"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.