Earthlock is a fantasy, turn-based RPG that looks remarkably unique. Though it rarely breaks the mould, a game like this doesn’t need to – it does all that it does admirably enough to stand well amongst other RPGs with a bright design, an excellent soundtrack and smooth combat.
For context, then – Earthlock’s story takes place on the land of Umbra, one that’s currently lingering in a state of peace following some traumatic times following the fall of an ancient dictatorial race. We’re introduced quickly to Amon following the introduction, who after exploring one of many ruins that litter the land of Umbra, decides to go on something of an exploration of the world, where hijinks consequently follow. It’s not a ground-breaking set up, but the background lore is interesting enough, and Amon is a protagonist with enough likeable traits that you’re willing to follow his journey. Similarly, most members of the party share this affable nature, which makes spending time with them enjoyable enough. There does feel like there’s something missing, however – though they’re all likeable, none ever stand out enough to become truly memorable characters. The design of the characters does seem to stop one step short of turning them from good to great, which is something of a disappointment.
The visual design of Earthlock, however, can often be brilliant. Earthlock’s cartoon style enables some truly stunning scenery to be displayed, especially when it comes to dungeons. Rooms can be densely or intricately detailed and possess small quirks to make each room different. Perhaps my only qualm is the lack of interactable items – when exploring an environment, it’s sometimes nice to see something interesting, just to examine it and find out it might not be what you expected it to. In that regard, Earthlock holds no surprises, but plenty of pretty treasure chests. That they are the only interactable item in many cases is a little disappointing, but the sheer beauty of many rooms helps to compensate.
The overworld areas between major locations, however, leave much to be desired, often being sparse and uninteresting maps. The slightly higher point of view can be a little jarring, too, and sometimes caused issues with the camera clipping. It’s a minor gripe, since it’s mostly just a way to navigate the world, but since the journey between major dungeons is often where magic can happen in RPGs, it feels like a missed opportunity to flesh the game out that much further.
Earthlock’s combat is perfectly functional, too, with a slick UI displaying a turn-based combat. The camera usually sits with a sideline view, in a conventional perspective, but sometimes moves closer to the protagonist’s side when major battles occur. It’s a typical turn-based affair, with an item option, a list of attacks and a run option (Though I enjoy how, here, it’s instead ‘feign death’ – where characters awkwardly slump to the floor and you get a brief period after to run away. It’s different!). Perhaps uniquely it features a stance option – each character possesses two skillsets, usually helping to fulfil a certain role in the party. Amon, for example, has a thief skillset and an archer skillset – so in one he stabs with a dagger and can finish enemies with a steal ability, whilst his archer skillset features a blaster which he uses to pepper the enemies with standard or elemental ammo. It’s a different way to promote some alternative party applications, which I found a welcome treat. It’s completely serviceable combat – and the order of turns being displayed on the right side of the screen is a welcome, handy touch. As far as turn-based combat goes, it’s as fluent as that style can be, and it does enough to be a very postive aspect.
The soundtrack is also a great touch. I wasn’t certain of what quality soundtrack I could expect, but it aims for an orchestral style. Often, it’s done with the level of swagger you’d expect of a much bigger game than Earthlock, which was a welcome surprise. The main theme especially is surprisingly memorable, and generally the music compliments the game well throughout.
Earthlock, then, is a coherent RPG product throughout. With a good battle system, a beautiful art style and a surprisingly great soundtrack, it offers something different for a player wanting a turn-based adventure that’s visually unique and audibly stellar. It does have its shortcomings, but they’re not great enough to sully the product so much – though it may leave you wondering what more it could’ve been. It’s certainly worth a try, and if you permit it, your time.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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