Earthlock (Switch) Review

A Festival of Magic

Earthlock is a throwback to classic 90s RPGs with all the fixings – a turn-based combat system, customizable character progression, and a plot about teens fighting for the world. Developer Snowcastle Games originally released this title in 2016 as Earthlock: Festival of Magic but decided to improve the game’s story flow and quests. Although I haven’t played the original version, I can share my experiences for this “Should Have Been Edition” as a first timer.

Please be sure to check out my Video Review!

Earthlock takes place in Umbra, a magical world that has stopped spinning due to an apocalyptic catastrophe from the ancient past. A young scavenger named Amon has a simple goal: rescue his sick uncle Benjo – whom, by the way, is an anthropomorphic hammerhead shark. He forms a party with strong female warriors, animals, and robots. I liked the main characters but found their dialogue dull and stiff, as if they were just going through the motions on this fairly linear journey. Consequently, emotional moments were hard to take seriously with the relatively flat characters during cutscenes. At least the ethereal tunes of the soundtrack fit with the lush, colorful backdrops, sporting a style that recalls classic PlayStation 2 RPGs. It’s a shame that the promising story premise – while not bad – falls short of delivering an engaging narrative.

Earthlock Switch Review Battle 2.jpg
The characters shine in battle.

Otherwise, I found the characters charming with regards to their abilities and appearances. Everyone looks like they popped out of a classic fantasy novel and sport powers that reflect their uniqueness. Gnart is a rabbit and hog hybrid who is just short enough to run under low structures, and Ive is a trained cadet who uses stealth to bypass enemy encounters on the map. Navigating the overworld and puzzling dungeons requires ample switching of your characters. I grew to enjoy the party based on how they played more than how they contributed to the story.

Earthlock Switch Review Cave.jpg
Gnart is a rabbit/hog hybrid, which makes him a Habbit? Or a Rog?

Robust character progression helped me appreciate the gang even more. In a system reminiscent of the Final Fantasy series’ sphere grids and license boards, Earthlock has a talent board. By earning talent points through battles, you can upgrade your character using tablets that represent either a stat boost, unlockable ability, or passive trait. Each tile on the grid holds one tablet of the appropriate type, and you can only fill in tiles adjacent to tablets you’ve already placed.

Earthlock Switch Review Talent Board.jpg
I wish I had enough talents to fill this large a board.

There are two standout features of the talent board. First, there are pre-placed tablets on the board, and by connecting your own tablets to it, you get a bonus boost. The second big feature – and the reason I highly approve of this system – is that you can freely replace and reuse tablets as you wish. In a gaming atmosphere obsessed with perfect maxed-out characters, it’s such a relief that you can easily switch around your party’s stats and abilities as needed. In fact, the game encourages you to equip the most ideal stat distributions and powers for any given situation. The malleable progression is both smart and forgiving.

Preparation is a big theme of the gameplay. An entire area, Plumpet Island, is devoted to helping you plan for future fights. You can construct ammo, healing items, and ability-granting tablets by using materials you earn, purchase, or harvest from plants. Yes, there is a gardening side-task, which functions like a time-sensitive mobile game. Thankfully, Earthlock’s system is faster, usually taking less than a minute for the garden to bear fruit. That being said, the gardening and crafting loop gets tedious, and I would have appreciated a more streamlined system. But at least it’s a relaxing break from battle.

Earthlock Switch Review Plumpet Island.jpg
Plumpet Island is owned by a Frogboy. Ribbit.

Speaking of which, the battle system is…decent. Elaborating with the positives, battles follow a solid formula. You bring in a party of four into turn-based combat. Just like in Final Fantasy X, you can see the turn order and change the queue depending on your actions. Each move consumes either ammo or magical energy called Amri. If you run out of Amri, you can rest to regain it, or, humorously enough, play dead to escape battle. Combat controls are fairly intuitive. Instead of picking actions from a standard menu, you press buttons corresponding to the skill you wish to use.

Earthlock Switch Review Battle 2.jpg
In lieu of a regular menu, just press buttons to attack.

The major features in battle are stances and bonds. Each character has two stances, or playstyles, that they can switch between during battle at the cost of a turn. It’s a clever mechanic that artificially doubles the amount of playable character classes. For instance, Amon can use daggers to stab enemies, as well as a blaster to hit airborne foes. Olia has powerful attacks that can slash or pierce. Or you can switch her stance to a counterattacker, who taunts the enemy and strikes back in full force. It adds strategy during battle, although I usually avoided changing stances when I could. Meanwhile, bonds refer to pairing characters during battle. You can make two groups of two members, and each specific character combination wields different perks, like enhanced healing, that unlock over time. Pair them long enough, and they can activate a temporary power boost to their abilities, which is gratifying to witness in action.

Combat may be sound in theory, but battles feel like they drag on forever. Most battles are against large groups, and it takes a while to whittle each grunt’s HP, more so without effective area attacks. To make matters worse, attack animations feel long, even with fast-forward on. Due to the steep difficulty curve, some bosses required a grind, which I dreaded having to do. The bosses themselves present a nice challenge requiring unique strategies, but facing fodder mobs was a chore. The game isn’t even that lengthy for an RPG – roughly 20-25 hours depending on how many fetch quests you do – but it feels long due to the slow gameplay. Some minor quality of life issues don’t help either, like the fact that you can only warp or heal by first going to Plumpet Island.

Earthlock Switch Review Boss
The Mummy Returns once again.

Conclusion

The “Should Have Been Edition” of Earthlock has clever ideas, but they’re not all executed as well as they could have been. I was particularly engaged with the character progression and preparation mechanics; but the story and battles, while certainly decent, were slow grinds that didn’t make strong impressions. There are better adventures on the Nintendo Switch, but for what it’s worth, Earthlock is a fine choice for fans of retro ‘90s RPGs.

Score: 7/10

Note: A review copy was provided by the publisher for this article.

What are your thoughts on Earthlock? Have you played the original version? What are your favorite modern throwback RPGs? Please share any thoughts or questions in the comments section below! Thank you so much for reading and watching!

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15 thoughts on “Earthlock (Switch) Review

  1. Great review! I’m a fan of RPG’s in general, including one of my favorites Final Fantasy X. I’m glad to see something like the sphere grid, and to an extent, the license board, in Earthlock. It sounds like a good premise. It’s especially nice that you can modify the talent board to suite your needs. It’s more freeing than being locked into a sphere grid. But one of my biggest gripes with RPGs is how much grinding they involve, and this game looks pretty grindy. A slowed-paced RPG without a good story doesn’t sound super appealing to me. I need fleshed out characters and an interesting plot to keep myself invested in the long haul. At least it’s not too long by RPG standards. Also, why is his uncle a fish? I don’t get it, and it sounds fishy. 😛

    P.S. Earth Lock and Load! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much as always! Earthlock reminded me a lot of Final Fantasy X actually. The talent board being similar to the sphere grid was one part, but the battle system is similar to the conditional turn-based battle (or whatever it’s called in FFX), and the world felt like a condensed version of Spira. FFX is much better, but I could see this as an inspiration. You might like playing through it as long as you don’t compare it too much to X like I did just now hahaha. Also, I agree. Very fishy… I’m more curious about Gnart, the rabbit/hog hybrid myself. Does that make him a “rog” or a “habbit?”

      Liked by 1 person

  2. On some level, it’s nice to hear of an RPG that doesn’t overstay its welcome by being only 25 hours long. I remember thinking Bravely Default could’ve been better had they cut out the blatant filler. However, judging by your review, it sounds as though this one has the opposite problem in how it has a distinct lack of substance.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There’s definitely something missing in Earthlock. It’s interesting because I liked elements of it much more than I thought I would, particularly the talent board that reminded me so much of Final Fantasy X’s sphere grid. I think what Earthlock lacks is that tinge of excitement and emotion that enriches stories and gameplay of some of the best 90s RPGs. I’m watching my wife play through Final Fantasy VI for the first time (after watching her play through Chrono Trigger), and those games had no voice acting but every moment felt like it had either fast-paced action or memorable cutscenes injected with feeling. And the gameplay was simply amazing for both, which is why I consider them top RPGs. Earthlock, while not at all bad, is an RPG that has good ideas, but doesn’t present it in the most fun way.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I think eathlock is a very engaging RPG game. It’s like a combination of Final fantasy and dark clouds for characters appearances. I think it is a challenging and a strategic game, However, I haven’t played this yet, very interesting, I will get me 1. I’m a big fan of Final fantasy series especially VII, VIII & X for RPGs. Great review, I enjoyed reading it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much for your kind words! You’re so right about the Dark Cloud comparison. I haven’t played that series, but I’ve seen the artwork and I do get the Earthlock vibe. I love the Final Fantasy series, and my favorite is IX. VII and X are near the top for me too! Thanks again for sharing! 😀

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    1. Thank you so much Rachel! It was definitely an interesting journey. I’m a big fan of traditional turn-based RPGs. Although I have my criticisms, it’s one of the few on the Switch right now.

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    1. I really like that Earthlock reminds me of Final Fantasy X. The conditional turn-based battle system and talent board that resembles the sphere grid surely couldn’t be a coincidence. I have fond memories of FFX, so that’s a great game to borrow from!

      Liked by 1 person

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