With details of Final Fantasy XVI thin on the ground and Final Fantasy VII Remake’s second part likely quite some way away, you will likely be looking for an alternative game to give you a Final Fantasy fix in 2021. If you’ve played through all the earlier titles and are on the hunt for something new, then let me introduce you to Edge of Eternity – a JRPG so drenched in FF tradition that it’s the gaming equivalent of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter. Having been in Early Access for over two years now, and been declared a beta since August, its final pre-launch content update has dropped ahead of a release in 2021. I recently dropped in to check out how it’s progressing.
If you had to define and refine the core essentials of Final Fantasy you’d probably single out the turn based combat, sweeping storylines, overblown dialogue and pointy hair as the main characteristics. Edge of Eternity contains all of these in spades, with the central protagonist Daryon in particular looking like a Noctis cosplayer. Alongside the obvious influence of Square’s long running series, there is also a clear nod to the excellent Xenoblade games. The wide open vistas, the single player MMORPG gameplay, and the central plotline of a battle between machines and humans all feel very familiar.
With this all being said it is clear that Edge of Eternity isn’t going to be winning any awards for originality any time soon, but that isn’t necessarily a criticism. JRPGs have always been a fairly conservative genre where changes are slow and traditions are upheld.
The recent updates to Edge of Eternity have introduced a more coherent opening section to the game in the form of a prologue that establishes the narrative and introduces many of the mechanics before throwing you into exploring the vast world of Heryon. This is done in time honoured JRPG fashion by providing you with a team of characters with abilities that you will not possess again for many hours and then proceeding to kill most of them off in the name of drama. The problem with this approach, of course, is that the respective characters serve as tutorial devices and you don’t really get the chance to become involved in their stories. Consequently their deaths are met with a shrug rather than an emotional response. Once this section is finished though, there is more of an effort to develop characters with some depth, although after finishing Chapter 1 in my 12 hours of play, I still had only Daryon and his priestess sister Selene in my team.
Graphically, Edge of Eternity is a mixed bag. At times it can look spectacular and the visual design of the world is excellent. However, things are less rosy in action, as screen tearing and visual glitches were frequent and some aspects (such as NPC hands) were noticeably of far lower quality than others. There were also a huge number of NPCs and enemies floating 2 feet from the ground which didn’t help with immersion, but that’s what beta testing is for. Performance remained fairly stable in both open world and town environments which is a positive, but the towns felt quite lifeless with hardly any interactive residents. Music and sound effects are good, with voice acting being mostly passable although battle phrases are repeated far too often (then again, this is also a genre staple).
Exploring the world of Heryon involves navigating a mixture of narrow corridor areas and more open environments. Both of these contain a dizzying amount of collectables and treasure chests to open – although the value of these is often questionable. After a few hours of tinkering with the various levels of equipment, ability crystals and crafting options, I found myself giving up and only occasionally replacing the odd bit of equipment with loot from battles. This aspect is still a work in progress though, so hopefully it will become more engaging and worthwhile by the final release.
Battles are good old-fashioned turn-based affairs with the welcome addition of hex-based grids to offer up more potential for strategy. While the battles are not random they are annoyingly frequent with only a small percentage offering more than a fleeting challenge. I was lucky enough to loot an overpowered sword early on that was one-shotting most enemies for the next few hours, but this only served to highlight how pointless and grindy the combat was. The few more demanding boss fights and unique enemies did display the potential of the systems though, so there is real hope that this can be more carefully balanced.
The storyline confusingly manages to be both epic and low-key. After the introduction of a supposedly imminent cataclysm and a deadly corruption taking over the land, you spend the first 15 hours or so just looking for your sister’s mentor and nothing much else happens. Yes, there are subquests and collectathons aplenty, but nothing that feels meaningful.
I will return to the world of Heryon when Edge of Eternity is complete but there is nothing that’s dragging me back in its current form. This isn’t because it’s bad in any way, but it just feels a bit disjointed and I’m hoping that the final polish will improve this. Some stand out battles, nice environments and a bizarre sequence involving a remarkably horny talking flower all point to this being worth looking out for when it’s finished, but the investment required doesn’t quite pay off in this early form. The small development team at Midgar Studios are committed to a release later this year, so here’s hoping that they can fill the impressive world they’ve created with more life and purpose.