The Backlog: ‘EARTHLOCK’: A love letter to classic RPGs

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“Earthlock” is a charming homage to classic RPGs of the late ‘90s, complete with a cute art style and solid game mechanics, even if it lacks in certain areas, such as its music and puzzles. 

This indie game, developed and published by Snowcastle Games, is a turn-based RPG that is reminiscent of classics like “Final Fantasy VII.” It offers a fresh take on the genre with its character progression and interesting combat. 

The aforementioned character progression is what really caught my attention as I played through this game. I only played for about 5 hours, but in that time I unlocked four of the six playable characters. This game introduces a unique mechanic that allows pairs of characters to develop “bonds” as they fight in battles together. Depending on who you pair a character with, increasing their bond can provide upgrades to their abilities or make them immune to certain status effects. 

The fighting is interesting, as each character can switch between two different “stances” that can change their offensive, defensive or supportive capabilities for the team. It changes how you go about defeating enemies and how you can strategize in a battle. Another mechanic that I really liked is that this game promotes risky fights: By purposely engaging in a fight with more than one enemy, you get an exponentially-increasing experience bonus based on how many enemies you fought in a given battle. 

The game’s art style is cute and visually appealing as you cross vast deserts or go through dense forests, but “Earthlock” falls flat when it comes to its tedious puzzles that you need to complete to pass through a dungeon. This game is charming and challenging at times, but its story and characters didn’t really capture my attention or keep me hooked for very long. It was nice to see some diversity amongst its cast, including characters that come from different backgrounds. Some characters are human, while others might be a robot, some kind of tiger-wolf hybrid or a mix between a warthog and a bunny, but I liked that they all had different personalities that interacted with one another. 

Although the game’s adventurous music fits the genre, it’s awfully static. Turn-based RPGs often have dynamic music to transition from an overworld setting to a battle setting and vice versa. The easiest way to explain this is with the Pokemon video games and their music. If you’ve ever played any Pokemon game, your brain can automatically tell when a battle is initiating, not just from the distorting visual effect on the screen, but also from the catchy jingle that plays and quickly transitions into the battle theme. Once the battle is over, you know exactly what the victory jingle sounds like, and you’ll jam out to that for a few seconds before exiting back to the overworld. The music of “Earthlock” lacks this crucial component that makes battle in turn-based RPGs so exhilarating. In “Earthlock,” the music fades in and out from the overworld theme to the battle theme with no transition piece whatsoever. There is no audio cue that lets you mentally prepare yourself for the excitement to come. It’s just a blunt transition from hopeful and adventurous music to a fast-paced and intense theme. The worst part? There’s no victory jingle. Once the battle ends, the intense battle theme keeps playing until the player exits out of the victory screen and returns back to the overworld. 

“Earthlock” is a fairly decent game, even if its music and story fall short of what one might expect. There is a simple crafting system and a “home base” of sorts that allows players to create materials and craft them into useful items, such as new weapons, healing potions and ammunition. Overall, “Earthlock” is a solid experience that scratches that itch for a turn-based RPG while leaving you with a little more than anticipated. It feels a lot like the classic JRPGs you may have grown up playing, so if you ever stumble upon it on sale, don’t be afraid to give it a try. 

Rating: 3.5/5 

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