Earthlock: can a JRPG from the West tick all the right boxes?

By Dave Cook, Tuesday, 15 April 2014 07:48 GMT

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Earthlock: Festival of Magic is the new Kickstarter-funded JRPG from Norweigan developer Snowcastle Games. Dave Cook talks with the team to see if this colourful, intriguing new project can satisfy the appetite of seasoned genre fans.

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Earthlock: Festival of Magic

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Earthlock: Festival of Magic is coming to PC, Mac, PS4, Xbox One and Wii U. It’ll hit Steam first in October, then other formats in 2015.

It was successfully funded on Kickstarter on April 10, you can get all new updates here.

You can vote for Earthlock on Steam Greenlight through the link.

You can check out a video of Earthlock’s magical bullet-growing mechanic here.

“Long story short, we love RPGs of all kinds,” Snowcastle Games’ Fredrik Tyskerud tells me, “and a large portion of our team have very fond memories of playing JRPGs both in the past and now. We all have stories of jaws left on the floor the first time we saw a summon in FFVII or how the story and characters affected us.”

The Norwegian developers behind Earthlock: Festival of Magic are part of a generation that was utterly mesmerised by PSone JRPGS, and witnessed the rise of darker western experiences like Ultima. Like many of us, Tyskerud holds memories of turn-based battle systems, reams of text-based dialogue and breathtaking world maps close to his heart.

These are just some hallmarks of classic JRPG games that have given away to corridor experiences like Final Fantasy 13, and more action-orientated combat systems seen recently in the wonderful Tales of Xillia. These games are fine but deviate away from those old values somwhat, and that’s perhaps why Snowcastle’s project has proved so endearing. It’s a Western attempt at cracking this most Eastern-dominated of genres, and from the looks of things, Tyskerud and his team are right on track.

The Earthlock: Festival of Magic Kickstarter campaign launched in March, and with it, brought a number of unique, nostalgia-heavy concepts to the table. It’s the first episode of a trilogy that takes place on the planet Umbra which, for reasons unknown, has stopped spinning, entering one half of the world into a deep freeze, while transforming the other into a searing desert. Only an area in the middle provides safety and some sense of order.

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”While the team is being careful to avoid falling into familiar traps and patterns, it’s still keen to deliver high adventure in the vein of Square’s PSone Final Fantasy trilogy, but with an interesting and fundamental gameplay twist.”

“We did a lot of research into what we wanted as a basis for our world and story,” Tyskerud recalls. “Somewhere along the way while talking about cataclysmic events we came up with the idea of a world that has stopped spinning. We felt it was a very cool premise to build on and went with it.

“The players join the story long after the planet stopped spinning, so it’s not a post apocalyptic world in the usual sense. The world has been rebuilt through a couple millennia after the Deadly Halt as it’s called in our lore. The world is still very much affected by the events that happened long ago. Humans do not look to invention to advance their lives; the archaeologists and scavengers are the ones who find old technology and re-purpose it.”

Whatever habitable land remains is governed by the mighty Suvian Empire, and it’s against a backdrop of looming war and the threat of a shadowy magical cult that desert bandit Amon enters the scene. Together with former Suvian pilot Ive and friends, players will explore vast oceans, grassy plains and perilous wastelands to uncover the truth about Umbra’s cataclysmic past, and topple the regime once and for all.

“Without spoiling the story,” Tyskerud continues, “Amon and Ive and the whole band come together not from old friendship, but rather fate and events that pull them together. The magical cult is planning something big, tied to the world before the Deadly Halt. They are hell-bent on making that happen and have worked in the shadows for a long time.

“Amon is pretty happy with his life as a desert scavenger when we join him. Ive, Taika and Gnart make an unpleasant, but intriguing, entrance into Amon’s life and the little band is soon pulled into an escalating, worldwide conflict. They will of course meet Bryn, Fey and others on their way that may or may not join them on their adventure.”

Tyskerud told me that Snowcastle looks to turn some JRPG conventions on their head, including stereotypical characteristics such as the young, giggly girl, the hulking, silent brute, and the guy who’s always hungry. While the team is being careful to avoid falling into familiar traps and patterns, it’s still keen to deliver high adventure in the vein of Square’s PSone Final Fantasy trilogy, but with an interesting and fundamental gameplay twist.

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