Caught in the excitement for Final Fantasy VII Remake, we can easily forget that, once upon a time, the Final Fantasy series was known for brand new worlds in each entry. Turn based battles, chocobos and airships remained, but each game brought uncharted new stories with characters we never met who, hopefully, would find their way into our hearts.
Though the road to Final Fantasy XVI will be a long and arduous one, plenty of developers other than Square Enix are working on turn-based RPGs. One of these developers, Midgar Studio, a nine-person indie team, took to Kickstarter in 2015 for its heavily Final Fantasy-inspired Edge of Eternity. The game has been wowing early-access players for years, and as part of press for the new prologue added recently, OnlySP was given the opportunity to check it out.
If one relies simply on the preview coverage, Edge of Eternity appears perhaps too eager to ape the post-VII era of Final Fantasy. From crystals galore and floating islands to the protagonist’s gelled hair and impractically large sword. Actually playing the game, however, reveals an incredibly professional and high-fidelity ode to the classic JRPGs, particularly for such a small indie team.
The new prologue chapter tells a straightforward if wordy setup: Heryon is a fantasy world upended by the arrival of the benevolent sci-fi race of Archelites, who—for admittedly poorly explained reasons—promptly turn on their new friends, beginning a decades-long war.
Just when the people of Heryon were winning, the Archelites unleashed “the Corrosion,” a disease that subverts and corrupts the very flesh. (Do yourself a favour and ignore the fact that a race with spaceships would have far quicker and more destructive means of winning a war of this kind).
The main character Daryon starts as a soldier, but a complicated scenario involving the requisite Suspiciously Magical Church forces him to return home. Luckily, his sister Selene has heard tell of a cure to the Corrosion—together, they set out across Heryon to track it down.
And what a world Heryon is. Rather than the tiled or isometric worlds of 1990s RPGs (an approach many other Kickstarter successes have implemented, from Earthlock to Battle Chasers)—Edge of Eternity takes place on a field heavily inspired by the Xenoblade games, with creative xenobiological creatures frolicking freely across wide open scenery that can take many minutes to cross from one side to the other.
Midgar Studio’s biggest achievement here is by far the visual flair. Even in its unfinished early access state, these field areas are exciting to behold, and the music by Yasunori Mitsuda helps complete the impression of a genuine JRPG experience. What is less exciting is actually traversing such areas. Though Daryon can dash, he lacks any of the movement options that other recent open-style JRPGs have incorporated.
The world may resemble the living fields of a Xenoblade or Final Fantasy XV, but in practice, crossing the many rolling hills and dashing around arbitrary ridges in the ground more closely resembles the experience of Gran Pulse or the Calm Lands from Final Fantasy XIII and X respectively.
Still, the variety in these field zones—inns, farms, harvestable materials, ancient puzzle devices—provides an MMO-esque baseline of activities that keep Edge of Eternity‘s adventure from ever feeling properly dull. Your mileage may vary, though, with regard to how “padded” these sidequests make the game feel.
Despite visible enemies and plenty of interesting features throughout the fields and dungeons of the game, its battle system is superficially quite traditional. The newly added prologue sequence and subsequent dungeon act as a tutorial to instruct players on the battle system, as well as to establish some heroes and villains before the main adventure begins.
Edge of Eternity uses a single-segment, pre-Final Fantasy X, ‘wait’ style of Active Time Battle (ATB), including a pause when characters’ action bars fill and abilities that require extra casting time. Some of, though not all, the abilities with charge time can be interrupted, and a light taunt/threat mechanic appears to be present across character classes, but the game leaves these details unaddressed through the tutorial.
Here, some of the first real issues emerge. The ‘tactical’ element of battle concerns a hex grid where each cell plays host to multiple combatants. On this grid, units can move one cell at a time once their ATB fills up. Along with this enormous time penalty, the player has no way to choose the direction characters are facing, often leaving characters’ backs exposed until they attack or perform some other action that changes their direction again.
Additional twists on the classic ATB include objects, visible out in the field, that also play on these hex grids. If the player attacks three field mobs whilst walking past a discarded ballista, that ballista appears in-battle and can be activated by a player character as a special attack. These creative battle mechanics, along with non-battle puzzle sections that also play out on the hex grid, promise some interesting dungeon interactions as the game goes on.
This system has a complementary frustration, however. At least for the first few hours, these mechanics are not made to coalesce into the kind of crunchy decision machine that big RPG nerds would enjoy. Moving around, facing direction, and even battlefield objects like ballistas are all features that play out as twists on a standard Final Fantasy game—not components of a deep tactical-RPG.
Ultimately, such limits are bound to unfurl into a more complex system over the course of the game; and one only hopes they do not take the multiple dozens of hours that Final Fantasy XIII did. As of the early encounters, they are easy without being boring.
I can see myself becoming absorbed into the world of Edge of Eternity, especially as the little glitches and quality of life issues are ironed out over the course of development. Despite a very Dragon Age: Inquisition-like density of collectibles and padding in the open areas, the game’s soul is pure JRPG, and with epic-scale adventures, having so much to do is not necessarily a bad thing.
If the wait for a brand new world of crystals, airships and turn-based battles has you chafing, Edge of Eternity looks to provide an ambitious, generously entertaining experience to tide you over until Final Fantasy finally leaves behind Midgar—and if you can handle some development jank or a few mistranslated voice lines, you can play it on PC right now.