Earthlock: Festival of Magic - Deep Look

Hold the Celebrations
by Alex Fuller

Earthlock: Festival of Magic
Platform: PS4
Developer: Snowcastle Games
Publisher: Snowcastle Games
Release Date: 09.01.2016 (One)
09.27.2016 (PC/Mac)
01.27.2017 (PS4)
TBC.2017 (Wii U)
"A decent base ... let down by unfriendly balancing and various small annoyances that add up."
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   Earthlock: Festival of Magic is a Kickstarter-funded RPG from independent developer Snowcastle Games. The first in a planned series, the game is currently available on PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4, with a Wii U version still coming. It unashamedly draws inspiration from late 90s RPGs, but unfortunately, this isn't necessarily a good thing. While the game has a decent base that will provide some appeal to those looking for a title drawing on those times, it's let down by unfriendly balancing and various small annoyances that add up.

   The game is quick at introducing its main protagonists, where the general's daughter Ive, new graduate form a military academy defies her father's orders and takes off. Things then switch to treasure-hunting orphan Amon, and the two's paths soon cross, with some other party members joining along the way. Earthlock has an interesting world premise, with the sudden stop of the world's rotation creating a continent constantly bathed in light and another constantly in darkness. Unfortunately, the game does a very poor job at using it in any meaningful way for a large chunk of the game, and players just go through a series of locations that are not particularly interesting in themselves. Events move along quickly, but the plot throughout is very cookie-cutter and doesn't provide any notable moments. Those times where something happens that should drive the plot forward are so sudden and moved on from so quickly that they lose all impact.

   Combat is relatively straightforward on the face of it, using a simple turn-based template showing the turn-order on the right side of the screen. Each character has two stances that provide different ability sets. For example, Amon can switch between a traditional thief stance and a rifle stance that uses crafted ammo. There are other complexities: melee attacks will not work on certain flying enemies and it is seemingly possible to manipulate the turn-order, though it is never well explained how the latter works. Combat is considerably deeper than it appears, but the game's failure to give indications in how many of its systems work together will be behind frustration for many.

   The biggest problem in the game comes with its balancing and lack of direction, which features some heavy difficulty spikes. Levelling up once or twice can be enough, but there are times when the spike is due to poor directions given to the player, which can lead to bosses that they are simply not meant to deal with at that stage, despite regular enemies indicating otherwise. The flow of combat is not particularly exciting either, exacerbated by the inability for players to speed up the combat action, especially the slow enemy animations.

   In addition to standard level growth (with a level cap at 20 that eliminates a potential solution for further balance frustration for players in the final stages), players can also upgrade specific stats and unlock skills on a card-based board. It allows players to swap out any previously selected upgrades with equivalent types, though the game doesn't provide enough stat-type upgrades to make this a very useful option. The game also features a rudimentary farming system, used to create potions and ammo. It's the only way to get more powerful and elemental ammo, and while it is easy to use, it's just not interesting.

   Earthlock at least features some enjoyable puzzles in its dungeons, which helps alleviate some of the issues with its combat. Usually these involve collecting elemental power from certain enemies to power up devices and move doors or platforms. Its music and overall location design are also positives, and the game at least looks crisp despite failing to impress in terms of visual effects.

   There's a lot of potential in Earthlock: Festival of Magic. It goes a fair bit of the way towards emulating what made late-90s RPGs enjoyable. However, the mediocre plot and frustrating balance makes it hard to recommend this for all but those who do appreciate virtually everything about classic JRPGs, warts and all.

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