Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Norwegian magic festival locked to Earth

Earthlock: Festival Of Magic

Platform tested: Xbox One

Inspiration may very well be a tricky baseline to build a new game on, but done right it can work out most favourable. For Earthlock: Festival Of Magic that inspiration comes in a strong form of the JRPG industry veteran Final Fantasy. It's an ambitious series to follow, but the Norwegian developed game takes a far lower budget and small scale approach to the basic formula. At times it could have easily been a small Final Fantasy spin-off release.

The music, turn based battles, enemy design, main characters, environments and the text only dialogue; it's all obviously old-school FF inspired. Something that could have gone wrong, luckily it's cleverly inspired and works out fantastic. Fans of FF or JRPG's in general really need to raise their sights beyond Japan and take a close look at this short, but sweet RPG.

The game jumps quickly into things and introduces you to the main characters after a fairly brief intro. They're all spread apart in a fantasy coastal world, along the way they all somehow become connected together through the story. The game eases you into combat with small battles featuring instances of one to three weak enemies. The introduction even throws you into a little boss fight towards the end too. From here you are introduced to shops, healing items and the world map.

The difficulty curve can quickly become quite steep though, when the game lets you roam more freely on it's world map. Nudging you towards the areas you're supposed to go in the story, as other routes will brutally end you in over powered battles. I liked the FF13 approach with all enemies being visible before engaging them into a battle scene.

Earthlock luckily dares go beyond it's inspiration material too, introducing some small clever ideas of it's own. You are for instance rewarded for engaging more enemies than your own party, which actually can be up to four characters. Doing so will reward you with extra XP. Two and two characters are also pitched together as cooperation will fill a super power ability which the paired characters can activate and use to gain even more powerful attacks. There's also a safe haven, frog island, where you can rest up, buy items, make new attack cards and perhaps the most interesting: grow plants. You can level these and use them to make potions and ammunition. If you throw a few hours into this garden, you can really become a strong player with the best kind of ammo and items at your disposal.

I love the visual artstyle of the game. It looks like something from the PS2 era, only in sharp HD. The colour palette is colourful with a soft pastel palette to it. The characters looks cartoon inspired, reminding me a lot of Beyond Good & Evil visually. There's a lot of visual variation too; with deserts, woodlands, creepy indoor mansions, large castles and underground dungeon crawler like mazes. It's a pretty and visually satisfying game, with a mild and comfy look to it. 

While it's obvious the game doesn't have the depth of a large RPG like the mainline Final Fantasy series, it doesn't really matter because it's a shorter, more casual experience it's aiming for. Sure, some of the boss battles could have been toned down a little as they often require a big jump in player level and are ruthless, but it's a game that doesn't require too much grinding to hit that max level. If there's a bigger issue to address here it's the story. While it does it's job, it doesn't really blow your mind in any way and feels kind of subtle. It just passes along without really standing out. Although a text based RPG requires you to engage yourself more through reading, they could maybe have thrown in some more cutcenes to pull the player more into it's story.

For a shorter, back to basics JRPG inspired game with a warm, charming and colourful world to play turn based battles in; this game is warmly recommended. The characters are cute and while the story doesn't blow any minds, it refreshingly straightforward and right to the point without to many diversions along the way. There's enough depth for RPG fans to dig their teeth into some difficult battles too and absolutely worth the 30-40 hours the game takes to complete. Another great example of a strong indie title that deserves attention from an audience only looking for games being shipped out of Japan.



    + Plus points

    • Classic, FF inspired RPG, that brings back memories from earlier 3D RPG's.
    • Fantastic artstyle, with beautiful locations and charming characters.
    • Turn based gameplay is easy to learn and a relaxing pace change.

    - Minus points

    • Story is a little thin with nothing really standing out.
    • Lacks the depth that more hardcore RPG fans will crave.
    • Learning curve is uneven with some of the boss fights.

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