Category Archives: impressions

Final Fantasy’s Light Warriors refuse to leave Cornelia

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First off, I’m not sure which version of Final Fantasy the above screenshot of Cornelia is from. Certainly not the original NES title, nor is it from the one I’m playing via the Final Fantasy Origins compilation, which came out for the PlayStation back in 2002, but I’m playing it on a PlayStation 3 many, many years later. Perplexing, right? It’s a compilation of Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy II , and these are re-releases of the remastered versions of the original classics–phew, a mouthful–enhanced to look like Super NES-era graphics, so they feel right at home with their siblings Final Fantasy IV, Final Fantasy V, and Final Fantasy VI. However, the above shot looks way too crisp and colorful; maybe it is from a PC port or fan re-imagining. If you know, let me know.

Anyways, Final Fantasy. I figured after finally beating Final Fantasy IX in 2016, I should give another one in the series a go. Well, there’s probably no better place to start then at the very beginning, with the game many of its developers believed would be their last project. Cue prerequisite link to Final Fantasy XV gameplay video with boisterous laugh track. Funny enough, I did try to play Final Fantasy once before, and it was on my mega-old Verizon Reality cell phone, the same one that I tried playing The Sims 3 on poorly. Cost me a few bucks, and my time saving the princess and crystals wasn’t all that thrilling. I don’t even think I managed to get the bridge above Cornelia repaired. Yikes.

For those that don’t know, Final Fantasy begins with the appearance of the legendary four Light Warriors, each holding an orb that corresponds to the four elementals; alas, the orbs have lost their shine. At the same time, Princess Sara is kidnapped by the evil knight Garland, and the King of Cornelia asks the Light Warriors to rescue her. After doing just that, the king restores the bridge above Cornelia so that the Light Warriors can continue on their quest. To do what, exactly? I’m not sure. Make their orbs glow again. Talk to people in ALL CAPITALS. Your guess is as good as mine because, with this one, I’m not all that attached to the plot details. I’m here for the turn-based battling, the music.

Actually, before any of that can happen, Final Fantasy begins by asking the player to select the character classes and names of each Light Warrior (the player characters) in their party. Here’s what I went with:

  • Georg – Warrior, currently rocking a rapier and chain mail
  • Vex – Thief, also using a rapier, but lighter leather armor
  • Arwen – White Mage, dressed to the nines in a shirt and wielding a staff
  • Erda – Black Mage, inspired by Arwen and wearing the same gear

It’s a decent group. The first three names are obviously references to things I like–guess away–but I have no idea where Erda came from. The party has two characters that can deal some big damage with weapons, one that is good for healing and providing buffs, and one to cast spells that set everything aflame or bring down lightning bolts from a crystal-clear sky. Also, the title for this blog post isn’t one hundred percent accurate, seeing as how I’ve totally left Cornelia behind and even managed to acquire a ship, which allowed me to find a town full of elves, obviously called Elfheim. I only said what I said at the top because, certainly for the first couple hours, I hung around Cornelia and its outskirts to gain some money and experience points before moving forward into more dangerous territory. Yup, grinding is a thing. Grinding will always be a thing.

I’m happy I’m playing this version of Final Fantasy as it has a few bells and whistles that enhance the overall experience. There’s the enhanced graphics I previously mentioned, remixed soundtracks, full-motion CGI cutscenes, and added content that includes art galleries of Yoshitaka Amano’s illustrations. There’s also a bestiary, which I will always appreciate, that tells you a bit about the monsters you’ve encountered, but I have no idea if it was originally there to begin with. I’ll be moving on to some cave soon, but only after I’ve earned enough cash-money to purchase all the best weapons, pieces of armor, and available magic spells. After all, Erda and friends deserves the finest.

Not sure if Professor Fitz Quadwrangle’s nephew can solve this Quantum Conundrum

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Here’s the radical truth: every time I scroll past Quantum Conundrum on my interminable list of PlayStation 3 games, most of which were acquired through PlayStation Plus, it scares the crap out of me. Not because it is from the horror genre, where jump scares and messed-up imagery reign queen, but because a song plays the fraction of a second you idle on its name. That song is this song, and, while catchy, it starts so suddenly that, depending on how high I have the volume on my TV, it’s like meditating in a quiet room unexpectedly rocked by a massive explosion. Or maybe I’m being dramatic and just whining about being scared easily. Either way, I want it gone sooner than later.

Again, this is not a horror game. It’s all about puzzles and using your noggin. You play as the non-speaking twelve-year-old nephew of the brilliant and peculiar Professor Fitz Quadwrangle. You’re sent to stay with Quadwrangle, who is unprepared for your arrival and deep in some experiment. Alas, the experiment goes sideways almost immediately, which causes Quadwrangle to become trapped in a pocket dimension. He has no memory of what went wrong before, but is somehow able to watch and communicate you. The results of the experiment leave portions of the Quadwrangle mansion stuck between four dimensions with alternate properties. It’s up to you to restart three separate power generators and bring back Quadwrangle safely.

Quantum Conundrum is a first-person puzzle game, much like Portal. That should come as even less of a surprise when you learn that it was designed by Kim Swift, the project lead on Portal. You’ll notice many more similarities between the two beasts: a wearable device to alter physics in a room, a silly yet omniscient narrator, and lots of buttons to push. By using Quadwrangle’s Interdimensional Shift Device, you can manipulate the objects around you by shifting any given room into one of four different physical “dimensions” at the press of a button. You must use these dimensions in varying ways to solve puzzles throughout the mansion and restore the power. There are four dimensions to mess with, though I only just got up to the third one: fluffy (makes things lighter), heavy (makes things heavier), slow motion (slows down objects in motion), and reverse gravity (self-explanatory). With these varying properties, pieces of furniture or safes become your best tools.

Puzzles aside, the writing is pretty funny. Every time you die, which seems to be most commonly from falling into an endless pit inside this mansion because videogames, you’ll see a darkly snarky death message about something you’ll never get to see now that you no longer exist among the living. There’s also a lot of books with punny titles to examine, as well as amusing paintings on every wall. I especially like the one of the dachshund that stretches across multiple paintings and walls. I do wish that Quadwrangle, as our constant narrator, offered more hints, especially after you spend enough time in a room and can’t figure out what to do next. I solved a couple puzzles already through sheer luck and tossing boxes/switching dimensions until everything lined up perfectly, but I know that technique won’t get me to the end.

At this point, I’ve only fixed the first of three generators in Quantum Conundrum, and I didn’t have to look up any puzzle solutions online. I consider that a great victory as I am–and I’m not afraid to admit this–not the greatest mind to ever walk this spinning planet. However, I do believe this is only because the puzzles start off slow and simple, and the more dimensions you gain access to, the more involved the solutions will become. Couple this with the sometimes wonky physics, like when a box you are carrying suddenly touches a sliver of the wall and freaks out, as well as the less-than-ideal platforming moments, and I’m worried that I won’t ever see Quadwrangle back in the real world. I’ll certainly continue to try, but this mansion might turn out to be more of a prison in disguise.

The BackDoor series is unpredictable, except for the puzzles

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The BackDoor series, which comes from a creator called SolarVagrant and so far consists of two games, namely Door 1: The Call and Door 2: The Job, is a small thing, with large ambitions. To me, especially with adventure games, that’s good. Respectable and well-intended. After all, Sequoioideae redwoods start as just a seed in the ground. Blackwell Legacy from Wadjet Eye Games and Nelly Cootalot: Spoonbeaks Ahoy! both started small, in humble territory, but contained more than enough material and ideas to burgeon into larger, more mainstream experiences. I think, with enough time, this too could become a series you hear about more often. Naturally, I’m getting ahead of myself, so on with the summaries.

For Door 1: The Call, you begin as a young man…falling. After what seems like far too much falling, you find yourself in a strange house. The only person who might know what is truly going on is a mysterious individual who contacts you over the phone…or might actually be the phone, seeing that it talks to you and has sharp, untrustworthy teeth where the number buttons are. Turns out, this strange house is on the moon. Your best plan of attack for now is to escape, and that means solving puzzles by finding items, combining them correctly, and examining everything in the environment to use them on. Pretty standard stuff, save for the part about being on the moon and trapped between different dimensions.

For Door 2: The Job, things pick up immediately where the previous game left off, which, for a sequel to a 2013 release, is great for me playing them back-to-back, but others might have forgotten some details, especially like why some items are still there in your inventory. No biggie. Through more guidance from your phone friend/foe, you find yourself in a strange city of a robots. You are tasked with finding a specific robot called Aert, and you’ll know him by his unique scarf. Along the way, you’ll interact with a number of other robots–some more friendly those humans than others– in this familiar city hub and do the traditional thing of collecting items and using them just right to solve puzzles. Eventually you learn that Aert is kidnapped by a gang of goons for the sole purpose of tricking his girlfriend to date the leader.

The first game is obviously much smaller in scope and mechanics. Door 2: The Job really feels like something grander, with colorful characters and world-building and plenty of things to interact with and examine. Let’s call the experienced…enriched. I felt more invested in my tasks, such as catching a rat, fixing machinery, or tricking the shopkeeper to sell to a smelly, untrustworthy human, even if I couldn’t follow the larger, outer layer plotline all that much. Maybe whatever Door 3 ends up being will explain why this animated phone is dictating your duties and mocking you all at the same time.

Many of the puzzles in Door 1: The Call and, much more so, in Door 2: The Job are pretty obvious. From a solution standpoint. For example, you find a locked ventilation shaft grate and know that you’ll need to get by it somehow. You need something to take the screws off. The rub is figuring out how to accomplish that task. Some puzzles even require a bit of trial and error, especially the time-based ones right near the end. Thankfully, when you fail them, the game resets to a checkpoint in the previous room, so it is not too punishing, save for wasting time.

Visually, not too much has changed from Door 1: The Call to Door 2: The Job, and that’s okay. There are stylized and entertaining cutscenes. The pixel art, especially the character portraits, reminds me greatly of Cave Story, and the city, while not huge, does have a personality and some areas to explore. Also, the color palette seems to have switched from soft blues to light yellows, browns, and greens. Don’t let the screenshot at the top of this post fool you as I had to mess with its color to get my large, blocky white letters to read well on top of it. Regardless, while it might be some time until we see Door 3: [Subtitle], I’m eagerly looking forward to it. That said, I’ll never trust an anthropomorphic telephone.

The Wolf Among Us is where wolves fear to prey

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I got through a decent chunk of The Wolf Among Us last year during my Extra Life event, sleepily playing it in the wee hours of the morning after I found myself walking off ledges too frequently in Dark Souls. Part of me suspects the reason I picked it is because, if I nodded off momentarily during a conversation scene, the scene can keep going, selecting “…” as Bigby’s appropriate response. I guarantee this happened a few times. I gare-run-tee it. I’m also fine with my Bigby being a bit shy or passive in his interactions with some people, even if later I made him ultra assertive and demanding when push came to shove. You gotta break a few eggs to make an omelette, y’know.

The Wolf Among Us, which I constantly wrote incorrectly as A Wolf Among Us in its game review haikus, is a prequel to Bill Willingham’s Fables comic book universe, of which I’ve read not a single page. Bigby Wolf, formerly known as the Big Bad Wolf, is the Sheriff of Fabletown, which is a hidden community of fairytale characters located in New York City in the 1980s. After receiving a phone call from Mr. Toad, Bigby saves a young prostitute from an intoxicated and extremely vulgar Woodsman. He escorts her away to safety. Alas, later that night, Bigby is shocked to find the woman’s severed head left on the doorstep of the Woodland Luxury Apartments. Deputy Mayor Ichabod Crane orders him and Snow White to investigate her death.

I’ve had problems with these adventure romps from Telltale Games since basically the first mainstream one I touched: season one of The Walking Dead. I enjoyed that one a great deal, even if I saw that it was more adventuring than pointing and clicking and had a couple complications, but this was a different beast, playable first on a console and designed for a controller and distinctive pace. I’ve stopped referring to these as point and click adventure titles. They are dialogue adventures. Season two of The Walking Dead was a whole lot less game, and this carried over to Game of Thrones. I’ve not tried Tales from the Borderlands, Minecraft: Story Mode, or Batman: The Telltale Series yet, though I do have their first episodes downloaded and ready to go, but I suspect I won’t find anything new to love there.

In The Wolf Among Us, players control Bigby Wolf, who is investigating a murder. You’ll “explore” various environments throughout Fabletown, such as apartment buildings, a bar, a butcher’s shop, etc. I used quotation marks because you are extremely limited in where you can walk, and there are only so many things to interact with. Many are just there for lore and to unlock entries in your Book of Fables guide. Occasionally, items of interest are stored in an inventory on the side, but you don’t access this like you would in a more traditional point-and-click title; instead, if you have the item, it can come into play at a later time automatically. Gameplay ultimately boils down to talking with a host of pretty memorable characters, with conversations presented in the form of dialogue trees and responses on a timer. Depending on your choices, these will have a positive or negative effect on how people view Bigby, as well as larger plot-points down the road. Many scenes are heavy on action, requiring players to respond rapidly through QTE prompts, such as fighting off bad dudes or chasing after a vehicle speeding away. I failed a couple of things here and there, but unlike Shenmue the story thankfully moves forward regardless.

Here’s where The Wolf Among Us shines, obviously: the writing. It’s an entertaining, complex story, with a cast of characters that are fun to recognize and see how they fit into this alternative realm. Bigby is a villain trying to live a better life and help who he can, struggling to shed his past skin. That comes through strongly in the story, and his interaction with Snow White, at least the ones I saw and decided on, spoke volumes without every directly saying what each person thought of the other. I also liked the interaction between the fairytale characters that could pass among humans versus the ones that couldn’t without using expensive treatments called glamours, such as Mr. Toad. The real villains are villainous, and I found the Crooked Man to be profoundly striking, using his smarmy, distrustful words and loyalty of his goons to get his way. Spoilers: I let him talk for a good while before deciding to alter his form for good. That said, I think the end conversation between Bigby and Nerissa was meant to be more profound, but it came off as plain ol’ confusing. If you want to read some theories, here’s a good starting place.

I had the luxury of playing The Wolf Among Us mostly back to back after getting the whole thing at once from Games with Gold in April 2016, but for those that experienced it episodically, spread out over nine months, I can see some episodes not really satisfying or feeling like enough. The action scenes are few and simply a bunch of button presses, and I found it hard to sometimes see what was going on because I was more concerned with which button to hit next. That’s the most gameplay you get, and the rest is Bigby lone wolfing it on the streets of Fabletown, talking to people and responding accordingly. There are parts of the game where you can only go one way or another due to time restraints, which theoretically leads to replay value, but I don’t like replaying these things from Telltale Games because, to me, my first go-through is my only go-through. The decisions I made, the words I spoke–like real life, there’s no do-over.

Wait, remember earlier when I said that the writing was the best part of The Wolf Among Us? I was wrong. I forgot that the intro title sequence is amazing, using shadows and purple neon and deep, pulse-laden electronica music to set mood like nothing before, save for maybe Stranger Things. Even if that feeling doesn’t last for the entire episode, it certainly kicks things off on a great, furry foot. Let’s end this post on a highlight, on that. If Telltale Games doubles down on ambiance and atmosphere for season two, if there is to be one, I might return. I might.

Grinding Down‘s readers will remember that.

Descend deeper and deeper with Runestone Keeper

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I am enjoying Runestone Keeper greatly despite it being the sort of roguelike that demands you suffer inordinately for its opening hours before you can even begin to fathom making progress. You know, like Rogue Legacy and The Binding of Isaac. Do the time before you enjoy the sublime. Not like Spelunky though. In Spelunky, you can beat the game on your very first run, so long as you know what you are doing; sure, a wee bit of luck is needed to get some specific items, like the jetpack, but it is totally doable. For other harsh roguelikes with some permanence to them in terms of upgrades and accrual, you must first grind runs one after another to begin closing the distance. I think, so far, I’ve gotten to level 9 with Guy, the only playable character available until you get further or are more successful on higher difficulties.

What is Runestone Keeper you ask silently from the other side of the screen? Well, it is a piece of interactive entertainment that came out in early 2015 from Blackfire Games. What else? It was recently part of the Humble Jumbo Bundle 7, which is where I got my Steam copy. Yeah, cool, but more specifically…what is it? Technically, Runestone Keeper is an über challenging roguelike-to-roguelite dungeon crawler that blends classic roleplaying elements and turn-based combat strategy. Kind of a weird, blood magic-driven fusion of Minesweeper and Dungeons of Dredmor.

That last description probably didn’t help all that much. Allow me to try harder. Basically, dungeon floors are randomly generated and set out as a grid that can be explored in any order from wherever you start, uncovering one tile at a time by clicking on it. Each revealed tile has an effect, even if that effect is basically nothing happens. Most discoveries include finding hearts that heal your HP, gold coins, treasure chests, traps, single-use items, weapons like readied crossbows, merchants, valuable runestones, and various pitfalls. Each tile you reveal also fills up your soul meter, which dictates your usage of certain items, as well as using in-level shrines and such. Your basic goal is to reveal enough tiles to find the staircase to the room below and head deeper into the darkness.

The real trouble with that endeavor is you’ll also reveal enemies in each dungeon level. You can avoid most fights if you want, but monsters block adjacent squares from being revealed, which are essential to finding the way to the next floor. Also, early on, you will want to fight some monsters for XP and dropped loot (which contains random prefixes and suffixes for different stats), though RNG rears its ugly head from time to time, causing you to miss your ax swings even though you are standing directly next to the angry goblin. Your attacks are obviously based on your gear, and you can quickly swap between two sets; I like having something for up close, as well as ranged enemies. Monsters hit your shield first, which absorbs a certain amount of damage before stealing away HP. The cast of enemies is quite varied, and many of them have their own unique abilities, like silencing or poisoning. Early on, your best friend as Guy, is the spell he has to lower an enemy’s attack power for a few turns though it is beyond frustrating to whiff on every sword swing during this phase.

Runestone Keeper‘s gameplay is extremely layered, even if it at times it feels unfair and driven solely by luck spirits. There’s tattoos to equip, an enchantment system, worshiping and un-worshiping deities that provide buffs and debuffs, elite arena rooms, special one-time events dictated by text choices, and more. Lots of spinning plates, and I’m sure I’m missing some elements. My focus for Guy continues to be upgrading his strength and stamina and plowing through enemies as quickly as possible while also hoarding a ton of gold coins and selling unwanted to gear; unfortunately, in the later dungeon levels, he struggles to deal with ranged enemies, as well not exploding when unearthing a ticking time bomb. It’s a problem. We’re working on it.

Similar to how I approached Rogue Legacy, Runestone Keeper is perfect for doing a couple runs, being unsuccessful, but returning to the main menu hub with enough gold coins to upgrade a permanent bonus, such as gaining more XP from killed monsters or earning more gold with each pick-up, and that leaves me feeling satisfied, feeling like I am actually inching towards a better run. I’m still hoping I’ll find that “perfect storm” run where I get some killer equipment/items early on that will help me reach level 10 of the dungeon and maybe even beyond that. If not, this is surprisingly one game I don’t mind bashing my head against the wall, desperately trying to survive or crawl to the next floor in hopes of…well, hope. Not everything has to be about being the ultimate powerhouse.

The fact is I hit 70,000 Gamerscore perfectly

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Mark the date down, for today, this twenty-ninth period of twenty-four hours as a unit of time, is yet another behemoth moment for Grinding Down: 70,000 Gamerscore. Hit perfectly thanks to Killer Instinct‘s “Stylish Fulgore” Achievement for 10 points, but really, this was a group effort. Those involved will be thanked two paragraphs down, but first, a summary of my long, meticulous journey to this point and the previous landmarks I visited along the way. Because I enjoy thinking about the trek, imagining myself as an unassuming Hobbit on a grand Adventure, one to eventually share with future generations, becoming legend. Hmm, methinks it is almost time to rewatch Lord of the Rings for the umpteenth time.

Well, naturally, this all started in February 2010 with 10,000. After that, almost a year later, I slid into 20,000. Next, 30,000 was acquired another year after that in March 2012. The black sheep of this story happened in September 2013 as I wasn’t able to get the number I wanted because of stupid ol’ Fable III and settled on 41,000 instead. The gap between that amount and 50,000 was almost two years, as I backed away from the Xbox 360 for a while…for reasons. Here’s the kicker–it was only last June of this very year that I was celebrating 60,000 Gamerscore, which means I did a whole bunch of popping Achievements in the few months since then. Let’s examine where this exponential growth occurred the most.

Let’s see, let’s see. I dug back into my larger-than-necessary backlog for the 360, polishing off Hitman: Absolution and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag as much as possible. In terms of the Xbox One, the games that really helped grow that Gamerscore were LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Costume Quest 2, Monopoly Plus, The Wolf Among Us, and, embarrassingly, Ben-Hur. Of course, I’ve dabbled in a number of other games, both large and small, both on consoles and mobile, and, as mentioned before, this was a team effort. Even the games where I opened them once and played for less than twenty minutes matter. Unfortunately, I do not have the time to thank every game individually, but they should know in their heart of hearts that they are greatly appreciated.

I feel like with every one of these posts, I try to convey an air of lukewarm detachedness. That hitting these milestones is no big deal, simply a little fun to have with a system designed to reward gamers for all sorts of actions, such as defeating a tough boss or simply watching a game’s credits all the way through. The truth is…I care about hitting these numbers very much. The minute I begin to inch closer to them, I immediately start scanning out the list of potential Achievements and begin planning my path forward. I find it entertaining, and maybe someone out there reading this does too–hey, let me know if ya do–and I’m genuinely curious about what mix of games will lead me to the 80,000 mark. I do have a bunch more episodic adventures from Telltale Games to go through, and those are pretty easy Achievements to pop. We’ll see.

With all that said, picture proof:

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Wait, I took a better pic, since that screenshot ended up being so tiny. Also, I refuse to change my Avatar’s outfit. The more likely reality is that I no longer remember how:

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Another garden to tend to in Earthlock: Festival of Magic

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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.