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Beta Impressions of the Kickstarter NRPG

William Murphy Posted:
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What is an NRPG? Well, it’s what happens with Norwegian developer Snowcastle Games decides to make a JRPG. You get the fundamental turn-based combat goodness of the classics with the stylistic sensibilities and story-telling of Norway. And, as it happens, that mixture makes for a sublime RPG. Read on for our impressions of the recent beta release for Kickstarter backers.

I backed Earthlock: Festival of Magic twice. First when their initial Kickstarter was cancelled, and again when they returned in February of 2014 and succeeded in raising nearly $180,000. Now set to launch on XB1 and Steam on September 1st, with Wii U, and PS4 due to come soon after, the backers of Earthlock are currently playing through the beta of Snowcastle’s NRPG and I’m realizing now just how happy I was to have pitched in my mere $15 for this game’s development.

Where you’ll craft your talent cards.

The planet Umbra stopped spinning centuries ago, and war is brewing as an ancient magical cult is hell-bent on seizing power from the darkness of the world’s mysterious history. One half of the world is scorched by the sun, while the other is shrouded in darkness and cold. You’ll play as Amon, a scavenger who stumbles upon the plot, and his cast of friends such as Gnart and Olia. There are more, of course, but I’m only 1-2 hours into the tale so I haven’t met them. The game starts with the daughter of a General named Ive, and her faithful dog sidekick – I can only assume we’ll meet them again soon enough.

Combat is a fairly standard turn-based affair, but characters have stances that change strategies drastically. Gnart is a mage who can switch between a support and attack stance, and a buffer stance. Olia is a melee fighter who can swap between a retaliatory tank and a straight on attacker. Amon can be a knife-wielding thief, or a gun-shooting damage dealer.  Going even further, you eventually get four members in your party, and you work in pairs. Each pair has a warrior and a protector. The differences should be obvious, but it adds a layer of strategy, as each character has their own strengths and weaknesses and can effectively perform each role, depending on how you want to play.

Plumpet Island is your home away from home.

You also have Talent cards that you’ll craft and collect throughout the game, and you’ll lay them out on each character’s talent table to give them special stat bonuses and new spells or skills too.  I’ve not delved too far into this system yet, but it seems like a great way to customize characters and their skills without being too complicated for its own good. You want Gnart to be a better healer? Focus on those talents and the stats associated with it.

There’s even a home base called Plumpet Isle that you’ll unlock after the first real act of the game (about 1-2 hours in) and you can grow and harvest plants for making potions and ammo, craft talent cards, and rest your weary bones before teleporting off to new lands for quests and storyline progression. You’ll build up the effectiveness and utility of the Island as you play through the game.

Built on Unity, the art and music are top notch too, with the later evoking a real sense of some of the great compositions we’ve heard in Final Fantasy games over the years.  Eiko Ishiwata deserves high praise for her music here, as does Hioki Kikuta. Stylistically, Earthlock feels entirely its own, from the grand art design of Frits Olsen and Fredrik Dahl (Fredrik’s work has been all over games like Talisman, Shadowrun, and more).  Meanwhile Supergenius Studios has been contracted to help flesh out the art, and you’ve seen their work on a load of Telltale Games as well as Broken Age. Environments are done by Thomas Pasieka and Matthew Wells - both have done stellar work. Lastly, Thomas French (GTA4 and 5) is a large part of the reason combat works so well, as he's been brought in for combat and gameplay balancing.

This boss was a LOT harder than I expected.

I’ve only made it to Plumpet Island myself, and I’ve been having a great time. I’m not always happy with projects I back on Kickstarter as so few seem to gel into the products they hope to become. With Earthlock: Festival of Magic, I think backers and future fans alike will be really pleased.  This is the first chapter of a proposed trilogy, with Chapters 2 and 3 hopefully being funded by the first and not needing a kickstarter of their own. I’m told by Snowcastle’s Bendik Stang that they expect this game to last around 15-20 hours, longer with the multitude of side activities you can get involved in. Each release is expected to have about a 12 month gap, and though I’m only at the beginning of Festival of Magic, I can’t wait to see where we go with chapters 2 and 3.

Our full review of Earthlock: Festival of Magic will come closer to launch on September 1st. For now, head on over to the site, and give it a look. If you’re into classic JRPGs, you’ll want to keep an eye on this one. 


William Murphy

Bill is the former Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.