Eiyuden Chronicle: Rising review: a flat prequel to next year's Suikoden successor Hundred Heroes
Sidequest: The Game
Eiyuden Chronicle: Rising is a bit of a weird one. Originally conceived as a Kickstarter stretch goal for Eiyuden Chronicle: Hundred Heroes, the next JRPG from Suikoden creator Yoshitaka Murayama, this smaller, more action-focused RPG has become both an official prequel to Hundred Heroes and a kind of intermediate stop-gap designed to tide players over until the main event next year. Focusing on the back stories of just a handful of the titular hundred you'll be meeting in Rabbit & Bear Studios' spiritual successor to Suikoden (the first of which memorably had a whopping 108 recruitable party members), Rising has the air of almost required reading for players eager to return to the lavish, retro worlds Murayama built his name on.
Only this isn't being made by Murayama and the rest of his former Suikoden crew at Rabbit & Bear. It's Natsume Atari who have lead billing here, with Murayama operating in a supervisory role while development on Hundred Heroes continues. It also doesn't have anything in common with the JRPG series that Eiyuden Chronicle proper is meant to be doffing its cap to, swapping Suikoden's turn-based battles for real-time monster biffing, 2D dungeon crawling and a heavy emphasis on building up your hub town by completing ream upon ream of sidequests. I'd even go as far as saying Rising is more sidequest than main quest all things considered, especially in its early hours, and the end result is a game that falls into exactly the same pitfalls that I Am Setsuna and so many other 'modern classic' JRPGs have done before it. Namely, it resurrects what should have been left dead and buried, and adds nothing of its own to keep things interesting, making it feel more like a relic of a bygone era than warm, fuzzy nostalgia play.
I'd maybe feel more generous toward Rising if it weren't for its blasted stamp card. In-game, this serves as your ticket into the mysterious nearby Barrows, a labyrinth of underground tunnels and treasure troves that adventurers flock to from all around the world in order to make their fortunes. Heroine CJ is one such scavenger hoping to make it big in New Nevaeh, but before the town's weirdly tax-obsessed (and probably secret Tory) acting mayor Isha will grant her entry to them, she must prove her worth by collecting stamps. And to collect said stamps, CJ must perform all manner of busy work given to her by the local townsfolk. In other words, the stamp card is a glorified sidequest counter, and if the 30 blank spots on your initial 'silver' card don't strike fear in your heart, wait until you're presented with the 50 checkmarks that accompany your respective gold and platinum cards.
I kid you not, the first 'main' quest of this game is to find someone's cat. Then it's fetching a girl's dad from the next street over, then chopping some wood in the forest. Eventually you're allowed to fight a boss (a tree, for yet more wood), but it's quickly back to collecting stones, mining some ore, and gathering mushrooms and such like. On it goes with all manner of artificial obstacles thrown in your path to prevent you from exploring anywhere you're not meant to go just yet, and the constant back and forth between the town, forest and mine gets tiresome very quickly.
It takes a long time before Rising really lets you off the leash to explore the Barrows at your leisure, and when the main story does finally kick in, any last remaining shreds of good will have already been crushed to dust by its overwhelming tedium. Even battling its monsters fails to inspire much excitement. Not only are they so toothless and ineffectual that most can be dispatched simply by mashing a single button, but the resource-driven economy of its various shops and weapon upgrades also makes it ludicrously easy to get ahead of the curve, turning you into an unstoppable powerhouse that minces everything in their path with just a few hits. I died precisely once during my time with Eiyuden Chronicle: Rising, and that was at the beginning of the game when I didn't manage to chug a potion in time when fighting that aforementioned tree boss. Since then, it's been an absolute cakewalk.
In its defence, there's a single, glimmering nugget to be found in its rote combat system, and that's its Link Attacks. With your three main characters' attacks mapped to X, Y and B on your game pad, switching between these at the right time will initiate a supercharged team attack that slows time for mega hit points. The more you develop your town, the higher the number of Link Attacks you can perform in one go, too, giving you some, albeit tenuous, incentive to persist with those interminable sidequests. But this too falls victim to the game's poor sense of pacing. What should feel like a dramatic combo attack just becomes a faster way of killing off multiple enemies at once when you're so overpowered, robbing it of all impact even in its more scripted battle arenas.
Despite all of this, though, I wouldn't say Rising has killed off my interest in Eiyuden Chronicle entirely. Indeed, part of me (however small) is still looking forward to seeing what Murayama has in store with Hundred Heroes when it arrives next year, especially when its gorgeous art direction looks set to give even Square Enix's luscious HD-2D games like Octopath Traveler a real run for their money.
In the meantime, though, Rising is definitely not the required must-play you need to absorb beforehand. After all, we don't even know what role CJ, Isha and walking talking kangaroo Garoo (yes, really) will even play in Hundred Heroes yet, let alone whether they'll be interesting enough to warrant buying a whole prequel game for (and on the strength of this current evidence, almost certainly not). Instead, I'd wait and see what their deal is in Hundred Heroes before bothering with this one, and only then if you're really desperate for some switch-off-brain button mashing fan service. It does have the added benefit of being on Game Pass if you're really curious, although whether it will still be here once Hundred Heroes comes out remains to be seen. Still, as we discussed at the beginning of this review, there are some things in life that are just better off forgotten.