Contributed By: Jake D. and Claire C.

Claire: Back when it first released and was still known as Earthlock: Festival of Magic, we (Jake and I) downloaded Earthlock for free as part of the Xbox Games with Gold deal. At the time, I only got about an hour into the game but was immediately charmed by the art direction, music, and JRPG-inspired gameplay. Unfortunately, I was then in the middle of playing some other RPGs so I shelved Earthlock until I could fully commit to playing it.

Which brings us to now! Since I first played it, Earthlock has been updated with craftable weapons and equipment, more overworld abilities, new side quests, and many more changes that can be found in further detail on the developer’s website. Most of these changes were totally lost on me since I hadn’t played it much, but in retrospect are all aspects that helped make the game a full and polished experience.

Gameplay:

Claire: For me, the area where Earthlock shines the most is its battle system. Like many RPGs, it utilizes a turn-based system in which characters move in an order determined by their speed. However, where Earthlock gets interesting is in its pairing system where any two of your six party members can be paired together in battle to grant each other buffs during battle based on how often they’ve been paired. These buffs range from having certain immunities or strengths to even regenerating health or resurrecting a fallen character. Each boss generally requires a specific strategy, and changing up your pairings can be the difference between an easy or a difficult boss fight.

Earthlock also makes brilliant use of a TP (talent point) board where the player can assign and reassign stat upgrades, abilities, special attacks, and even costumes to their characters. The ability to reassign TP became especially necessary for the difficult final boss fight. Just by switching a few things around on each character’s TP board–and with a better battle strategy–we were finally victorious against the final boss. And boy, did it feel like a victory!

Jake: Following up, I completely agree with Claire’s assessment. Earthlock’s pairing system and TP board made gameplay and progression an incredibly pleasurable and fun experience.

Another thing that needs to be highlighted is the straightforward crafting system that you can utilize while visiting Plumpet Island (your party’s island base). This included forging weapons, creating various talents, and, my personal favorite, crafting ammunition and potions with materials gathered via an addictive gardening and harvesting system. I’ll be the first to admit that I got completely sucked into spending time at the base and harvesting materials to make sure we had enough of the best ammunition.

The other feature I want to touch on is the level cap at 20. Speaking as an obsessive level-grinder, it was refreshing to be forced out of my normal habits while ensuring that the game was generally the appropriate level of difficulty. Painful as it was that I couldn’t grind my way to victory against the final boss, the cap gave me a heightened sense of victory by forcing me to utilize strategy and not brute force to see my way through.

Altogether, the gameplay mechanics are really where Earthlock shines, so definitely two thumbs up from both Claire and myself.

Story & Characters:

Jake: The story of Earthlock follows events surrounding a relatively interesting cast of characters. In our playthrough, we paid the most attention to the characters Amon Barros (a scavenger that lives with his uncle in the desert), Gnart Tigermoth (an academic Hogbunny pursuing scholarly endeavors), Ive Lavendar (the daughter of a famed general), and Taika (Ive’s stormdog companion). Together, these characters, along with party members Olia and PAT, are embroiled in a quest to save the world in the face of cataclysm created by the machinations of an evil organization. Along the way, there’s a small level of intrigue and a handful of memorable character development moments.

It pains me to say this, but the story and characters in Earthlock feel “standard.” When I say standard, I mean that the story makes sense, and it’s easy enough to follow. However, it lacks a higher degree of originality, and I would put it squarely into the category of heroic fantasy story, where it feels very similar to most other fantasy plots; there’s magic, the world is ending, let’s assemble a ragtag group of heroes, and let’s save the world.

For the characters, they’re interesting enough; however, we didn’t end up feeling strongly attached to the story or characters despite wanting to love everything in this otherwise excellent game. That being said, we appreciated that Earthlock avoided an entirely confusing plot termination in the style of some other notable JRPGs. Through and through, this is the only negative for this game, and it’s only a negative because every other part of the game was enjoyable, memorable, and of excellent quality. The world that this game offers is solid, and I eagerly hope that in Snowcastle’s next endeavor, they fully utilize the world to create a mind-blowing story and set of characters.

Graphics:

Claire: Whenever a game has a distinct artistic style on the promotional art, I always get excited to see how they represent that style in the game itself. Earthlock’s carefully crafted textures elegantly capture the painterly look of the promotional art and brings the world of Umbra to life with rippling water, soft blades of grass, and chiseled rock walls. Occasionally, the environments managed to obscure a passage or doorway that was part of the main area and should have been obvious to me. Otherwise, Earthlock excels at making each area look unique and beautiful.

Music/Sound:

Claire: Earthlock’s music conveys a wide range of emotions and moods to fit each area of the game. Sometimes melancholic, sometimes frantic, the soundtrack always hits the right emotional notes for each area and story beat. Boss battle themes swell and pulsate with the gravity of the situation while dungeon themes tend to hint at mystery and magic to be found in their depths. More than once, we found ourselves humming some of the tunes of areas we’d explored that day. Overall, the Earthlock soundtrack adds further beauty and wonder to each area and encounter.

Summary:

Jake: Earthlock is ultimately one of the most memorable games I’ve played this year. It’s charm and cleverness stand out in ways that leave me eagerly waiting for Snowcastle’s next planned entry in the franchise. It truly hit the spot when we were looking for a good RPG to play. My recommendation: take Earthlock for what it is, a very manageable 20-30 hour JRPG with clever gameplay and great design that carry the game in lieu of its standard JRPG story elements. It’s incredibly apparent that Snowcastle has put a lot of thought and love into this game. This comes across superbly, and I cannot commend it enough.

Pros:

  • Great combat system that brings freshness to the turn-based RPG style
  • Excellent progression mechanics for character leveling
  • Game Aesthetic is charming and a joy to look at
  • Music is well orchestrated and implemented throughout with proper tones for any given situation

Cons:

  • Story and characters feel standard and are the only average components to an otherwise excellent game

Rating: A-

Disclaimer: A digital copy of the game was provided by Snowcastle Games for review purposes.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Rating
90 %
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Pat
Likes long walks on virtual beaches and longer walks with Pokemon Go open in the background. Loves all things video games and bleeds Nintendo red. Married a woman who finds his large Amiibo collection only slightly off-putting. Can only fall asleep to the sound of a pug snoring.

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