Currently, I’m juggling a lot of gardens. There’s the one in Disney Magical World 2, which is where I’m looking to harvest some rarer fruits, vegetables, and flowers, such as spooky carrots and solar sunflowers. There’s the one in Dragon Age: Inquisition‘s Skyhold castle, which seems to only grow plants after I’ve traveled between a set number of regions to recreate some actual passing of time. There’s the one in Stardew Valley, which is your biggest means to making money through the four seasons, and I now have the game also on Xbox One, resulting in double the work if I plan to continue with my PC save as well. All of that is to say that there’s now one more place to grow and cultivate plants in Earthlock: Festival of Magic, a colorful RPG from Snowcastle Games, as well as a monthly freebie back in September 2016.
I’m about nine to ten hours into Earthlock: Festival of Magic, just around the 50% completion mark, and, alas, I don’t think I can sum up its plot easily from the top of my noggin. Not because it is extremely deep and layered, like multiple seasons deep into Game of Thrones, but more that it is not extremely clear or focused. I’m going to have to resort to the developer’s own words and see if it stirs anything new from me:
Embark on a journey to save the beautiful world of Umbra, a harsh planet that stopped spinning thousands of cycles ago. What started as a mission to rescue Amon’s uncle from the clutches of an ancient cult, soon spirals into an adventure that was centuries in the making. You must bring together this group of unlikely heroes to stop the ruinous past from repeating itself.
Yeah, sure. That’s kind of being descriptive without providing any actual details. At this point in the game, I’m in a town called Suvia, lurking through sewers after the bad dudes that stole some machine. A machine that may or may not be connected to a relic that Amon and his hammerhead uncle stole at the start of the game. I don’t know. I’m kind of moving from place to place, fighting enemies every few steps and talking to a minor amount of nonplayable characters for some background lore. Oh, and there’s a boy in a frog suit that has given me a special, magical area, almost like Bastion‘s Bastion, to grow plants, craft ammo, and create talent upgrades for my team, and it’s where I have been hanging my hat the most, as the actual towns in Earthlock: Festival of Magic are not many, nor are they all that interesting to explore.
This is very much a throwback to the adventure RPGs of the late 1990s with a heavy focus on turn-based combat and character progression, such as Chrono Cross and Tales of Phantasia. I’m going to dig into the combat first. Speaking of first, enemies are always present on the field, and you can gain the advantage of attacking first if you press “A” before the enemy runs into the party. I don’t know if I’ve missed this chance once yet. It’s probably hard to miss. As previously mentioned, combat is turn-based, with a list of turn order on the far right of the screen. Each character has different stances, which determines what attacks they can do, such as ranged or up-close melee or dancing between support spells and attack magic. For instance, Alon, the protagonist–or, at least, my assumption is he is, though you can switch to play any other character if you want–can either get intimate with a knife or use a gun to attack from a distance. Switching stances costs a turn, which I personally think sucks, and so I’ve been sticking to one stance per character for most of the fights unless the scenario obviously calls for a change.
Upgrading each character reminded me of how it worked in Final Fantasy XII with the License Board, which consisted of a tiled board with hundreds of squares. Each square represented an ability, spell, equipment piece, or augment, and these could be unlocked after earning LP. Here, in Earthlock: Festival of Magic, you have a similar board for each character, with some predetermined abilities (passive and active) locked in place. As you level up, you’ll earn Talent Points (TP–hee hee), and you can build each character’s skill tree as you wish using a mix of talents to boost stats like strength, defense, accuracy, magic, and so on. Defeating bosses gets you access to special tiles that do things like help reduce the time it takes to switch stances or even see hidden ghosts on the field. I really like this system as it does offer a lot of control and personalizing for each character. Also, you can pair each party member with another to grow a stronger bond between the two to unlock more stat upgrades and abilities. Phew. There’s actually quite a lot going on with the combat, though to be fair, it doesn’t go much deeper than this, and the secret to beating tough bosses like GobKing and Mushriga is simply grinding.
In terms of graphics, I’m conflicted when it comes to Earthlock: Festival of Magic. Everything is cartoony and colorful, with a looseness that is both stylish and on purpose, reminiscent of Broken Age and Tales of the Abyss, which I’m all about. In fact, its look, from the few screens I saw of it and not knowing much else about the title, was enough to get me to install it. Unfortunately, the overworld map is severely dull and bland, and by that I mean it is lacking textures for the ground you are running on, which makes it feel unfinished. I also think some more love and pizzazz could have gone into the location titles (see Final Fantasy IX for inspiration). Sound is a different subject, and the soundtrack is quite good, a mix of upbeat, battle-appropriate tunes and relaxing notes for watching plants grow, though I did notice a lot of effect noises missing during a few battle sequences. See, conflicted.
Earthlock: Festival of Magic is an indie RPG with dreams of being big. Extremely big. You can see what it wants to be by noticing where it is lacking. For instance, there’s not a lot to discover in this fantasy world, other than a hidden treasure chest or two. Towns are tiny and only hold a limited number of people/things to interact with, and the interactions are slight at best. The story seems to have fun, unique characters, but no one is really standing out currently as somebody to champ for, except maybe the hogbunny Gnart. I plan to finish it and hopefully pop every Achievement–most of which are labeled rare because not many people are playing–but thankfully this RPG is only as big as Costume Quest 2 and Dragon Fantasy…and not Dragon Age: Inquisition, which might not ever end at the pace I nibble on it. As always, that’s a different post.