If there’s one thing you can say about Edge of Eternity, it’s that it’s not lacking ambition. While most indie JRPGs tend to go for nostalgia and classic appeal, here’s one that seems to take its inspiration more from the likes of Xenoblade Chronicles as it shoots for graphical splendour, pristine, sweeping landscapes, and innovative twists on familiar mechanics. That’s a big ask for a team of 13 people, and while it never quite meets its ambitions, it takes a decent shot—in some ways, at least.
Unfortunately, it’s about as generic as it gets, narrative-wise, and in an RPG, well… that’s a big problem. A world plagued by war and disease, unlikely heroes in a mercenary and a travelling priestess—you’ve heard it all before, and heard it told far, far better. A familiar tale can work wonders with the right script and a compelling cast, but all you’ll find here is stilted dialogue, disjointed pacing, and a complete absence of any sort of personality. Poor facial animation in an otherwise gorgeous game makes an already lifeless script even more so, despite the best efforts of the voice cast.
There’s an attempt to traverse some serious subject matter: the cost of war, religious dogma, the exploitation of people’s faith by the powerful. But these ideas never break through even the most superficial layer, and somehow come across feeling both heavy-handed and like they were injected as an afterthought. Frequent attempts to lighten the mood with humour only make things worse, thanks to jokes that are cringeworthy at best, and at worst completely derail the tone, theme, and narrative flow of a game that was already struggling with those things to begin with. Story doesn’t necessarily need to be the focal point of an RPG, but it’s an important piece of the genre, and what’s on offer here is dire.
But if you can ignore all that (skip cutscene is your friend), you might find a bit more enjoyment underneath. Edge of Eternity plays to its genre roots with ATB-driven combat, but with a tactical flourish: battles play out on a hexagonal grid that you (and your enemies) can move around on, making positioning a key consideration. It’s not a full-fledged tactical RPG, with their marathon-like battles, but rather decent take on a short-form version of the same: a party of four, a handful of enemies, and a battle that’ll be over in a couple of minutes at most, but still finds depth in positional tactics that simpler turn-based systems often lack.
There are a lot of different sub-systems built on top of that base: ATB and charge-cast management, positional attacks, tile effects, ground-targeted attacks, traps, weather and day/night cycles that affect elemental properties, objects on the battlefield that you can interact with, optional objectives… It sounds like a lot when you lay it out like that, and the interplay between all these different pieces can result in some rough edges, with unlucky rolls of the dice causing momentary havoc and the occasional systemic disconnect. But more often than not, things come together well, and turn out one of the more interesting turn-based systems I’ve seen in a while. When encounters with even your bog-standard foes are generally pretty satisfying, that’s a good sign.
The tactical nature of the system means things can get a little tricky, though there are a range of options to customise the difficulty to your liking. As well as an overall battle difficulty slider (which seems to primarily affect enemy AI, from what I can tell), you can alter level sync settings so that enemies match your party’s level when there’s a level disparity, toggle the ability to save anywhere instead of just at save points, and adjust how much detail is displayed in the UI. JRPGs tend to be limited when it comes to difficulty options, so it’s nice to see so many ways to tailor the experience at both ends of the scale.
Where Edge of Eternity shines brightest, and where its influences ring most clear, is in its environments. From sprawling highland plains and lush forests to murky swamps and debris-riddled deserts, the outdoor locations in particular feel vibrant and alive. There’s a lot of attention to detail in things like foliage, that make the game’s world feel both natural and slightly alien, and there’s never a shortage of curious wonders on the horizon. It doesn’t quite have the same intricacy and sense of vertical level design that makes the maps of Xenoblade so captivating, but it mostly succeeds in striking a similar tone.
The indoor areas are much less remarkable, though. Through dingy caves to flashy sci-fi backdrops, Edge of Eternity’s dungeons struggle to leave an impact in the way that the bigger zones, with their scale and sense of place, manage to. They almost feel like an afterthought: like the game was mostly designed with big, open spaces in mind, but then late in the piece, someone remembered that RPGs tend to have dungeons and things too, and felt the need to force a few in.
Between both the impressive outdoor zones and the forgettable indoor ones, you can expect a lot of familiarity in what the game asks of you: fetch quests aplenty, a wide variety of crafting materials (most of which you’ll never use), treasures to find, and the like. The quality of the writing makes the quests a write-off for anything other than experience and tangible rewards, and the crafting systems don’t really bring much to the table. Luckily, the environments themselves are enticing enough to keep dull quest design fairly benign rather than actively annoying.
In the end, Edge of Eternity is tough to recommend—which is a real shame, because the potential and ambition here is clear. There’s some entertainment to be found in its combat system and the sense of wonder in its more impressive zones, but it’s held back by a lack of substance once the sense of wonder starts to wear off and a woeful story.
Edge of Eternity
Developer: Midgar Studio
Publisher: Dear Villagers
Platforms: PlayStation 5 (reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch (cloud), PC
Release date: 10 February 2022 (PlayStation, Xbox); 23 February 2022 (Switch); 8 June 2021 (PC)
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.