Eiyuden Chronicle: Rising makes a certain degree of sense. It’s a prequel to Eiyuden Chronicle: Hundred Heroes, which is itself the spiritual revival of the Suikoden series that spanned several acclaimed RPGs as well as spin-off card games, visual novels, strategy games, and so on. Yet Suikoden was never an action game, and now that series creator Yoshitaka Murayama returned to it with Eiyuden Chronicle, what better form for its prequel to take than a side-scrolling action title with some RPG trappings?
Fans of the Suikoden series might be expecting a complex, morally-gray story of empires and loyalties divided, with over a hundred characters to recruit, and it seems they’ll get that with the main Eiyuden Chronicle game. However, they won’t find much of that in Rising. It stakes a story out in the dilapidated frontier village of New Neveah, where adventurers both noble and unprincipled gather to explore treacherous mines and ancient ruins. One such wanderer is CJ, a spindly, energetic scavenger dispatched on a coming-of-age quest by her tribe. She wants treasure—magical ancient lenses in particular—but to get anywhere she has to team up with a cynical kangaroo swordsman named Garoo and an exacting young mayor named Isha, who’s also a proficient spellcaster. Small-town politicians usually have day jobs, you know.
And so Eiyuden Chronicle: Rising embodies another element of classic Suikoden: building a town. Much of the game’s initial stretch finds CJ cheerfully running errands for the merchants, drifters, and farmers of New Neveah, usually by hunting down monsters and items in the forest and quarries around the town. Each new discovery brings a useful new feature to the town, a stamp on CJ’s adventure license card, or a reason for her to bicker with Garoo.
It’s all somewhat tedious at first, dominated by fetch quests that rarely go beyond talking to townsfolk and finding stuff for them. Nor do CJ’s battles against the local wildlife get particularly challenging or complex: she has only one attack and can’t duck, but her foes are largely predictable and get recycled with slight variations from one region to another. At least the surroundings are pretty, with bright, colorful backdrops and music that spans gentle grassland melodies and climactic boss-battle themes.
Yet that isn’t all to Eiyuden Chronicle: Rising. After an initial drag in the first few hours, CJ gets more to do. She joins up with Garoo (and later Isha), unlocking the game’s unique attacking system. Each of the three action buttons makes a different character strike a blow, and tapping them in succession, similar to Valkyrie Profile, sets up combination attacks and damaging extra hits. Between CJ’s speedy pickaxes, Garoo’s heavy blade, and Isha’s long-range magic, there’s a good amount of variety in battles even when the enemies are the same bunch you’ve faced dozens of times already.
It compensates nicely for the game’s fairly loose mechanics. Enemies are sometimes hard to dodge and hard to see, but the three heroes can be just as cheap with their combined assault, and save points are forgivingly frequent. Exploring the nearby areas also goes by faster thanks to numerous menu shortcuts, which is particularly appreciated when CJ and her crew have to revisit areas. And there’s a lot of that backtracking due to the game’s Metroid-esque progression. New elemental powers let you destroy certain stones and open new sections of well-travelled locales, even if they’re light on actual hidden areas.
A stronger storyline also emerges. CJ proves a likeable heroine and a gold-hearted goofball beneath her self-serving veneer, and she plays amusingly well off of Garoo’s hard-edged exasperation and Isha’s reserved, straight-laced disposition, not to mention the town’s expanding cast of mercenaries, hard-luck cases, and one dangerously misguided magical girl. Rising also leaves a trail of interesting hints about everything from CJ’s family customs and Isha’s missing father to the true nature of magical lenses and ancient secrets buried around New Neveah. It’s easier to tolerate repeat trips to the mines or the woods (complete with yet another battle against the same tree monster) when there’s a new plot development or an amusing conversation at the end of it.
It all feels surprisingly substantial for a budget-priced prequel presumably designed to set up the real Eiyuden Chronicle. Despite the backtracking and small scale, there’s a lot to accomplish in the manifold side quests, collectible items, and story arcs. It also presents a technically solid foundation for its follow-up. Apart from the glowing backgrounds, the characters follow the early Suikoden tradition of relatively simple sprites with frequently good animation, though it’s sometimes hard to make out in the small-screen Switch version (the same goes for some of the text). And though there’s no voice acting, the localization gives the characters plenty of spirit.
Calling Eiyuden Chronicle: Rising a mere introduction to the second coming of Suikoden is to do it a disservice: it’s an engrossing adventure in its own right. The relatively basic battle mechanics seldom frustrate, and a seemingly tedious excursion in building a town leads to much more satisfying places. If anything, it’ll be a disappointment if CJ, Garoo, and the rest of Rising‘s cast aren’t given strong roles in the full-blown Eiyuden Chronicle, as they certainly deserve more attention. The same goes for Rising itself.