This week marks a month of me spending time in Midgar Studio’s Edge of Eternity. I’m here to report that this ambitious love letter to JRPG’s by a 13-person crew is — like many a love letter — just a little too ambitious.
The adventures of brother and sister team Daryon and Selene to save their mother from illness, save their world from destruction at the hands of a much-evolved race or robots and stop both a church and a literal god from obtaining total power was just too much. Since I’ve completed the game about a week ago, I’ve felt unfulfilled with how this game’s story unfolds in that I still don’t feel close enough to anyone or anything present to keep this in my mind long enough.
Let’s start these updated impressions with a positive: The ongoing edits to Edge of Eternity’s support of Nvidia’s deep learning super sampling [DLSS] is just astounding. The environments of Heryon come to the sort of life you expect from a modern JRPG with an impressively low system taxing.
On my six-month-old 3060 Ti, I was able to boost DLSS and all other video settings and push out 145 frames steady at 2K. I know that DLSS is intended to function best for boosting native 4K, but I’ve found that it’s given a new pop to foliage and infrastructure.
I’m still on the grid
The other area from which I derive pure enjoyment is the battle system. While the camera is still horrendous and there are more than a few pop-ins and bugs, I really love the way the need to navigate a battle grid to emerge victoriously. While I will admit that it can feel mighty annoying to have a low-level enemy move away from you and thus prolong the battle. But the excitement of cornering big boys with my brawlers while Selene cooks up a spell could in future be enough to pull me back in.
Still, we’re standing like statues
While the current build of Edge of Eternity greatly improves upon several issues I had in my initial impressions, like mouth flaps and characters appearing lifeless in cutscenes, I still believe that characters are just a tad unshapely and unrefined.
Considering that this is a game populated by models generated using Unity itself and not an external shader or blender, they aren’t the worst I’ve seen before. However, several characters throughout — main characters included — come off seemingly like my old pal Gumby.
Nothing’s normal anymore, but please normalize
An evolving issue I encountered in progressing through Edge of Eternity is the state of the audio mastering in this game. I work in transcribing and occasionally in audio production, so I am almost always listening to how people have paid mind to balance and normalizing audio. And during my time in the land of Heryon, I’ve heard more than a few issues.
I couldn’t get over the moments where villagers standing right next to our heroes sounded a million miles away by production virtue of the fact that they were likely recorded in a different acoustic setting or with different equipment. In fights, Daryon [Micah Solusod] will often come ripping through my headphones while Selene [Aryn Rozelle] often feels much quieter, which is fine considering there is a vast difference in the two’s vocal cadence and vocal timbre, but some focus on normalizing and adding gains on levels would go a long way.
Worry and woe going forward
I ended my previous impressions asking you to consider that Edge of Eternity is still very much a work-in-progress with a community standing behind its small team of developers. I’ll end this review with a new set of worries stemming from the initial Steam impressions, which have plummeted quite heavily over the past couple of weeks — as has the game’s overall cost.
Midgar Studio reports that they are still hard at work implementing fixes based on the feedback from the latest patch released on June 14th, so there’s still lots of hope that they can keep people coming back, but it’s hard to keep a community-engaged once a game has left Early Access — there are simply too many other games out there to keep us busy!
Full review below:
Editor’s note: The “Day One” patch, which came out after completion of this review, greatly improves many aspects discussed in the following paragraphs. The review was done on an earlier “Press” build.
While it’s not the most refined or original JRPG experience you could be having in the spring of 2021, Midgar StudiosEdge of Eternityis 100% what could expect to get in terms of an homage to classic JRPGs made by a studio of just 13 developers from the south of France.
It’s very much an honest love letter to the tropes from early gaming and anime we’ve come to love. One that promises that you can “follow Daryon and Selene on their quest to find a cure to the all-consuming Corrosion in a grand tale of hope and sacrifice.”
The problem is that I’m 10 hours in at the time of this review, and it’s hard to say that what we’re getting.
Suffer the Corrosion… of the story
The thing I am struggling the most with in terms of Edge of Eternity is its story.
In the first hour of the game, you are introduced to a plague that our main character, Daryon’s, mom has contracted, known as “Corrosion” — an illness that consumes the body in a blight complete with great pain until they die. The Corrosion comes from an alien race of robots who are out to annex planets and have set their sites on ours. There are whispers of a new, more potent version of Corrosion that turns people aggressive fast that you are introduced to… well, kind of fast. Oh, and did I mention an unexplained god and a church is acting as the last line of defence — which also may be a death cult?
I also knew the way things were going when I was introduced to Daryon through a comment from one of his fellow soldiers about his brooding and his love of oversized swords.
It’s a lot! It’s also abundantly clear that this game is a love letter to the JRPG genre, but it promises that it has enough levity and comedy to also make it enjoyable. And I’ve seen that firsthand. One of my favourite parts of the game up to this point has been finding the graves of NPC’s around the map, as they often come with jokes like, “Perghan’s greatest fear was being buried alive, so we whacked his corpse real good to make sure it was dead. His ever-loving family.”
There are serious problems with the story, though. And I’m going to try and break these down despite feeling as though through my 10 hours of a playthrough, I am a little in the dark.
Through 10 hours of gameplay in a five-act story, I’ve only reached act three. And in doing so, I’ve come to the first story development outside of the opening hour of the game.
The contents of act one and act two have felt like an hour-long long guided tutorial where I’ve done several seemingly insignificant hunting and fetching quests for NPCs who could exist in any JRPG story. Thus, I’m struggling with how much of a lack of exposition there is present in the story of this game.
There’s also not a compendium for information at this time, which is a problem because Edge of Eternity isn’t particularly good at explaining anything about the world or its inhabitants. Replaying Mass Effect has reminded me about how good world-building and story direction can be when you take the time to focus on it.
Edge of Eternity suffers greatly for its surface-level characterization.
Daryon is a stand-out here. Funimation veteran Micah Solusod [Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection ‘F’, Soul Eater and Free] deserves high praise for bringing another run-of-the-mill soldier to life with a great deal of inflection. Sadly, that amazing performance bounces off of Aryn Rozelle’s Selene and other characters. There’s a great disparity in inflection and even in overall levels with lots of little distortions and hiccups.
In a JRPG like this, where a bond is front and centre, I expect to feel something between the individuals. Off the top of my head, I’ll pull Violet and Laphicet from Tales of Berseria. The two of them share a deep familial respect, but they also educate one another.
Daryon and Selene are going on a joint quest to find a cure for their mother — one that will become a world-saving adventure over time — but they seem to be worlds apart. Daryon and Selene very much feel like people who haven’t seen one another in eight years, as the story suggests. But my time in the game so far has done little to bring them any closer.
There are a lot of lines traded between the two as well as with NPC’s that just don’t feel like they connect. Thinking of examples from the top of my head, I ran into a battalion of guards stationed out front of the first city I came to. They were actively keeping refugees outside of the city, and when Daryon and Selene attempt to get past that blockade, a couple of the guards stop them. I found myself expecting to need to do a side quest for the guards to gain entry to the city. But instead, I got a short interaction where Selene commented along the lines of being a priestess doing priestess things, and you wouldn’t want to block priestess things now, would you, boys? And suddenly, they let her right on in. I found it a waste but hoped Daryon would chime in with some witty remark. Alas, no, things just continued.
There are also several NPC jokes and lines of dialogue that don’t appear to land in English that I feel would possibly land better in Japanese or even French. These include things that are even standard tropes, like characters being bound to marriage after a single date.
Many of the NPCs and side characters along the way just feel too much like they are begging to be fleshed out.
Edge of Eternity is Visually Stark
Speaking of flesh, let’s talk character models and how they act. I’ve gone back and watched footage of how characters look and act over the two-year development cycle, and I can appreciate so much of the growth and development that this small team has made. This isn’t a game where the hottest people in media have been recorded in motion capture studios so that a game has life-like movements and mouth-flaps. However, in my time spent with Edge of Eternity, there are just so many examples of flaps that are extremely off of synchronization.
I’ve alluded to it above, but there’s also a lack of action to characters during things like cutscenes or victory poses. The few victories pose there are, appear to you entirely static. It’s a total letdown when you’ve spent a couple of minutes in an amazingly animated battle only to be met by a still of Selene or Daryon. And even more of a letdown when you consider something like this famous pose is over 20 years old!
However, as stated in the editor’s note above, a lot has changed with the “Day One” patch, which I haven’t yet been able to really experience. I went back and played the first half-hour, and I can tell you there’s much more movement and synchronization now, though.
Grids of War
But let’s speak of combat now because it’s where Edge of Eternity thrives. While it’s prominently based on the ATB systems of later Final Fantasy games, it incorporates a tactical moment system that lets you truly play the field.
Magic covers a lot of ground and does a lot of damage, but it’s very slow and can be interrupted if you aren’t careful to stay out of the way of attacks. An interrupted spell will take longer to land, which is annoying enough to keep you concerned about keeping your castor in the background.
Meanwhile, physical fighters like Daryon can close the gaps, but they have to keep moving.
While I haven’t had to move around much or use the intractable elements of the battlefield, those who have been a part of the Early Access for a while seem to suggest both with become important in act three when bosses begin to ramp up. So far, I’ve only had to use the ability to move to avoid a few special attacks from a couple of bosses.
Several buff systems make combat an absolute joy. There’s a crystal system that functions the way Materia functions in Final Fantasy VII Remake where it sometimes adds spells and skill, but it also adds buffs like additional health, attack and haste between turns.
There’s also a robust challenge system where you are assigned a battle task like enduring 600 points of damage or landing hits on the backs of three enemies. Rewards for completing these challenges are in the form of more currency, crystals or items and crafting supplies.
Honestly, the combat is a large part of the reason I’ve sunk 10 hours into this game. Hunting the diverse menagerie of beasts has kept me on the edge of my gaming chair through the whole process, which has more than made up for the lack of story buildup.
This land was made for you and me
Landscapes are the other thing that this game gets right. It’s not always easy to make things pop when it comes to using Unreal as your engine, but Midgar Studios have found a way to make it happen.
The land of Heryon comprises of several of the biomes we’ve all come to love in JRPGs, rolling plains, chilling mountain ranges, eerie marshes and royal cities — the last of which can feel rather on the small side thanks to there being no interiors I’ve been able to explore as of yet. However, the cities I have been to have enough life and jubilance to make me feel as though they are alive.
I do wish there were secrets and more set pieces to explore as the maps can feel somewhat too open, but there’s enough resource collecting, chests and puzzles to make you appreciate exploring Heryon.
Midgar is well aware that this game lacks the polish or downright poshness you’d find in a AAA JRPG, and I’ll be honest in saying that it can be a hard sticking point to get over. However, I really can’t argue with the value proposition for this game. A game that spans five acts over roughly 50 hours is well worth 34 bucks. So, it’s fair to say that it’s recommended as a JRPG that will give you hours of enjoyment without the AAA price tag. There’s also a pretty sweet community member/dev relationship here that I’m sure many of you will be happy to be a part of. I mean, look at what they’ve been able to produce in two years of working together.
While Edge of Eternity’s grid-based combat system remains something that is still very much in my mind at the time of writing this, there just isn’t enough here for me to want to go back at this point. I seldom find the time to remain in communities long after they’ve reached the later stages of development. Frankly, there’s just so much going on in this game, both in terms of story and in terms of game elements, that I kind of find myself wishing there was less here to experience. So I’m likely standing on the edge of my time with Edge of Eternity. Midgar Studio had been in Early Access since November of 2018, but I think having even postponed the release for another few months could have helped.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]