Edge of Eternity
Hands-On Preview - Chapter II
"...I remain convinced that [Edge of Eternity] is a labor of love for Midgar Studio, and that's probably the best state an ambitious early access game like this could hope to be in."

In March, three months after launching Edge of Eternity on early access, indie developer Midgar Studio gave fans the next chapter of their ambitious fantasy RPG. Subtitled as The Plains of Solna, this major patch opens up a wide new area for players to explore, introduces the game's first mount, adds a new party member, and of course, continues the story of siblings Daryon and Selene as they search for a cure to the deadly Corrosion. That sounds like a lot, but this is a relatively short addition that will take players roughly five hours to complete, though there is some new side content that can slightly lengthen the experience.

My biggest concern with Chapter II is that the main plot feels just a bit stagnant. You're introduced to an old rival of Selene's, attend to a crisis in a local mine, acquire a mount and a mysterious new party member, and then deal with a sticky but swiftly resolved situation when you try to leave the area. There are definitely interesting bits of information strewn throughout, and one character makes a choice at the end of the chapter that could have consequences down the road, but it doesn't feel like the journey has moved along much, and that makes me wonder just how long the road is going to be. Midgar Studio has revealed two additional upcoming chapters thus far, but based on the current plot progress, that can't be all of it. If we can expect many chapters beyond the few we know of, then this slow pace is perfectly fine. If the remaining chapters are limited, then I worry that pacing will suffer in the long run.

The new area introduced in Chapter II is essentially an extension of the previous chapter's rolling plains. It's huge and contains a few interesting sights, but it feels perhaps too similar to the previous area. I hope that the next chapter will take us to a distinct new region, and based on the developer's roadmap, that's exactly what we have to look forward to. In the meantime, Chapter II wisely gives us a way to traverse these vast lands a little bit faster. Enter the Nekaroo, a fluffy and utterly adorable giant cat you can ride (and pet, I might add) to move around the world of Heryon with both speed and cuteness. Aside from moving quickly, you can also use Nekaroos to hunt down buried treasure, find quest items and NPCs, and even engage in somewhat ungainly time trial races. I do wish that you couldn't aggro enemies or initiate battle when riding your Nekaroo, but it's not a dealbreaker by any means.

The other major feature in Chapter II is the lighthouse, a mysterious tower inexplicably located in the middle of the new landmass that is overrun by spectral monsters. This completely optional dungeon will eventually contain 100 procedurally generated floors for you to fight your way through, with enemies gradually becoming more dangerous and minibosses thrown in every once in a while to spice things up. Right now, only the first ten floors are accessible, but more will be added in future patches. I appreciate the attempt to give players something else to do besides main story and side quests, and the roguelike structure of the lighthouse has potential, but the experience at present is boring and often frustrating. Even though they are randomly generated, floors lack variety and visual appeal: each one is just a series of cramped, monotone hallways in a few different configurations, and they're not even interesting to look at. Enemies preternaturally aggro you even if you are overleveled, and because of the tight quarters, it's virtually impossible to avoid them. Which means you're going to be fighting most of the enemies on a given floor even if you don't get much of a benefit from doing so. And you'll probably go through these first ten floors a couple times for leveling purposes (the upper floors have higher level enemies than what you can find outside the lighthouse) and because the tenth-floor boss hits like a truck. Luckily, you don't lose experience or items if you die or leave the lighthouse early, but you do have to start over from floor one, so happy grinding!

As with the first chapter, it's important to remember that this game is still in early access. Character animations are still plenty awkward, I saw more than a few texture malfunctions, and performance varied wildly — though a recent patch has addressed this last point somewhat. Various mechanical systems also need to be ironed out and smoothed over, like the lighthouse dungeon, mount pathfinding, and armor drops. There's a tremendous amount of work that's been done in this game, and much more that still needs doing, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention how hard Midgar Studio has been working to improve the game since Chapter II launched. Over roughly a month-long period, there have been 15 patches for the game. Some are small and mostly comprised of bug fixes, but many address quality of life issues and implement requested features, such as an option to customize initial character formation in battle or a retry feature for the various puzzles that dot the landscape. Edge of Eternity is still rough in a lot of places, but I remain convinced that it is a labor of love for Midgar Studio, and that's probably the best state an ambitious early access game like this could hope to be in.

Hands-On Preview - Chapter I
"Considering the size of the team and the scale of what they're trying to accomplish, Edge of Eternity is off to a very good start."

At first glance, Edge of Eternity looks very much like a AAA game you might expect from a big developer. It's incredibly pretty, with a sprawling fantasy landscape, detailed character models, and flashy visual effects. It features an ATB-inspired battle system and has music by the venerable Yasunori Mitsuda. But Edge of Eternity is not a AAA game from a well-known developer. It's an indie title made by a team of just nine people (originally only four). French-based Midgar Studio announced a Kickstarter for the game in early 2015, and nearly four years later, Edge of Eternity has entered early access, giving people the chance to play an alpha version of this ambitious project.

The game opens by recounting the war fought between the people of Heryon and a mysterious force that appeared thirty years ago in giant airships. Alongside this conflict, a terrible scourge called the Corrosion begins to infect the people and wildlife, twisting their bodies into half-organic, half-machine abominations. Daryon, a soldier in the Heryon military, learns that his mother has become infected with the Corrosion, prompting him to desert and join his sister, Selene, in the search for a cure. Their first stop is the city of Herelsor, where the pair hope they'll find Selene's old master and some clues to a possible treatment.

At the time of this preview, only one chapter is available to play, but the developer has laid out a roadmap for future chapters to be added. Thus far, the setting and conceit have caught my interest, and it certainly seems like pieces have been put in place for something that could eventually be great. But as of right now, the story is focused on introducing characters and the main quest, so it's hard to get a sense of where things might go. One thing I do like is that both Daryon and Selene seem to have their own hangups, which I imagine will come more into play as the plot develops. In true RPG fashion, there are also a smattering of side quests you can undertake, ranging from monster exterminations to dealing with a prickly question of morals. The balance of these secondary missions seems to be good so far; there's enough to give you things to do in the world of Heryon without feeling overwhelmed.

And what a world Heryon is! The area you start the game in is linear, but when you get to the plains outside of Herelsor, things open up. Much like the Bionis' Leg in Xenoblade, this area is huge and full of greenery that sways in the wind and reacts as you move around. Landmarks are visible in the distance, day turns into night (and vice versa) as you travel, and there are even changing weather patterns. The art design is also quite often striking, with islands floating in the distance, globules of glowing light that hang from trees, and a giant planetoid that is visible in the atmosphere no matter the time of day. The scale and ambition of it all is incredibly impressive for a nine-person team, especially when you remember that this is just one area in a game that will eventually have many locales to explore.

As you run around the vast landscape, you'll of course run into various monsters. At first, battles appear to progress in a very standard turn-based fashion. Every participant has an ATB bar that, when full, allows them to take their turn, during which they can do things like attack, cast magic, or use items. However, after a few fights, you're introduced to the Nexus Grid — a series of hexagonal spaces that cover the entire battlefield. Instead of performing an action, characters can move to adjacent space, which can be useful for avoiding attacks, getting in range of enemies, or even taking advantage of various battlefield effects, such as a giant green crystal that heals everyone standing in its space by a small amount each turn. There are risks to moving too: characters will end their turn facing the direction they ran to enter the space, and if an enemy manages to attack from behind, it's an instant critical hit. This adds some strategy to combat and helps Edge of Eternity distinguish itself a little from the classic JRPGs it pays homage to.

The game isn't without problems, of course. Spelling errors abound, characters animate very stiffly, assets pop in during cutscenes, and the camera tends to be unruly during combat — to name just a few. This is an alpha version, after all, so it's to be expected that there are bugs and performance issues that need to be smoothed out. Midgar Studio's roadmap for early access includes regular patches to fix glitches and make adjustments based on player feedback, and I imagine that future builds of the game will offer significant improvements.

Considering the size of the team and the scale of what they're trying to accomplish, Edge of Eternity is off to a very good start. I look forward to seeing what future chapters bring to the story, and I am eager to explore more of the world of Heryon.

© 2019 Playdius, Midgar Studio. All rights reserved.