I’ve never seen a small spin-off game meet my expectations this comprehensively before. Fun, short-lived, slightly repetitive, yet leaving me interested to know more, Eiyuden Chronicle: Rising was exactly how I pictured it. Releasing a companion game before the main game – in this case the upcoming Eiyuden Chronicle: Hundred Heroes, is certainly an unusual choice, especially given that Rising takes a very different approach to its JRPG sibling by swapping turn-based battles for a 2D action-RPG format. Make no mistake though, it’s worth playing for its own strengths.
Our goal in Rising is to rebuild New Neveah, a town decimated by an earthquake several months ago. That same event also unearthed several ruins stacked with treasure, which is where we come in. Playing as an honourable scavenger, CJ, our role in the reconstruction is providing each resident with whichever materials they’ve requested, ranging from basic ores and lumber to more specialized items later on. Just be aware this isn’t a city-building sim like Cities: Skylines – here, every building location is predetermined and there’s no finer tinkering, so don’t expect anything too in-depth. You can’t freely interact with the average NPC either, so New Neveah’s not always the most exciting place to be. Still, there’s an undeniable charm this small town presents as it grows, and while this isn’t the most inventive premise, there’s an unfolding mystery within that held my attention.
Progress is mapped through a stamp card system, earning another every time you help residents. Filling out your stamp book upgrades it to the next level, bringing more people to town and further opportunities, and you can exchange stamps at the trading post for more exciting items later on. You’ll need a few initially to obtain an explorer’s license for the ruins, so it’s slightly odd seeing CJ get so invested in collecting stamps once you’ve done that, but seeing her so dedicated to rebuilding this town is rather sweet.
Rising adopts a metroidvania approach to exploration, blocking off certain areas until you’ve found a set ability. For example, CJ’s double jump isn’t available until you’ve improved her armor, the justification being that it’s become lighter and less restrictive, letting her reach certain platforms. It’s a steady system that rewards the more thorough explorers but doesn’t restrict your ability to obtain resources. Naturally, these areas are also teeming with your bog-standard monsters and a few bosses to cap them off, and CJ’s soon joined by two other party members: the young acting mayor, Isha, whose struggle to keep this town afloat after her father’s disappearance held my interest. There’s also Garoo, an anthropomorphic kangaroo mercenary that claims he’s just in it for the money, but made me laugh at how frequently he caves to CJ’s demands.
You can swap between party members easily during exploration, as all three are mapped to a set face button, which also activates their attack. There’s decent variety here: Garoo is your slow but heavy hitter whose greatsword is well suited to destroying enemy shields, Isha uses magic for ranged attacks and overcoming foes’ magical barriers, and CJ offers a nice middle ground with her two pickaxes, so you’ll need to frequently rotate between them. Eventually, equippable rune-lenses become available that give your team weapon elemental damage. That adds some strategy to fights as some enemies might be weak to fire damage, yet resistance against lightning, though it doesn’t make a huge difference. Thanks to elemental stones blocking your path, hitting them with the matching rune-lense opens up new areas in exploration, too.
Initially, you can’t do much beyond single-button attacks, leaving combat feeling rather basic. New abilities are only unlocked upon improving weapons and armor and, unlike other RPGs, you don’t need to keep selling your legendary weapons to random shopkeepers once you’ve got a better one because they’re all upgraded through gradual improvements, assuming you’ve got the money and materials; given how many protagonists Hundred Heroes is promising, I’d call this a wise approach to limit the burden of micromanagement. I just wish Rising didn’t lock simple moves like attacking upwards or downward spikes behind these upgrades – it’s a strange choice that makes the early hours feel too straightforward. I’d never expect a small-scale spin-off game to do anything revolutionary with its progression system but I would’ve liked a little more depth.
Combat isn’t just simplistic; on default difficulty it’s a cakewalk. Clearing out these ruins wasn’t especially challenging and if you’re after a tougher fight, hard mode is unfortunately locked until you’ve beaten the 12-hour campaign for the first time. Fortunately, combat does open up later on once you acquire these new moves and rune-lenses, leaving some room to strategize. Pulling off combos also felt pretty damn satisfying, a feeling amplified by the slow-motion sequence that activates alongside it, slowly showing your team tearing into the opposition. There’s a rush that comes from rinsing tougher foes with a quick set of strikes, inflicting major damage in a matter of a few seconds. It’s one area where the basic nature of combat is advantageous, in that your party works in unison without any complicated inputs. These can be pulled off manually or activated automatically through ‘Simple Mode,’ but keep in mind that’s not a difficulty setting – it’s purely for controls.
It doesn’t take much combat, resource gathering, and questing for New Neveah to become a thriving town once more, offering all the classic buildings you’d expect from a fantasy RPG. Inns, taverns, blacksmith services, all the usual sights are here. Smaller shops like the apothecary are relegated to being unlocked through side missions, found on a notice board in New Neveah’s Plaza, and thankfully these don’t need long to complete.
Quests don’t usually ask for more than providing each resident the requested materials, but I felt a sense of pride in rebuilding New Neveah. The results are immediately evident, and turning this town from a ruined mess to a thriving hub felt rewarding. That sentiment is nicely reflected in CJ’s own personal growth, seeing her go from ambitious treasure hunter to someone who’d do anything for its citizens. New Neveah’s growth is boosted by a lovely art direction and Rising’s packed with vibrant environments that I could watch all day. Whether it’s those beautiful trees of the Great Forest or the icy tundra known as Snowpeak, NatsumeAtari’s given clear attention to detail here and that’s a key part of its charm.
Unfortunately, and not at all surprisingly, this mission structure quickly becomes repetitive, though the worst offenders are found in the side missions. Main quests are significantly varied but if you plan on going that extra mile for this town, almost everything is a fetch quest for material gathering. This certainly makes sense from a story perspective – you can’t exactly do much construction work when there’s no resources to work with, after all. But even with fast travel, continuously travelling between these ruins got tedious. I counted three occasions that required me finding the exact same ore, so I had to keep exploring those same locations. Fortunately, the trading post often provides what’s required, it’s just not always cheap.
While I understand these are optional, ignoring these quests can lock out some important upgrades to your weapons and armour with their respective attack and defence boosts, placing you at a significant disadvantage in combat later on. But the biggest facilities you’ll need are locked into main story missions, and if you’re taking a moment to whack every rock, tree, and enemy you come across during exploration you may already have the needed resources on you when taking on a request. Granted, there’s a limit to what you can carry, but storage space can also be increased to a generous degree.
Still, despite sweeping through everything before the final boss, Rising only took me 12 hours to complete. That relatively low (for a JRPG) number of hours isn’t that surprising for a companion game, and you can bump that up to 15 hours when including post-game content, which adds more side quests for completing your stamp book. It’s not the longest adventure but crucially, this main story never felt dragged out, everything progressed at a natural rate. Because the party’s story continues in Hundred Heroes – CJ, Garoo, Isha, and four other Rising characters all appear as protagonists – expect a few loose threads to be left when the story wraps up, but I still found a satisfying conclusion.