I’m drawn toward RPGs for lots of reasons. I love a rich, detailed world with a well-told story. I love inspiring, relatable characters beautifully brought to life. I love deep, fun combat with enough bells and whistles to allow me to break it while still presenting a challenge.
Eiyuden Chronicle: Rising doesn’t do any of these things remarkably well.
Instead, it reminded me of something I might value in RPGs more than almost anything nowadays: the feeling of progression. In my adult life, it can feel like I’m not getting anywhere despite my best efforts. RPGs often allow me to feel like my hard work means something, even if it’s just a game. The inspiration for Eiyuden Chronicle, Suikoden, understood the power of this feeling. Eiyuden Chronicle: Rising does too, and it dresses it up with beautiful art, combat that does just enough to stay fresh, and engaging characters, making this game more than just an appetizer for Eiyuden Chronicle: Hundred Heroes, but a solid, satisfying meal of its own.
One way the game does feel like it’s waiting for the main course is the story. The narrative revolves around New Naveah, a town sitting on top of a deep mine of rich magical materials called the Rune Barrows. Disaster recently struck the town, leaving it in shambles, and the mayor is nowhere to be found. To revitalize the town, his daughter opens it to adventurers who want to try their hand at finding riches in the mines.
You control CJ, a young adventurer who has come to New Naveah on a mission to discover the largest rune lens she can. Since she can’t afford the license to dive into the mines immediately, she volunteers to help out around the town, gathering “stamps” when she performs a good deed to earn her way down into the mines. As you inevitably make your way down the mines, you discover that there is more than meets the eye to the mayor’s disappearance and the town’s troubles. It’s not until the very end that you discover more going on in the world around you and see some of the threads likely to appear in Hundred Heroes.
But it doesn’t really matter, since Eiyuden Chronicle: Rising is doing something I find even more interesting: telling the story of how a community comes together in spite of difficult circumstances. As the town rebuilds itself and more and more “Outlanders” come to town to build their riches, the people of the town are often at odds. Over the course of the narrative, we get to know almost everyone around town, understand their circumstances, and see them come together while the town is built back up. This is so compelling because the characters and the writing are stellar. Details from the Australian accent on one (particularly appropriate) party member to the mix of frustration and love a woman has for her husband who won’t come home bring everything together to create an unmistakable sense of community.
A major part of building the sense of community throughout Eiyuden Chronicle: Rising is the huge (and I mean huge) number of sidequests available. Over 160, to be exact. They’re generally easy to complete, too: gather a resource there, take down a few enemies over here, etc. If you set the quest as active, you can also see exactly where you need to go to complete it. Sidequest rewards range from experience and cash to nice accessories, or, best case, building/upgrading a part of the town. The best part is getting to know the local residents and feeling like you’re helping their progress along the way. It’s really not anything fancy: some might find the resource gathering repetitive, and the side quest stories don’t rise above the simple, day to day concerns of the town, but they’re what works so well about Rising on the whole, and they fed my addiction to progress in the game. Every time you complete a quest, you get a “stamp,” and that simple gesture made me feel like I was getting somewhere. As silly as it may sound, this pushed me to consume all 18 or so hours of this game in fewer than two days.
The side quests and main narrative lead us to the crux of the game: exploration. You spend most of your time wandering through the areas surrounding New Naveah, taking down enemies and gathering resources to help out the town in sidescrolling Metroidvania style. Luckily, neither are too difficult. In a game like this, gathering resources can be a pain if the drop rates are stingy. That’s not a problem in Eiyuden Chronicle: Rising, not only because the drop rates are fair, but because the different zones are varied, beautiful, and a joy to explore. Whether you’re climbing a snowy mountaintop, running through a lava-filled volcano, or diving deeper into the Rune Barrows, each zone feels distinct and presents a fair challenge to “fill out your map.” In true Metroidvania style, you also get additional abilities as you level up, allowing you to explore previous areas further. The rewards are often worth it, too.
One thing I was worried about after playing the Beta was the combat. Early on, it felt sluggish and a little too easy. Honestly, while it gets a heck of a lot better, it’s still not going to be people’s favorite part of the game. As I noted above, it plays like a Metroidvania in many ways, with sidescrolling combat, dodging, and different abilities which you unlock over your playtime. By about the mid-point of the game, you have three party members. One is there for quick melee strikes, another wields a broadsword and slowly deals heavy damage, and the third adds a magical arsenal. You can freely switch between the three characters, and each is good in different situations. As time goes, you also unlock the ability to engage in link-attacks, chaining attacks from your three characters together.
Even with the addition of some moves later in the game, it never gets very complex, and even the toughest boss can fall without much of a fight. Still, the link-strikes are satisfying enough by the end to keep combat fresh, even if you’re not going to find the depth of a Castlevania title here. It is worth noting that there are two additional difficulty modes beyond the normal one. One is an easy mode that allows the game to perform link strikes for you, but I never tried it out since I found the game easy enough. The hard mode unlocked after you clear the game is more interesting to me, though, since it presents a bit more of a challenge, particularly on boss fights (which still aren’t too bad).
Even with the somewhat pedestrian combat, the look and the sound of the game will keep you coming back. While we can’t call the look of Eiyuden Chronicle: Rising HD-2D (thanks Square Enix), 505 Games has taken to calling it “2.5D” instead. Nonetheless, you get what they’re going for. The characters are pixelated sprites with solid animations and a distinct look that works well against the beautifully created 3D(ish) backdrops. The whole game is gorgeous, and I was particularly taken with the snow zone visuals, enhanced by the melancholic track that plays while you explore the area. Honestly, every track in the game is excellent, with a fully orchestrated soundtrack that does evoke Suikoden more than once. While the rest of the OST might not quite match my love for the snow track, its rich sound nicely accentuates the lush visuals throughout.
I really hate comparing one game to another in games criticism. But, with anything Eiyuden Chronicle, it’s inevitable. We’re all hoping for the next Suikoden with Hundred Heroes. To be clear, Eiyuden Chronicle: Rising is not working on that level. But it doesn’t need to. It does get one part of Suikoden just right: the feeling of progression as you build a community. Taken for what it is, a wonderful little townbuilding Metroidvania-like title, it’s stellar. Time will tell if Eiyuden Chronicle: Rising is truly necessary before playing Hundred Heroes, but it stands tall as a delightful little game all on its own.