I'm always on the lookout for fresh role-playing games, but sometimes I just want something that is by-the-books to sink my teeth in to. Earthlock fits that bill perfectly, giving us likeable characters that follow an okay story with satisfying combat.
I love JRPGs, especially turn-based games that try to be a little clever with their battle mechanics. For the most part in Earthlock
you can get away with selecting attacks that target an enemy's weakness and breeze through, but most of the bosses have their own little hooks and you have to deploy genuine strategies to get by them. For example, one boss gets stronger every time you hit it with physical attacks and you have to attack with your ranged characters. It sounds simple but in the moment it is all too easy to not notice what a boss is doing until it kills your entire party.
There is a clean, cartoonish look to the game that lies between anime and a western aesthetic with neat, but slightly simple character animations. The character design raises the games look up a few notches. The three human party members are all vastly different. Olia stands out with her brightly coloured hair, although for me Gnart is the standout party member. His small white furred porcine form and scholarly look is what attracted me to Earthlock
in the first place.
Each character also has their own uses on the world map, which is an old school affair similar to the older Final Fantasy
games with skills that allow for different types of materials to be collected. Thankfully, swapping between them is easy to do on the fly.
Combat follows a mostly standard style of normal attacks, abilities and spells, but it does add a little extra flavour with stances. Each character can swap between stances and each stance has a different effect on how that character fights: becoming more defensive, swapping from melee to ranged, that sort of thing. Stances add an extra layer to think about during the longer, tougher fights and help prevent the combat from getting stale.
The story opens with Ive, a young woman who tricks her way into flying an active military mission after her father, a general, passes her over for active duty. Something goes wrong and this is where she meets Amon, a young man and scavenger whose uncle has been kidnapped after he refused to hand over a relic. Together with various other party members they set off to save Amon's uncle from the cultists who kidnapped him. From there the story spirals out and grows in scope.
Snowcastle Games has made a wonderful homage to classic JRPGs that is well worth the time of fans of the genre. It could also serve as a gentle introduction to the core elements of the genre for newcomers. The Nintendo Switch is a perfect place to play this game and the performance seemed flawless in both docked and TV mode. I recommend the game and I look forward to planned sequels.
+ Solid turn-based combat
+ Colourful characters that remain interesting throughout
+ The setting of Umbra, a world that stopped spinning thousands of years ago, is fascinating
+ The story was good enough that I actively look forward to the follow up
- Animations were a bit bland
- Dialogue leans too heavily on modern vernacular, it breaks immersion a bit too heavy-handedly.
SPOnG Score: 8/10