Have you ever had a deal that seemed too good to be true? A deal where you could trade something you considered very low value for something that obviously has very high value? I’m talking about a deal like when Aliens offered you their tech for just a little bit of dirt? Welcome to living on the Edge of Eternity.
Genre: Action, Adventure,
Developer: Midgar Studio
Release Date: 5 Dec, 2018
Edge of Eternity started its life off on Kickstarter and has now found itself on Steam’s Early Access. Edge of Eternity is not yet finished but it is at present being actively developed. This review is being written about the current state of the game rather than its ultimate form down the road. What is in the game right now may change a bit over time as the development progresses. In fact, the game has had a few patches already which is always a good sign for an Early Access title.
Edge of Eternity is a classically styled Strategic Japanese Role-Playing Game. New entries into this genre are actually starting to get a little more uncommon as many JRPGs lately have been more Visual Novel hybrid style which are more focused on dialogue rather than gameplay or are RPG Maker based games. Edge of Eternity promises a more Open World experience where your choices in the game impact your path through the game which may allow for better replayability. While I have not finished the game yet, obviously since the Developer themselves are not finished with the game yet, I have to say I was very impressed by what I have seen so far.
The combat is turn-based with an active battle timer. Rather than being fully classically styled where one side of the screen has the enemies and the other side has your team, you are placed onto a grid. You are able to move around from grid space to grid space which will impact what you can do each turn. The act of moving itself costs you a turn so you have to be even more strategic about it. As for the action you can take, pretty much all of the classic JRPG elements can be found here. Your basic attacks, items, magic attacks, channelled magics and summons are all available. Anything that involves channelling adds an extra layer of strategy to the game as you need to figure out what are the odds you will be able to successfully cast the spell in question. Some of them target an enemy of your choice, others target a specific grid space, once selected you need to wait pretty much an entire turn before the spell casts. If the character casting is attacked, the channelling is interrupted and the player is then given their turn back to choose another action. What is usually a good idea, in this case, is either move out of melee range before channelling or to manipulate time so that all of the enemies have recently attacked before starting the channelling. This helps reduce the risk that the character will be targeted before being able to cast their powerful spell. Another interesting element is the fact that some grid spaces have special features, such as a crystal that periodically heals anyone on that grid space. Clustering your melee characters on that tile usually means they can take the enemy abuse more easily and let your ranged characters retreat further back to attack the enemy from a safer distance. There is also one other element you need to watch while in battle besides just your HP and MP, and that is your energy. Energy can be regained while staying at an inn or eating food, and it has an impact on your ability to fight properly. If you are fatigued you won’t be nearly as effective if you are more energetic. This is a system that cuts into your ability to just wander the world freely, killing any innocent creature you encounter.
In a true classic JRPG, typically you will have random unexpected encounters as you wander around. Sometimes this can lead to your party being wiped out because you were out of healing items/magic and were trying to get back to safety. Edge of Eternity, on the other hand, takes the more modern approach in that when you are roaming around on the world map you can see the enemies wandering around too. Each one appears to represent one enemy in battle. If you were to walk up and get chased by three of them, you would have three of them to contend with in battle. There is a battle rating scale that impacts your rewards, however, and I never did quite figure out how to use it to maximize my rewards. I’m sure once I get even further into the game, or as it is developed more, I will deduce the ins and outs of the system to maximize my rewards and be able to wrangle up enough enemies to ensure I maximize my benefits.
Speaking of benefits, let’s talk a little about gaining experience. In most JRPGs you gain experience points as you fight your way through the game. When you gain enough of these experience points, your character levels up and you get some statistic boosts. That holds true in Edge of Eternity as well. However, not only will your character gain experience and levels, but so will your weapons. Since character levelling up is common in these sorts of games and not much to talk about, let’s just focus on upgrading your weapons. First just using the weapon will give it experience and help it level up. It doesn’t stop there either though. You can equip gems to your weapon and unlock different gem paths which you can level that weapon up with. Once you choose a gem path, you are locked to that path until you pull those gems back out, so you are not entirely committed to whatever gem path you take. This lets you tailor your weapon however you want to, to a certain degree. If you want more physical damage, take that path, you want more magical then take that one instead. There are usually several initial paths to take to customize your weapon to your tastes. Each gem has its own stats that it can loan to the weapon.
Another interesting factoid about socketing gems is the fact some gems also grant you new spells and abilities. Once you get further into the game you will find yourself with additional weapons and gems. This allows you to tailor your weapons to the types of enemies you are fighting. Fighting monsters that are weak to fire? Equip your weapon that has fire magic socketed into it. Find yourself taking a lot of damage in an area, out of potions and no passive healing gems in sight? Equip your weapon that has healing spells socketed into it and recover your wounds in battle. You get the idea, there is a lot of tailoring you can do to your weapons. The last thing I will mention about gear, in general, is the fact that it comes in different rarities much like they do in MMORPGs. You might find a basic version of a weapon and then find various better versions of the same weapon that have different innate properties. This can be factored into how you are going to tailor your weapon to your needs. Another nifty feature that is somewhat common but often overlooked in games is that your weapons change appearance as you change weapons too.
You do wear other gear, and it can come in different rarities as well, but they don’t have the gem socketing features that weapons have. Besides just finding new weapons and gear either for sale, in chests or as spoils of battle, you can actually craft things too. As you wander around you will find nodes that let you harvest/mine from them. These kinds of games really reinforce the packrat nature most RPG players seem to fall into. I could use this super awesome potion/item right now, but I think I will need later so I better save it. Then you end up beating the game never having used that coveted item. You will be able to acquire recipes that let you take the common elements you collect and turn them into more useful things. I usually find in these sorts of games that I never have the right materials to make what I actually want when I want it, and usually have something better by the time I actually find what I need. It was sort of the same case here, but that could have been because I just did not search hard enough while exploring the land.
Speaking of exploring the land, quests are your main focus in the game. You will, in typical RPG fashion, find NPCs or bulletin boards that need your help. They typically have a golden/yellow “!” over their head to draw your attention to them and will offer you some reward if you do whatever they ask of you. There seems to be a fair amount of quests already in the game despite not being finished, and these include your customary normal ones, as well as, event-based ones that pop up from time to time. These quests mostly have you go out and do things that you probably would have done anyway, but they have a nice little bit of story/dialogue to go with them to give you a little extra motivation to go out into the world on your adventures. Eventually, you will get a mount that will help you get around a little more easily too.
The environment and character models in this game are really great looking considering the size of the team working on this game. It looks like a game that could have been made by Square Enix or another big name JRPG developer. I actually had to go double check it that it wasn’t a huge studio making this title as I found it hard to believe that it is the efforts of only nine people. The first thing that I encountered when I started the game was something I don’t actually recall ever seeing in a game before. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist in any other games as I am sure it does, but I have never actually noticed it like this before. You start out walking in a bit of a blizzard. The trees are being blown in the wind and the snow is falling. You trudge your way through the deep soft snow leaving a trail behind yourself. If you turn around and watch your own trail you will see it get reclaimed slowly and steadily by the falling blowing snow. It was definitely a fun moment when I actually started playing in the snow and making various shapes as I walked around. The nice thing about the snow too is that whoever made the snow in this game clearly understands what snow is like. If snow is kind of deep you don’t just make neat little footprints as you walk around, your legs and pant cuffs push the fallen snow as well causing you to make grooves in the drifts rather than just footprints. That was a really nice touch of realism to start the game off with. Once you seek shelter in a cave and make your way through, winter is pretty much left behind and you are into a more open field and the real game truly begins.
The character models are decent. Sure they don’t have photorealistic faces and features, but they look quite nice for a JRPG. With a little more polish once the rest of the game is finished, they could look almost as attractive as the environments they are walking around in. The weapons are not that comedically oversized, and the fact they change when you equip new ones really helps show the quality that the Developer is trying to impart to the game. The monsters are all decently featured too. The city looks fairly alive with NPCs everywhere and has interesting sights and sounds for you to enjoy as you visit. The characters you meet in the game are usually quite intriguing and have their own little bit of backstory and unique personality. If the game looks like it does right now while it is still incomplete, and I don’t have the latest and greatest video card, (my good one just broke) I can only imagine what the game will look like when it is finished and played on a more powerful system than mine. The battles are all animated nicely, each ability and move looks a bit different, including the attack animations of the enemies. As mentioned previously though, the environments are where the team seems to have really focused their efforts into making something that looks impressive.
The music, sound effects, and voice acting are all pretty well done too. While not everything is voice acted, what is voice acted is done quite well all things considered. The sound effects, although a bit repetitive, suit the game and help make the experience more enjoyable. The music couldn’t fit the genre better. It’s a wonderful soundtrack that you can tell was composed by one of the great video game composers of the genre. It all comes together into making a rather enjoyable experience. The dialogue in the game isn’t perfect yet as there are a few issues here and there, but that can be easily forgiven since it is still in Early Access. As an example, some of the dialogue issues appear to be editing errors because the text will display on the screen and not make a lot of sense at the time, but it will reappear later in the same conversation and make perfect sense then. Other times it just seems a bit awkward. I’m sure all of that will be ironed out as the game is developed.
The controls in this game and the user interface and user experience, in general, are interesting. There are improvements that could be made, but it’s actually not half bad. I used a gamepad, and the game does seem to be designed with gamepad users in mind, however, it worked pretty well when I tested it with just the keyboard and mouse. The general menu navigation can be a little tricky to get the hang of at first but it actually isn’t bad once you are used to it. For example, when you want to swap characters in the menu you press the shoulder buttons, Left or Right, but you can’t just keep scrolling if you keep pushing the same button, you have to actually push the other direction. That’s not a bad thing, but it is a little annoying. I tend to be the kind of person who presses the same button and assumes it will just keep going. Navigating the Gem Grid while levelling up the weapon was a little more challenging with the gamepad than it needed to be because sometimes there was an angled-off path next to straight-line paths. For some reason even though I would push diagonally, the game would often see it as me pushing up or sideways. That could have been a controller issue though so I won’t hold it against the game. I liked the multidrop menu system where you pushed one trigger for magic and the other for regular abilities which allowed you to have multiple quick slots for your various needs. While in the world map, the general movement controls seemed to be quite fluid and not problematic. A world map is available in the game, but I wish the area maps were more detailed. I did find myself getting a bit lost at times, but at least the quest tracker helped keep finding my way back to being on course.
Speaking of things that could be improved is the save point system. Back in the day, save points were a staple feature of these sorts of games so I get why they took that creative direction, still, I wish when you were in safe areas you could quicksave rather than having to run back to a save point. Another thing I wish was done a little differently is how channelled magic and running is handled. It can get a bit annoying when your spell gets cancelled repeatedly and you have to navigate the menu yet again to cast it. It would be nice if being attacked just set the gauge back a little bit rather than fully cancelling it. The reason why I say this is because although magic is quite powerful in comparison to a normal attack, it already takes about two turns to cast it…the first turn to select the spell and the second to wait while it channels. If it gets cancelled due to an attack, you basically threw away up to two turns. Those two turns (one of which is technically refunded) are then spent either recasting and hoping not to get targeted again or moving the character out of range. I wish that character movements were not a turn in itself, or if it was like a half turn or something along those lines instead of an entire turn. If you are fighting multiple enemies and they are in melee range, it is almost pointless to even try to cast your magic. Running, on the other hand, is a bit mixed in my opinion. JRPGs have never let you run that easily, and Edge of Eternity is no exception to that. I failed to run from a battle ten times before it actually ran. I didn’t really have a reason to need to run from the battle, I was just trying the option to see what it was like. I think a creative direction they could take is if you are surrounded by the enemy then make running more challenging if not impossible, but if there is a decent opening, running should be a little easier. Right now if you are running because you are in rough shape, you likely will die. If you are running to save time because you have to go to school/work soon, odds are it would be quicker just to fight the battle than it is to try to run from it. Plus you get the bonus of the experience and rewards too.
So, should you pick up Edge of Eternity? If you are willing to play a game that is currently incomplete but has a feature schedule posted by the Developer that outlines their plans for the future, you might just want to check it out. If you are a fan of classically styled JRPGs, especially strategic JRPGs then you will more than likely enjoy Edge of Eternity either now, or once it is complete. I usually have a hard time recommending a game that isn’t finished yet since I prefer to play it cautious due to how often Early Access and Kickstarter games fizzled out. This time I have to say what is already in the game is decent for the price they are currently asking. I could easily see a similar style game like this being sold for twice or three times as much and yet not be half the game this one has the potential to be. If the Developer plays their cards right and doesn’t start cutting corners and rushing the job, I can see a potential new series that could one day rival the current major Developers in the genre. If you are really worried that it might not ever be finished, then you may want to wait until it is fully released, however, I do think this game is going to be a sleeper hit.