Previously released on the Wii U and a host of other consoles in 2014, SnowCastle Games’ Earthlock: Festival of Magic is a love letter to the classical JRPGs of the 32-bit era which now makes its way to the Switch and PC (Steam). While not exactly a Japanese Role-playing Game per se, as it was not produced in Japan, it’s got everything else needed to fit that bill, from charismatic characters and a beautiful fantasy world to grind-heavy turn-based combat and a lot of customization options for your party’s skill.
Considering the lack of meaty RPGs on the Switch, aside from the likes of Xenoblade 2, Earthlock is certainly a welcome addition to its growing library of quality indie games. Although relatively derivative in its delivery, it does an excellent job at being what it obviously aims to do: play and feel like a JRPG from the first PlayStation or Sega’s Saturn. Its world is very lush and vibrant and the cast is chatty and likeable, which makes Earthlock feel like somewhat of a nostalgia piece.
Combat wise, if you’ve played any old school turn-based JRPG, you’ll know what to expect from this. Your party’s attacks are limited to the amount of action points they have on hand, though, so unlike a Final Fantasy of old, you’re not able to spam the same powerful attack over and over again until you run out of mana because you’re likely only be able to use it only once of twice per battle. There’s somewhat of a wrinkle to your characters’ skills though, since each of them can switch stances mid-fight, giving them another host of attacks or magic power that usually serve as a counter to whatever their primary suite of skills is. For instance, one of the protagonists starts out as a rogue-ish type, with a steal skill and a blade attack, but once he changes to his alternative set, he’s able to turn into a ranged fighter. Switching these during fights burns a turn, but are incredibly useful nonetheless.
As for exploration, Earthlock sports somewhat of a unique mechanic. All across the world you’ll run into interactive objects that can only be accessed by specific party members, usually yielding field buffs or treasure, forcing you to switch your active characters while running through the world map. But the real cherry is the ability to do some gardening along the way, planting seeds that you find during your journey around various spots, keeping them well watered and healthy, all in order to eventually gain recipe materials and special items. Finding these spots and seeds makes exploration feel more worthwhile, another reason to keep an eye out for collectibles along the way.
It helps that Festival of Magic — albeit not the most modern looking game on the market — manages to sport such a lovely art style. Characters are very detailed and animate incredibly well, fitting in well with the world you’ll spend plenty of time exploring. Coupled with a decent soundtrack that’s very nostalgic in its own right, the visual presentation is impressive and looks absolutely sharp on the Switch’s screen.
Sadly, for as reverent as it is to the older generation of JRPGs, Earthlock also inherited some of its worst quirks — frequent loading tends to break up the flow of play as it transitions between environments, and the inability to save mid-dungeon is a painful and frankly baffling omission, considering that this is a re-release on a portable platform. Still, you can put your Switch to sleep and pick up where you left off later, all the while running the risk of losing your progress in case your battery dies. None of these issues are 100% deal breakers, but they’re still annoying, especially considering that the developers had more time to tinker with the game for this re-release.
Earthlock: Festival of Magic is an impressive indie effort, and regardless of these annoyances, it’s worth picking up and giving it a go, even more so if you’re nostalgic for that particular era in JRPG history. If the prospect of Xenoblade 2’s 100-hour (or more) adventure intimidates you, consider giving Earthlock a look.