Earthlock from Snowcastle Games is an absolute nostalgic joy to play. Originally launched as "Earthlock: Festival of Magic" over a year ago, the game has undergone significant improvements with a sort of "Director's Cut" on PC and the Switch, as well as other consoles. Feeling at once both reverential for classic 16-bit JRPGs and novel due to its western stylized setting and systems, Earthlock is a grand start to an RPG trilogy, and well worth the meagre price of admission. Read on for our full review.
In development for nearly five years, and successfully kickstarted by Snowcastle a few years back, Earthlock: Festival of Magic is one of three planned chapters of the Earthlock trilogy. You, as Amon, journey across the planet of Umbra which stopped spinning thousands of cycles ago. Now, one side is perpetually hot and sun-ridden while the other is dark and cold. Amon stumbles upon a relic and an unlikely companion, which leads him on an adventure where the mysteries of Umbra will be revealed.
On the Nintendo Switch, the RPG feels right at home. With slighty improved visuals, better camera control, and the all-important added portability of the console, the Switch version feels like the definitive edition. It's still a fantastic game on the PC, but Earthlock feels great on the Switch.
Combat is fairly standard turn-based stuff, with the added caveat that your party of four can be organized in pairs, working off each other and building their skills together. Additionally, each character has two stances which drastically alter their roles in the party. The main character, Amon, can shift from a gun-wielding damage dealer to a thief who steals supplies from enemies. Each of the characters has a way to change their role mid-fight and it really helps strategize for each battle.
It can be annoying, going through dungeons, when you re-enter rooms they repopulate with enemies. The thing is, the combat is fun and briskly paced enough that it’s sometimes welcome if you’re looking for a fight or need to level up your characters a bit more for a tough fight. While I would have appreciated some more pizazz added to the combat animations and effects, the shorter animations mean the battles flow well.
Building up your characters with the Talent Tables and the cards you collect and craft are great too. In fact, your home base island is a real shining star of the game. You can grow plants, make potions, buy gear, and so on. Different features unlock as you progress through the game, and I really hope its expanded upon in the second and third games of the Earthlock trilogy.
I will say that Earthlock’s difficulty curve is just about right too. Most battles are simple “trash” fights aimed at levelling you up. But as soon as the first main boss in the Swamp you’ll find out that the combat can be really trying but not punishing. The story’s solid, the characters are likeable, and the pacing is just right. There are some parts that can drag if you run into too many battles making the game feel grindy, but overall Earthlock sits up there with some of the best JRPGs I’ve played in recent years. Just be prepared to grind some mobs if you find fights getting a bit tough in the middle section of the game.
If you like the gameplay of the 90s titles that made Final Fantasy, Breath of Fire, and more household names, but always wanted something with a more western aesthetic you’ll find plenty to love in Earthlock: Festival of Magic. For $30, available right now on both Steam and XB1 (with PS4 to come as well), you can’t go wrong here. We’re anxiously awaiting the next instalment already and Snowcastle Games have likely carved themselves a nice little niche with Earthlock.
Earthlock is a fantastic throwback to the JRPGs of the 90s. Its turn-based content is brusquely paced, strategic, and also novel with the stances and pairing mechanics. You get your own home island you can farm and build up, and each of the game’s core six companions can be customized with talents to change how they play fundamentally. It all comes together exquisitely for JRPG fans, but with a western veneer.
The visuals of Earthlock are solid, and improved a good deal over the 2016 launch while retaining the same cartoony art style. The care and attention to detail by Snowcastle Games shows in Earthlock. It’s a lovingly crafted world and one that I can’t wait to see from. I ran into very few bugs, even as early as the beta phases as a backer. There are at least 30 hours of gameplay to be had here, more if you take your time and do all the side activities. That said, you won’t likely stick around for a second playthrough as it’ll be largely the same experience.