As a long time fan of JRPGs, I’ve been eagerly anticipating the full release of Edge of Eternity. It’s a game that already impressed me with the world it built and its mechanics when I previewed it in January, though it also felt like it was struggling to find its own identity in a genre often bogged down with conventions and clichés.
It’s worth addressing the chocobo in the room straight up here too, as Edge of Eternity is clearly a love letter to the Final Fantasy series, featuring spiky haired heroes, turn-based battles and an overblown story about a world under threat. Square Enix’s epic franchise isn’t the only influence here though, as there are also echoes of Xenoblade Chronicles in the open world exploration and single player MMORPG feel. This fusion of two of my favourite series should be a dream come true, but did the full game live up to my expectations?
The aforementioned storyline is fairly typical JRPG fare. The backstory concerns a world called Heryon torn apart by a war with a robotic alien force. This ongoing war reached its zenith when a fatal disease called the Corrosion was released by the invaders, threatening all life on Heryon. In order to combat the Corrosion, an idealistic young soldier and his priestess sister must go on a quest to find the rumoured cure and save Heryon from destruction. Add in the usual ingredients of mysterious prophecies, unknown destinies, and a dash of unusual alliances and betrayals and you have all the makings of an epic journey. The combination of magical crystals and alien robots make this a pretty obvious mix of its influences, but it does manage to create a world that just about stands on its own.
Edge of Eternity looks pretty good in action. While not as polished as games made by much bigger studios, the level of detail is impressive and Midgar Studio has managed to create a world with a range of biomes that all have a distinctive look and feel. Enemy design is mostly interesting – albeit with a few reused models – and bosses in particular look great.
The lower budget is perhaps most clearly seen in the character models, especially when it comes to lip syncing and cutscenes. I’d almost prefer the cutscenes to have been in-game, as they currently draw attention to the less impressive parts of the presentation. The voice acting is fine, although the battle cries become quickly repetitive (a criticism that can be levied at the genre in general). Some of the music is superb too, with Yasunori Mitsuda of Xenoblade fame contributing.
However, exploring the world of Heryon is a mixed bag. There are vast open spaces to navigate but there isn’t a lot to do in most of these. Mobs of enemies roam around, but do not interact with each other in any way, which seems a missed opportunity. There’s hundreds of gleaming pickups sprinkled around, as well as a dizzying number of chests to open, but the rewards are largely small with an underlying crafting mechanic that feels simultaneously underdone and too reliant on grinding. Occasionally you’ll find an exceptionally powerful weapon in a chest though, so it is worth tracking these down at least. I’d also steer clear of the crafting system (and to be honest the equipment doesn’t usually match up to quest rewards) in its current state and focus on the exploration and storyline.
Navigating to quests is easy, as they’re marked clearly on the minimap and the objective tracking works well on the in-game compass. Early in the game (by JRPG standards anyway) you’ll gain a large feline mount, but this doesn’t feel much faster than travelling on foot. Even worse, the unnecessary stamina bar prevents you from running for very long and makes traversal more annoying than it should be.
Some of these niggles might be addressed in the release update, but having taken in a significant amount of the game (some 40 hours are under my belt), it’s clear that this indie studio’s ambition won’t quite match the level of polish and refinement you’d expect of a AAA production. One further annoyance is that the jump to the release version exposes some incompatibility with saves from pre-release builds.
For a large amount of the game you’ll just have the aforementioned soldier and priestess – Daryon and Selene respectively – in your party with a few others coming and going before you finally form a group of four. Managing these team members is fairly simple as they have separate weapons and armour requirements. Where things get more tactical is through the implementation of the crystal system.
All character weapons have their own skill tree which opens up as the weapon is levelled up (separately from the character’s own levels). This means that changing to a more powerful weapon entails temporarily losing your skills and spells. The crystals you equip also have unique combinations of bonuses and effects so you have to decide which to apply to which character’s weapon. There is quite a deep system here but also one that can be engaged with on a superficial level, if you are more into story than min-maxing.
Combat is a traditional turn-based affair, but one that also takes some interesting cues from strategy RPGs by having grid-based fields of play. This means that character position and movement are key to success, as well as the choice of skills and attacks. At its best this results in enjoyably tense fights, but it does also have the unfortunate side effect of making even basic grinding take longer and feel more tedious. Some kind of auto-battle would have helped here, I think. Boss fights are where the system really comes into its own as you have to tactically position your team to do optimal damage whilst avoiding powerful attacks.