Every time I turn around, it feels like an RPG I need tomake time for is on the horizon. At times this can be overwhelming, especiallyconsidering the time commitment, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. The onlyway the genre gets better is for developers – big and small – to try newthings; the more variety we have, the more opportunities there are to draw newplayers into the genre and help it prosper. One of my goals with this columnhas been to talk about a wide array of games. That means touching on everythingfrom the triple-A juggernauts to the smaller gems you might not know much about.Today’s column focuses on the latter – three upcoming games that as an RPG fanyou should have on your radar. These titles are coming out in the very nearfuture, and they also have one more thing in common – they’re all sticking withthe tried-and-true turn-based battle system and doing interesting things withit.
Earthlock: Festival of Magic (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, WiiU, PC)
Release: September 1 (PC, Xbox One) (PS4, Wii U TBD)
I first came across Earthlock when I was at a Microsoftevent at GDC a few years ago. I was so intrigued by it, I immediately added itto our best indie games of GDC that year. The small team at Snowcastle Games iscomprised of developers who worked at Ubisoft, LucasArts, and Rockstar North.They’ve all come together for this passion project with one goal: to create anRPG they’d want to play themselves. Earthlock is inspired by the classic RPGsthey played growing up and the team wants to put their own stamp on the genre.The art style and story are inspired by its Scandinavian origin (the studio islocated in Oslo, Norway).
In Earthlock, the world of Umbra is in trouble. It’s stoppedspinning, leaving half in darkness, half in light. To get to the bottom ofthings, a group of unlikely heroes band together. I played a beta buildrecently, and the colorful world and turn-based battle system were my favoriteparts.
During my demo, I swapped between two different characters’stories, got introduced to two party members (one was called a hogbunny andlooked the part!), and made my way through areas such as a moldering swamp, acreepy mansion, and an ancient temple. The adventure begins with Amon, a desertscavenger searching for relics to sell, finding an artifact he wants to learnmore about. You also meet Ive, who you can to swap to at any point laterin the game. She has a royal upbringing and is joined by stormdog, Taika, whoresembles a tiger.
Earthlock has a lot of interesting systems at play. Firstoff, in battles, you swap between two different stances, which give you accessto different abilities (swapping costs one turn). Once you build up attacks,you can unleash specials, which do deadly damage or heal up your party. Everycharacter has their own abilities and a talent tree where you can customizetheir skill sets. In addition, by pairing certain characters together you increasetheir bonds, lending you combat perks, such as making abilities morepowerful. As you can see, you have a lot of control, and the battle systemconstantly keeps you on your toes.
I enjoyed experimenting with my characters’ abilities,especially since attacks have different damage types, such as exploding,slashing, and piercing. Finding out what is most effective against certainbaddies can be make-or-break. And just when I thought I was out of systems tomaster, the game lets you harvest your own ammo with the seeds you find in theworld, which provide elemental perks. I only found two party members during mytrek, so I’ll be interested to see how the game changes once you get a biggerparty and can experiment with even more battle skills.
For more on Earthlock: Festival of Magic, check out the official site.
Cosmic Star Heroine (PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, PC)
Release: Late summer, early fall
I’ve played a few demos of Cosmic Star Heroine throughoutits development, and it just keeps getting better. For those not in the know,this is the most recent game by Zeboyd Games, the developer of Cthulhu Savesthe World and episodes three and four of Penny Arcade Adventures: On theRain-Slick Precipice of Darkness. This is Zeboyd Games’ most ambitious projectyet, and Cosmic Star Heroine feels like the game the two-man team was destinedto make as hardcore RPG fans. The team cites Chrono Trigger, Phantasy Star, andSuikoden as inspirations, and you can see that in its many features, such ascharacter combo techniques and building up your own spy headquarters. The 2Dgraphics and overall style also evoke a nostalgic, 16-bit feeling.
The story follows Alyssa L’Salle, who uncovers a governmentconspiracy. The government fires back by outing the legendary spy to thepublic, meaning every enemy now has her on their radar. When you begin thegame, she’s tasked with destroying potentially dangerous materials near anold research facility, where terrorist activity has been detected. Alyssa soonwitnesses the terrorist team being murdered, but not by anything human. Zeboydsaid it was influenced by sci-fi films such as Blade Runner and Alien, so youcan only imagine what Alyssa will be up against.
The battle system has been the star of every demo I’veplayed. It allows for a lot of strategy and room for experimentation. Mostabilities only have one use and then must be recharged. It makes every turnmatter. Do you get rid of all your abilities before recharging, or do youprioritize recharging immediately after using one the enemy is most weakto? That doesn’t even consider if you should spend a turn buffing to deal moredamage the next. Characters also have some nifty skills at their disposal. Forinstance, one character can use a turn to make an attack hit multiple enemies,while another skill lets her repeat her last turn without recharging. As youbattle, you fill a gauge, which, once filled, activates hyper mode. This dealsdouble damage and ailments are more likely to be inflicted. I thought about mymoves and enjoyed discovering the fastest ways to take down enemies.
I haven’t been able to test it out or see it in a demo yet,but I’m most excited to recruit party members and build up my own headquarters. Zeboyd Games discussed this feature more on a blog post, saying,there should be around 20-25 characters to recruit. The more people you bring in,the more rooms you open in your base, which has three main floors and twosmaller floors. Yes, if you’re a Suikoden fan, this should scratch that itch.
To learn more about Cosmic Star Heroine, check out Zeboyd Games’ official site.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II (PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita)
If you’ve read my review of the first game, or seen myenthusiasm for it on Twitter, you know by now that I’m a big fan of Trails ofCold Steel. It may not have flashy graphics or the best environments, but itsPersona-like school and social structure alongside the intriguing political warfarestoryline more than make up for it. If you haven’t played the first game, youmust, especially since the next entry in the trilogy is set for a fall release.Your save data from the first game carries over to Trails of Cold Steel II,meaning the bonds you formed in the first game won’t be forgotten. Differentcutscenes appear depending on who you cozied up to, and characters alsoreference past conversations. NPCs that you helped will also remember yourefforts.
I’ve played a few hours of the second entry, and it answersa lot of lingering questions from the first game almost immediately. That beingsaid, there’s also lots of twists and surprises in store, and plenty ofcharacters facing their own inner demons. At the start of the game, protagonistRean and all of his classmates are separated, so you’re spending your firsthours trying to figure out what has changed since the events of the first gameand where you can find your classmates. This offers the opportunity forcharacters who had minor roles in the last game to join Rean in battle, such ashis sister Elise and mercenary Toval. I won’t spoil much beyond saying that thecivil war is continuing to heat up and bigger threats are looming.
The turn-based combat system remains mostly the same, whichis fine by me. I love the variety it offers for every turn, with magic, specialattacks, and the linked characters and randomized turn bonuses. Cold Steel IIadds a new overdrive mode, which allows linked characters to act uninterruptedfor a set amount of turns. It also comes with the handy perk of of fullyrestoring HP, EP for magic, and CP for specials along with clearing all statusabnormalities. You also engage in giant robot battles, which we got our firsttaste of at the end of the last game. This series just does so many thingsright, from epic battles to character interactions. I grew to love Class VIIand can’t wait to see how they face new dilemmas.
To learn more, visit the official site.
I have a feeling we’ll have a lot to talk about in thecoming months with so many games on the horizon. It’s one thing to anticipatethem, it’s another thing to experience them and discuss our journeys.Hopefully, one of these games caught your eye. Until next time, grind on!
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