2D side-scrolling action featuring hulking dudes and lithe babes annihilating swarms of alien invaders by using their own technology against them; that pretty much sums up Earth’s Dawn, an action-RPG moulded in a similar vein to the fantastic Odin Sphere.
Developed by OneorEight, with less emphasis on narrative and more on character development however, it manages to distinguish itself enough to make it an interesting prospect for fans of Vanillaware’s seminal title.
Plopping you in the shoes of a character created by your own hands, Earth’s Dawn entrusts you with the reclamation of Earth which has been invaded by an all-consuming alien menace known as the E.B.E. As a newly recruited member of A.N.T.I. then, your job is rather simple: utilise the superhuman strength granted to you by the use of alien technology to push the E.B.E. back and give humanity newfound hope. No pressure then, eh?
Purely a single player affair, game progress is driven by a counteroffensive system that sets the pace at which main story missions are presented to you. In layman’s terms, that means that after the initial flurry of introductory story missions are completed, a timer appears on the headquarters menu that counts down the time until the next story mission becomes imposed upon you. What you choose to do in that time is up to you: whittling it away doing free missions is probably the best course of action, but, you’re free to let it idly dwindle away just sitting on the menu if you really want to. Either way, just make sure you’re prepared for the mission that follows, as they often feature a boss or a manic combat sequence that will truly test your skills. If your character isn’t strong enough to complete the mission though, don’t worry; failing will simply take you back to headquarters where you can engage in as many free missions as you’d like, enabling you to further develop your character before giving it another go.
When it comes to character development, there’s quite a bit to be done. Skills are generally unlocked by performing well in missions, but your ability to equip them is limited by a capacity stat. By collecting crystal-like shards within missions however, the capacity stat can be raised, and after only five hours of play or so I found myself not really limited at all. Meanwhile, other character stats such as HP, ATK and DEF etc. have to be raised in the usual RPG fashion of levelling up and obtaining new equipment. You can’t simply buy new equipment though; you need to craft it by gathering the requisite materials. Some are obtained by defeating enemies, others by completing missions, but once you have the materials and the energy required to do so you can make some interesting items that both boost your stats and have their own unique look. You can even enhance items too, levelling them up with yet another pool of materials to make them even stronger. It all makes for an engaging gameplay cycle of going out on missions and then upgrading your character, especially when you can both see and feel the benefit of your development.
There are rare occasions though, where your development doesn’t really seem to matter at all. When out on missions, there may be the slim possibility of encountering one of the game’s elite enemies, and trust me, they’re ridiculously hard. It wouldn’t be so bad if they were just confined to hard missions, but they can often be found in easy ones too, standing between you and your objective. The smart way to deal with them is to simply dash by and run for your life, but due to you not being able to see much of what’s ahead it’s very easy for you to get caught off guard and die in an instant, especially during the heat of a raging battle. What’s more irritating is that they’re only really hard because of how resilient they are. Anyone with a modicum of skill could avoid most of their attacks, but after raining blows upon them for minutes to not even notice a decrease in their health bar, you lose heart and just give up. Even trying to take them on at a decreased difficulty level doesn’t help much either. The only saving grace is that you can return to them much later in the game when you’re hard as nails and show them who’s boss.
Combat is generally fast paced and quite fun, if not a little basic. Initially you’re left to equip one-handed weapons in both hands; be it two swords, guns or one of each. In time however, you unlock two further weapons, both of a two-handed nature. Whichever combat style you opt for it’s privy to its own unique moveset, so finding one that works for you is imperative. Some combat versatility is afforded, however, by obtaining a skill later in the game that allows you to switch between two weapon load-outs on the fly. Personally, I opted to use a giant two-handed broadsword for slower foes before switching to a one-handed saber and shotgun combo for the nimbler ones. Regardless of your choice, actual combat, much like in Odin Sphere, boils down to pressing a combination of directions and the attack button to perform a variety of moves, whilst also dashing, jumping and sliding to avoid your enemies’ reprisals. What’s really silly though is that whilst you’re accompanied on missions by three fellow team members that follow you around, as soon as you enter combat they disappear, leaving you to fight on your lonesome.
Visually, Earth’s Dawn is quite a nice game to look at, with a very unique art style that makes its characters rather charming. The same can’t often be said about its environments though, thanks to some murky textures lurking in the foreground that are decidedly underwhelming. Complementing the visuals is an accomplished soundtrack that is only let down by its repetitive nature, but also of note is that Earth’s Dawn has no English dialogue option, just Japanese with subtitles.
Due to its mission structure, Earth’s Dawn’s main issue is that it can easily become quite repetitive, but it also doesn’t help that its narrative is anything but compelling. Once you get caught in its loop of taking on missions and building your character however, you don’t tend to think about its problems too much. You’re more likely to be too busy smashing monsters in the face with a giant broadsword so you can level it up for that +2 ATK boost that you’ve always dreamed of to care. With that in mind, fans of action-RPGs can’t do much wrong checking Earth’s Dawn out, but it’s by no means essential.