiom Verge have all been successful in serving up a happy helping of nostalgia for their respective genres, albeit with an occasional new twist. Earthlock: Festival of Magic is the latest in this long line of examples, unabashedly implementing traits found in some of the PS1-era’s best JRPGs to deliver a cookie-cutter, but ultimately satisfying turn-based battler.
Originally released in 2016 as an Xbox exclusive, Earthlock’s story primarily centres around Amon, a lowly scavenger who spends his days pillaging lost ruins in search of rare artefacts. His world is shaken up relatively soon, however, when a cataclysmic threat sees the planet of Umbra stop spinning, forcing him to join up with a rag-tag team of outsiders in the hope of saving the day. It’s all relatively straight forward stuff for a game of it’s ilk, but the cliché narrative is more than made up for by some genuinely witty dialogue. No voicework is a shame, yet each character’s distinct personality successfully shines through nonetheless.
It’s quite refreshing to see a game like Earthlock feel confident in itself. What I mean by this is that where some modern-day RPGs feel the need to overbear players with an unnecessary number of systems, mechanics, and currencies, Earthlock goes back to basics to let players scratch an itch they haven’t been able to since the days of classic Final Fantasy. This is most evident in the game’s solid turn-based battles, whereby overworld exploration has you regularly bump into troublesome critters. Fighting them up close is the only way to improve and level up your party.
Earthlock: Festival of Magic’s combat is simple but effective. Otherwise traditional turn-based fare is backed up by a pretty nifty stance system, which means each member of your party essentially sports two move sets. Some emphasis defence and others offense, until suddenly, strategy options are doubled. Layered on top of this is the ability to engage ‘super moves’ which can only be deployed when two characters in your party have built up a strong relationship. It’s cut and practical all at the same time.
Every character features their own unique strengths and weaknesses which can make encounters last either just a moment or lifetime, depending on how tactical you’re planning on being. The game’s boss battles are no slouch, for example, with many requiring certain specific tactical routes like essential countering to riposte harsh attacks or ranged weapons to hurt flying enemies. Such difficulty spikes are sadly plentiful, and often required me to fall back on in-game hints which fundamentally explain the full solution to how to best tackle the boss.
There’s plenty to do when not moving through dungeons and battling too. Whether it’s in the form of side quests given to you by NPCs or a fairly in-depth planting meta game that allows you to harvest ingredients useful in battle, Earthlock is an experience where you get out whatever you’re willing to you put in. Considering the game’s pastel-like art-style I wouldn’t blame you.
Earthlock: Festival of Magic is a classic-style turn-based RPG that isn’t likely to blow your socks off, but rather, intimately massage you with its host of familiar gameplay, systems, and story. It’s stripped-back nature is a welcome change to other overwhelming RPGs with a higher budget, perfectly primed to charm you with its characters and world throughout its 13-hour campaign.