A while back, the minds behind the beloved Suikoden RPG series set up a Kickstarter to fund Eiyuden Chronicle, a classically styled JRPG currently set for a 2023 release. However, one of the stretch goals was for a "companion game," meant to help introduce players to the world and its characters while the flagship title was being developed. Enter Eiyuden Chronicle: Rising, a 2.5D, side-scrolling, exploration-action game with light RPG and town-building elements. While it might not be the big game that fans and Kickstarter backers are eagerly anticipating, there's enough to Rising to make it worth a look.
As the game begins, we're introduced to CJ, a sprightly, eager-to-help young girl who's the central character of this little saga. Her clan's rite of passage involves finding an impressive treasure, and in her search, she stumbles across New Nevaeh, a mining town that's been ravaged by a massive earthquake and bandit attacks. CJ suspects that the town's quarry leads to the kind of treasure she seeks, but the local bureaucracy's none too keen on letting random strangers go exploring on their land--especially when they're so focused on rebuilding. But CJ sees an opportunity: by helping the town rebuild, she'll win the populace over and be able to treasure hunt to her heart's content… and maybe make some new friends and uncover an ancient secret in the process.
Progression in Rising is heavily mission-based, with copious amounts of main and side quests to rebuild New Nevaeh, help the citizens, and advance the story. Many of the quests require you to visit the dangerous, monster- and bandit-filled lands surrounding the town, which open up gradually as you explore more and gain additional skills. While CJ starts out adventuring alone, she is eventually joined by two partners: Garoo, a kangaroo mercenary with a magic pouch he uses to store his hulking broadsword, and Isha, a clever young lass with the unusual innate ability to wield magic. All three characters have unique movement and attack abilities--CJ is agile and quick to strike; Garoo is slower but hits hard; Isha has ranged attacks and floaty jumps--and can be instantly swapped out with the press of a button. This allows you to perform some tricky play forming maneuvers, as well as chain characters' attacks together for massive damage.
In order to get some of these skills, however, you'll need to enlist the help of New Nevaeh's populace. Plenty of newcomers are looking to set up shop in this area, and you'll be the group of ragtag adventurers they call when they need somebody to farm wood, ore, or animal pelts. In exchange, they'll establish businesses that provide all manner of upgrades--though you're still on the hook for giving them some raw materials to work with. In other words: expect to do a whole lot of looting and crafting on this adventure.
Although you are going to get very sick of seeing the forest and quarry regions for the first few hours, ultimately the town-rebuilding aspect of Rising is rewarding and satisfying, and successfully manages to nullify some of the tedium of constantly going back to the same areas. Despite their relatively small size, there's a good amount to see and discover in each of these areas. The monster-filled mines, lush forests, raging volcanoes, and magic-enchanted ruins look beautiful, and offer lots of enemies to fell and loot to amass. Opening up new areas provides new challenges and discoveries in typical metroidvania fashion--but the lairs of terrifyingly huge boss monsters also lie buried deep within.
The story also builds as you progress, revealing the strange origins of New Nevaeh and the terrible secret buried within its ruins. Rising aspires to be an introduction to a much bigger world that will be more fully developed in the main Eiyuden Chronicle: Hundred Heroes RPG, and it works to establish that link through dialogue--lots and lots of dialogue. It's a very chatty, text-heavy game, especially in the first few hours. The verbal exchanges between characters are snappy and fun to read, but every so often there are stretches of frequent, lengthy cutscenes and story padding that drag on and keep you away from the exploring and looting that you really want to do.
The dialogue isn't the only thing that feels a bit overdone, either. There's a lot of side quests to conquer in Rising, and while many of them will reward you with new facilities and items, a good chunk of them are just time-wasting busywork. Some quests are little more than playing messenger-girl between a couple of folks in town who, for some reason, can't simply walk over and talk to one another. Others will have you revisit areas for the umpteenth time in the hopes you get lucky enough to mine better quality rocks. More interesting quest concepts with unique, powerful enemy encounters or hidden areas would have helped make adventuring a lot more interesting, but alas.
At least the action gameplay is quite fun--though perhaps a little too easy with the copious amount of items and upgrades you can earn. Teaming up to smash a giant lizard man's shield before landing a flurry of rapid slaying blows enhanced with elemental rune energy is always a good time, but it's dampened somewhat by the clunky and awkward animation of the 2D character sprites. The flailing limbs and jerky transitions lead to a feeling of disconnect between the buttons you're pressing and what's happening on the screen. You get used to it eventually--and the controls in Rising are actually quite good and intuitive--but it's never particularly pleasant to look at.
Eiyuden Chronicle: Rising is short, clocking in at about 15 hours for 100% completion--though it probably could have cut a few hours of side-questing out and still wound up being a fine little adventure. Despite enduring a fair bit of filler, I don't regret the time I spent playing the game, and am interested to see how the characters and setting play into the bigger Eiyuden Chronicle world being created. It might be flawed, but Rising accomplishes what it sets out to do: whetting players' appetites for a grand adventure down the line.