I had the pleasure of reviewing the original release of Earthlock: Festival of Magic when it released back in 2016 (on my birthday in fact) after a successful Kickstarter campaign. I enjoyed the release, and it felt like the developers had done what they set out to do, even if the game wasn’t perfect. However, I was pleasantly surprised when I found out that the developers had overhauled the game, and were preparing to release it on Nintendo Switch.
If you have never heard of Earthlock before, then the premise is simple. Earthlock is a JRPG inspired by games like the Tales series, though it also blends modern elements such as crafting, farming, and a robust progression system. Join a group of heroes (each from different backgrounds) as they aim to save the world of Umbra, a planet that ceased spinning thousands of years before, and now is a harsh, unforgiving land. What begins as a journey to save his uncle, leads Amon to join up with other adventurers to prevent the past from repeating itself.
If you have played Earthlock: Festival of Magic, then you will be excited to discover that the developers have improved upon the things that were not well received during the original release, as well as adding a ton of new content to the game. New content added consists of (to name a few) large additions to the story, weapon and armor crafting, new side quests, new overworld abilities, treasure maps, and an expansion to the farming system that enables you to grow trees to attract kittens and other creatures.
Now, I have to mention this, because I was absolutely shocked by it. Playing Earthlock now, on my Nintendo Switch, I was not prepared for how utterly gorgeous it is. I thought the art style was fantastic and beautiful on PlayStation 4 when it first released, but this is on a whole other level for me. The gameplay of Earthlock alternates between exploration and combat. As you explore various environments, solving puzzles and finding treasure, you will encounter enemies on the map. Certain puzzles require you to use the abilities of certain characters, meaning you may have to return to places you have already been when you have new party members so that you can reach areas previously inaccessible.
This game does not utilize random encounters, instead, you can see the enemies on the map, and get their attention. If you get the attention of more than one enemy at a time, it initiates a more difficult battle, with the opportunity for significantly more experience gained, as well as better item drops. This gives a bit of a risk/reward system because you can easily get yourself in a fight you are not prepared for if you aren’t careful.
Combat in Earthlock is deceptively complex. Each character can perform attacks and skills using Amri. Each character has a certain number of Amri available, and each action costs a certain amount of Amri. To add a bit of depth to this, each character has multiple stances, each stance provides a different set of abilities, somewhat like the paradigm system in Final Fantasy XIII. Some attacks in various stances require ammo, like Amon’s spud blaster which takes spud or elemental ammunition. It is important to be sure that you are stocked up on ammo, especially if you are venturing out into new territory.
Characters in the party are bonded in pairs. Pair bonds grow over time and act similarly to social links in the Persona franchise, enhancing stats and adding a variety of benefits to the characters paired together. Pair bonds only grow if the two characters are bonded in combat, so switching the bonds back and forth to make sure bonds are growing will work, but it will take longer to build bonds that way.
It is important to understand that Earthlock is not an easy game. I am not a fan of difficulty for its own sake, but in the case of Earthlock, the progression is fair. Yes, grinding is required in the beginning (and at a few points if you need daler, the game’s currency) or if you are trying to farm crafting materials for talents, items, or equipment.
Speaking of crafting, once you reach a certain point in the storyline, you will unlock Plumpet Island. Plumpet Island is your one-stop shop headquarters. Accessible by frog statues, which also serve as save points, Plumpet Island is where the crafting and farming aspects of the game take place. Farming allows you to get ingredients for crafting by planting seeds that you find on your journey. These can be turned into restoratives, ammunition, and other consumables. You can also use the forge to craft weapons and equipment for each character, but you have to find or buy the recipe first.
This is where Earthlock becomes a very strategic game. The ammo you can craft, which expands over time, each has a different element (other than your starting ammo of course). This means that you need to keep in mind enemy weaknesses in order to meet your maximum potential. There are a lot of moving parts in the progression system, collecting new seeds to grow new plants, which then provide new crafting materials for talents, ammo and more.
The talent board is another aspect of the progression, which allows you to freely build your characters by adding “Talent cards” to the board. There are three types, perks, stats, and talents. Talents provide new skills, perks add specific passive bonuses, and stats well, increase your stats. I love a complex RPG, and Earthlock toes the line between complex progression and easily digestible systems that make sense. By no means is Earthlock an easy game, but if you take the time to really dig in, it isn’t a brutally hard one either.
As someone who has played the original version, I am quite pleased that the team at Snowcastle Games took the time to not only add new content but fix some of the problems that were present in the original. I only found a single instance (at least in the first 10 hours) where there was a bug, and it was merely a visual one. Beyond that, Earthlock runs beautifully, and you will EASILY have over 50 hours of gameplay tied up in Earthlock if not far more. The best part is, playing it on Switch allows you to take Earthlock with you on the go, or enjoy it on your TV. Either way, it looks stunning and allows you to see new cutscenes and story content that did not come in the original release.
If you are someone that has played the original, then I highly encourage you to pick up the enhanced version on Switch. There is a free version update if you own it on PC, Xbox One, or PS4, and I would also encourage you to return to it on those platforms as well. This is truly a brand new game, despite it feeling familiar. There is so much to love, and aside from it being grindy in places (which, what RPG isn’t really?) I think it is truly a fantastic game.
This is a game that needs to be experienced and is exactly what I look for in a classic style RPG. I was very surprised at the changes they made, and I look forward to the recently announced Earthlock sequel.
A Nintendo Switch review copy of Earthlock was provided by Snowcastle Games for the purpose of this review.