Earthlock, a turn-based RPG by Snowcastle Games, caught my attention with its free demo on the Nintendo Switch. I found the game during a time when I was looking for something to play after finishing a big title in the form of Okami HD. The demo turned out to be a meatier experience than I ever anticipated, introducing many of the mechanisms that make Earthlock tick. It showcases a significant amount of the game’s opening, and at the end I found myself wanting more. Fortunately, the amazing crew at Snowcastle Games gave me the opportunity to experience more by providing me a key for the game! It is thanks to their generosity that, at the time of this writing, I’m around 55% through the game’s story and have experienced a solid chunk of what Earthlock has to offer. Enough that I am now in a position to pass down what I’ve learned so far to those who are just beginning their own journey through the game.
Earthlock has many elements that will feel familiar to players of other turn-based RPG series like Final Fantasy or Bravely Default. Even with that familiarity, though, these features are utilized in unique ways that prevent the game from feeling like a simple clone. Learning how to utilize those unique features effectively can greatly enhance your performance in the game, so my goal in this article is to communicate some of the tricks that I had to learn the hard way so you don’t have to! Such as never, ever going to Franir’s Lair until you have a quest for it.
By the way, this guide will most certainly have mechanical spoilers, but I’ll try to avoid story spoilers as best as I can. If I reference specific boss battles or locations in the game, I’ll describe them in vague terms to avoid revealing any of the game’s secrets.
Let’s start with amri, the energy you spend to use abilities. Most basic abilities use only one amri, while more powerful attacks can use two, three – at this point I’ve seen as high as four, and there may be more after that as well. If you stick to your basic moves, your amri will run indefinitely – you get one back at the beginning of your turn, and basic abilities only cost one, so you’re never in a situation where a character simply can’t do anything. However, it can be pretty frustrating when a character who spends two amri frequently – such as Gnart or Taika – runs out of amri on a regular basis. This is particularly aggravating because the action to restore amri, Rest, has no other beneficial effect. A little bit of healing or, even better, combining the move with a Defend action such as in Bravely Default, would make resting a lot more viable. As it stands, spending a turn just to regenerate amri feels like a waste, and it’s a spot you don’t want to find yourself in.
So how do you improve your amri stores? The simplest way is by leveling up. In my experience so far, my amri went up around level nine or ten, and again around level fifteen. If you’re close to those levels, it might be worthwhile to grind for a moment or two to grab the extra amri before your next big encounter. There’s also a perk talent for amri called Energizing that I have found to be a huge gamechanger. You obtain this talent after the boss battle at Nomad’s Hoist, and once I discovered the usefulness of it I made it my mission to craft as many as possible. Energizing gives you a 25% chance to recover one amri whenever you use an ability – this means that when the talent activates, you actually gain an amri when using basic abilities and you don’t lose any when using moves that cost two. This talent made a huge difference in my amri stores, and once I put it on my whole party I almost never had to worry about Resting again. There was a clear, notable difference between characters with Energizing equipped and those without it. If you’re concerned about amri, this is the way to address that concern, hands down.
Now all of that is well and good, but what if you’re in the middle of a battle and can’t rearrange your talents? Resting may be the best way to recover all of your amri quickly – you get one for resting and then recover a second one at the beginning of your next turn – but if you’re in a situation where burning a character’s turn could mean life or death, consider using an item instead. Items don’t cost amri, so often when I needed to restore amri on a character like Taika or Gnart, I’d bust out a healing balm and slap it on someone who was struggling with their health. This is particularly valuable to know for Gnart, who you’ll likely be using as your party healer for most of the game. In situations where he couldn’t cast Regen, he often felt useless to me – using an item takes the edge off. He can use his turn to both heal someone and recover one of his amri points so that he can use his abilities again the next round. And this strategy works for any character – while there are some situations where Rest is more viable because you want to recover lots of amri, in my experience using an item to make sure that turn was still useful always trumped the Rest ability.
Speaking of items, let’s spend a little bit of time talking about your primary source of items in the game: Plumpet Island. You unlock this location after your first major boss encounter (if you’re starting with the demo, the last thing you’ll do before the demo ends is explore the island). Plumpet Island is your home base or hub – you’ll return here frequently to perform helpful activities like crafting talents or restocking your ammunition. What makes Plumpet Island special is that it serves as your main source of economic grinding for Earthlock.
In most turn-based RPGs, the reward cycle goes like this: you fight bad guys to get money to buy better stuff to fight stronger bad guys to get more money. On and on until you beat the game. Earthlock does have that cycle to a small degree – you still get money from encounters. However, that process is slower and less lucrative than selling items on Plumpet Island. You see, on the island is a garden where you can grow plants that create crafting materials for you. These materials are turned into either ammunition or potions. Now you have to “wait” for the plants to grow in order to harvest materials from them again, but we’re not talking a day long wait like you might see for berries in Pokemon. Most plants will be ready to harvest again somewhere around twenty to thirty seconds, and the more you harvest from them the more supplies they grant. At its highest level, any plant will give 10 of the material it offers.
Now these materials may seem to sell for a low price – 2 dalers (ha!) for the better materials – but think about how quickly you can harvest them. If a plant yields materials every thirty seconds in sets of ten, then after three minutes you already have enough materials to sell for 120 dalers just off of one plant. Now if you have five plants producing at that rate, you’re up to 600 dalers in just three minutes of watching your garden and harvesting when the plants are ready. This is a great pace for making money, and since the materials you harvest from plants are infinite, you’re not wasting a limited resource.
I didn’t recognize just how significant your time on Plumpet Island could be until I faced a particularly difficult boss against whom I found myself needing lots of potions. My inventory of Healing Balms was quite light, and I suddenly found myself wondering where in the world I was supposed to get more of them. Earthlock’s world is barren in the sense that there aren’t nearly as many towns or communities as you might see in another game. Shopping is a rare occurrence, and most enemies drop crafting materials rather than consumables. It was only when I truly needed potions that I realized just how easy it is to get them.
My typical visit to Plumpet Island goes like this: I immediately check and see what talents I can craft based on the materials I’ve gathered during my journey. If I need any blank talents or any purchaseable crafting materials, I pick them up from the shop on the island. Once that’s done, I head to the garden and start harvesting. I identify how much I want to resupply – how much ammo do I want to be carrying, how many potions do I want in my inventory, etc. – and routinely make trips to the Farmoury to slowly work towards that number. If I run out of Jars of Water for brewing potions, I spend a few minutes selling some of my materials (generally spuds, which I always have in abundance) and buy more jars from the island shop. Once I have all of my supplies to the levels I want them, I return to the game. This is a short process that’s quite easy to do while doing another activity such as listening to music or watching a Let’s Play. If you enjoy farming sims like Harvest Moon or Stardew Valley, the activities on Plumpet Island have that same low stakes, relaxing atmosphere.
Of course, you can’t stay on the relaxing island forever. Eventually adventure will call you back out into the world, and once you’re there combat is around every corner. I hit two points in the game where a significant amount of grinding appeared to be necessary. Each one came when a new character joined the party at significantly lower levels than the rest of my group. Their low level combined with not having any bonds put them in a situation where they had very few talents equipped, and the disadvantage was obvious when trying to use them in combat. Luckily, grinding in Earthlock can go pretty quickly compared to other titles if you choose your methods wisely.
The early game does a good job of teaching you that the key to gaining lots of experience is to fight as many enemies as possible at once. However, you’ll learn that doing so is tricky in a number of areas. Many of the areas with stronger enemies to face are narrow passageways where you’re lucky to get two or three foes at a time. While your experience from other games may tell you that stronger foes means more experience, training in these narrow buildings or caves will ultimately be slow going. It’s better to train in the overworld, open areas where you can spawn and then draw in enemies in groups of five, six, even eight or nine foes at once.
My preferred area for this is the burning desert. There are two flowers that grow in the overworld here that are beneficial to grinding. One is the wisdom root, which increases the EXP you earn in battle. The other is the friendship bell, which increases the rate at which your bonds increase. Have Gnart pick a couple of these and then draw in a bunch of enemies, and your characters will grow both in level and in bond in leaps and bounds. Increasing levels is valuable for growing your amount of amri, but the real meat of increasing your power lies in talent points, so remember to focus on your bonds during this time as well.
The best way to grow bonds, especially for new characters to the party, is to switch your pairs frequently. While you may have a certain combination of characters who you want to gain their high level bond abilities quickly, that’s not the quickest way to earn talent points for your party members. Talent points are essential to increasing your stats, gaining abilities, and equipping valuable perks, so I recommend prioritizing talent point bonds over other types whenever possible. When I got a new character into the party, I raised them to a level one bond with every other party member and then picked someone to work up to level three. I also tried to get everyone to level three before working anyone to level five, as those early bond levels are accrued much faster and so give you talent points quicker.
THE TALENT BOARD
While increasing your level can be helpful over time, the true key to character improvement in Earthlock is the talent board. The combination of stat talents, perk talents, and ability talents is what makes a character unique and helps them to perform to the best of their ability. Which talents you prioritize depends a lot on the talents that you have available to you, as talents are acrrued by making progress in the game. Too much grinding will put you into a position where you have talent points to spend but no talents to fill the slots – if you start running into that problem, that’s a good sign that you might have leveled more than you needed for the point of the game you are at.
One of the most important considerations in my talent decisions lie with perk talents. Perk talents give helpful passive bonuses, such as the Energizing talent that I described a few paragraphs ago. Talents like Quickstep (which allows you to change stances more quickly) or Double Turn (which gives you a second consecutive action on your next turn when you dodge an attack) can make a character feel as if they are improving in leaps and bounds. However, while perk talent slots can be valuable, you don’t want to focus exclusively on them. Perk talents don’t improve your stats, and since they are mainly gained after defeating bosses, I found myself in a situation where my stats were a bit low because I filled up on supportive perk talents like Earth Master. This talent isn’t nearly as essential as others, but I chose it to unlock perk slots for when I did have a better talent I wanted to put there. While this is a viable strategy, talent points aren’t so hard to come by that this approach is truly necessary. You should equip talents based on what you need in the moment, not in preparation for future acquisitions.
When equipping stat talents, pay particular attention to what you’re actually increasing. In my case, I ran into an issue in the game where I was having a hard time with certain characters taking too few actions during combat. It seemed like all of my other party members got two turns to their one, and it was a frustrating problem to have. I tried exchanging some other talents on their board for agility talents, thinking that agility equated to a higher speed stat. In reality, while agility does raise speed by a small amount, it actually is not the best talent to use when trying to increase speed. The armor and resilience talents actually give a higher speed bonus than agility – agility’s true focus is on the evasion stat. If you have a slow character you want to make faster, choose which defense they are lacking the most and load up on the talent that bolsters that defense. Their speed will go up along with it, killing two birds with one stone.
PRECISION AND EVASION
I want to talk about two stats which work in a unique way in Earthlock compared to other RPGs I have played – precision and evasion. In most turn-based RPGs, the chances of an attack missing are pretty low and abilities which have a significant impact on accuracy or dodge don’t matter much. In Earthlock, though, there’s a mechanism where inaccurate attacks are not only more likely to miss, but also more likely to inflict glancing damage. When an attack glances off of an opponent, it only does a minimal amount of damage – it isn’t quite as bad as missing, but it’s close. Characters with low precision will frequently lose most of the damage off of their attacks because of glancing blows. Of course, you can use this to your advantage by using abilities which give your characters high evasion, not only increasing their chances of dodging entirely but increasing the likelihood that an enemy attack will only be glancing.
Evasion gains even more significance when you gain access to the Double Turn talent. This perk makes it so that when your character dodges an attack, they gain a beneficial status which causes them to act twice on their next turn. Having a character act twice consecutively is a huge advantage, so having high evasion goes from a pleasant side effect to a top priority in your stats. I fully recommend combining Double Turn with abilities that grant evasion bonuses such as Adrenaline Rush or Trip Wire.
Double Turn also pairs well with another perk talent called It’s a KO. You gain this talent from a quest in which you hunt the name tags from ghosts that roam the world. For every 25 ghost tags you collect and turn in, you gain another copy of the It’s a KO talent. This talent gives you a beneficial status called “crit guarantee” whenever you kill an enemy, and it does what it sounds like: it guarantees that your next attack will be a critical hit. Imagine a scenario where you dodge an attack and gain Double Turn, finish off one opponent to get a Crit Guarantee, and then use that critical to take down another opponent from full health. The great thing about this talent is that it chains, so if you get a kill with your guaranteed critical hit, you’ll get another guaranteed critical hit for your next attack. I fully recommend taking the time to collect ghost tags so that you can equip your full battle party with this talent – it may not have a lot of value against bosses, but in combat against multiple enemies it is essential to maintaining momentum.
Earthlock is a fun RPG with lots of interesting mechanics to engage with. From filling your talent board to grooming your garden on Plumpet Island, the game offers lots of different experiences and rewards experimentation with each of them. My hope is that these tips will allow you to enjoy the game to its fullest, and that learning these lessons from me will prevent you from having to learn them from a failed boss battle. If you have a question that wasn’t answered by this guide, let me know in the comments below and if I know how to help you, I certainly will!