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Posted by GG Goblin On May - 14 - 2018

Classic JRPG for your Switch.

Okay,I am getting over it. The Nintendo Switch has been out for over a year now, and the game library is looking full, covering pretty much every genre available. And yes, SnowCastle Games’ Earthlock was previously released on other platforms, so of course it would be welcome on the Switch. But there is something about playing this classic JRPG in handheld mode on the Switch that almost cast me back a few years to simpler times playing on the PSP, although it does feel like my hands have shrunk.

earthlock1 (Copy)

Most JRPGs that turn up nowadays, on the Switch and other consoles, tend to have complicated new combat systems, convoluted menus that give players more choice than they ever could need, or new unnecessary mechanics that are included just to improve over a previous title. There is nothing wrong with the way JRPGs used to play, and SnowCastle Games realised this with their Earthlock: Festival of Magic. The game was originally released only a couple of years ago on other platforms, so it is not like this is a classic game from a classic age. Earthlock is a modern take on the classic JRPG, which just so happens to have a few modern improvements without completely overwhelming the player.

Taking place on the world of Umbra, Earthlock casts the player into the scavenging boots of the young Amon, and immediately throws them into a nice introductory, tutorial style sequence that will get the player up to speed before everything goes wrong. As is always the case in games like this, catastrophe strikes and the player will find themselves, and their team of heroes, having to pretty much save the world. It may not sound like the most inspiring tale, but it is well crafted in Earthlock and it becomes quite easy to invest in the story. This is helped largely by the cast of characters, all of whom play an important role and are deep and detailed enough to really grow attached to. There is humour in the game, and even the chance to build relationships, but more on that in a moment.

earthlock2 (Copy)

The classic JRPG gameplay shines when traversing the overworld. Players move their team around a gorgeous long distance map, moving from city to town to dungeon, following the main story missions or picking up side quests, and indulging in some great turn-based combat as players encounter enemies out in the wilderness. Younger gamers may find the more simplistic pace a bit puzzling in a modern game, but this is the style of gameplay that made the JRPG genre what it is today.

And that classic feel follows through in the combat encounters. Players will recognise the more thoughtful too and fro of turn-based combat (not everything has to be done in real time), which still works really well even in a modern game. Standard encounters are the bread and butter of the game, enabling the player to level up and progress, while more difficult boss battles will force the player to think and spend more time. It has to be said that there are some substantial difficulty spikes in the game, forcing the player to pause and take stock.

However, much like most modern game developers, SnowCastle were not content to just leave the turn-based combat as a retro feature, and have added some new ideas that will make the gameplay more appealing to the younger gamers. The stance system, for example, gives each character the chance to change their stance and gain access to a different set of moves, such as switching from melee to ranged elemental attacks. It will take a turn to switch stances, but the benefits of having the right tools for a given encounter are obvious. Then there is the previously alluded to relationship, or pair system, in which players can build a bond between two members of the party and, once a meter has filled, can launch a special paired move in combat. The little tweaks on the classic formula are just that, small enough to be enjoyed without getting in the way.

earthlock3 (Copy)

Going back out of the combat, SnowCastle also dropped in something that has been turning up in many games in recent years – a gardening aspect. Seeds found during the journey can be planted and then nurtured into ingredients for crafting. It’s a nice touch that adds something more to the game without overcomplicating.

Visually, Earthlock looks great on the Switch screen, and still looks pretty impressive on the larger screen. There is an old-school feel to the visuals, but the environments are varied enough to encourage exploration, while the character models are all crisp and move well. The overworld section is really cute and fun. Add these nice visuals to an immersive soundtrack, and it is easy to see that Earthlock is a well polished game that has had the love and attention it deserves.

earthlock4 (Copy)

Earthlock may have been around for a while on other platforms, but I feel that it never got the attention it deserved. It is not the most original take on the JRPG genre, but that could be taken as a good thing, as there is nothing to mess the formula up. There are some new ideas, and they work well. How you feel about Earthlock will most likely depend on how much you miss the JRPGs of the 90s, which the game emulates most successfully. Earthlock is a solid JRPG that plays the nostalgia card perfectly.




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