Suikoden's spiritual successor, the hugely successful Kickstarter project Eiyuden Chronicle: Hundred Heroes, isn't due to release until sometime in 2023 but, in the interim, 505 Games is treating us all to a precursor to the main event in the form of Eiyuden Chronicle: Rising which launches today (May 10th) on Xbox Game Pass. This side-scrolling 2.5D adventure sets the stage for next year's exploits whilst giving players some very nice looking town-building/dungeon-crawling action to get stuck into. But is it any good?
Well, in terms of first impressions, it's a bit of an odd one for eager Suikoden acolytes who're waiting with baited breath for the arrival of Hundred Heroes. What we've got here is an undoubtedly good-looking scene-setter that's nailed its aesthetic vibe and gives us a little background into a few characters from next year's game but, beyond this, it's hard to see anything here that'll appeal to turn-based JPRG fans.
Starting out in Eiyuden Chronicle: Rising, you take control of CJ, a young adventurer who's hellbent on proving herself as a great treasure hunter by nabbing a huge prize that's even bigger than the biggest her papa found during his adventuring career. CJ finds herself in New Nevaeh, a town in need of rebuilding that has a unique relationship with "outlanders" such as herself, hiring them out at arm's length to do chores and stamping a little book for them so they might one day be rewarded with a licence to go rummaging through nearby ruins for the tastiest treasures. What follows is a whole lot of busywork and fetch quests to earn stamps as you rally to rebuild shops and various other amenities so that you might make use of them on your dungeon-crawling adventures.
Before long CJ is joined by Garoo, a sword-swinging kangaroo, and Isha, a skilful sorceress who just happens to be the town's mayor. Each of these three characters brings a different skill to the table and during combat sequences you can switch between them with the push of a button, as well as chaining their moves together for "link" combos. Light and zippy attacks fall to CJ, heavy attacks are the domain of Garoo, and Isha takes care of dishing out ranged magic damage. All three are also imbued with a special move; CJ can dodge through enemies and incoming assaults to get a better angle on things, Garoo can deflect projectiles back from whence they came and Isha can sort of...well...she can sort of blink straight up in the air.
Oddly, the way in which each character materialises when you press their corresponding attack button makes it feel far more as though you're in charge of one just main character who transforms temporarily, rather than three separate entities, and in practice it makes for a combat situation that no doubt looked good on paper, but is a bit of a pain when you're in action. One of the main reasons for this is the difference in traversal methods and speed between each character. CJ is a fast mover who can dodge and, once you've slapped an enemy with her and then transitioned to Garoo to lay down a heavy attack, you can find yourself flailing to get back to CJ in order to get out of the way of reprisals. The same is true of Isha who just doesn't feel agile enough in any situation, and so you've got a rather clunky setup that takes some frustration to get used to and never ends up feeling slick or addicting.
As you progress through the game and open up a blacksmiths, armoury, tool shop and so on, you'll add combos, double-jumps and a few other bits and pieces to the mix, but there's an inherent clunkiness here, exacerbated by the game's weirdly animated lead characters, that the action just never fully escapes from.
It's not a total mess by any means, it's just not as slick as something this simple really should be. Take, for example, CJ's dodge manoeuvre. We often found ourselves incurring damage whilst performing this move in instances where we really felt as though we shouldn't, it feels as though the game's hit detection needs refining, as though we could never really be sure if we'd timed it right. It's unsatisfying, and you know you've got problems when something as central to the combat as a dodge move isn't wholly reliable.
The enemies that you'll meet whilst blasting through the game's platform-filled dungeons certainly cover a fairly impressive range of ground and air-based archetypes, but once again here the flow of combat is too often let down by hit detection that feels heavy-handed, with things getting messy when there are too many foes onscreen at once. You'll find yourself taking far more damage from accidentally bumping off bats than you will from focused assaults.
Away from combat and the rebuilding of New Nevaeh is fun enough at first but very quickly devolves into a constant barrage of very simple fetch quests; find some fruit, a lost pet or pair of missing glasses, go and mine a single piece of ore from a dungeon and bring it back, walk over there and then walk back again and we may just give you a stamp. It feels like the entire town is taking you for a right tool. It's all very pretty, for sure, and there's just enough about the story to keep you going as it develops, but lordy dear, it's hard to remain enthused when you're being charged with completing these unending menial tasks.
All of this bother with errands is then further exacerbated by a quest log that feels pretty basic and, honestly, kinda useless. In no time at all we had a ton of dull side quests backed up and had to rifle through vague descriptions as we tried in vain to remember who on earth all these townsfolk were. We even ended up plodding round every location in the main town area on more than one occasion, hoping to blindly stumble upon a quest-specific character to move things forward. It really shouldn't be this difficult. There's also the fact that conversations here are many, and every one of them drags on for far too long, so prepare to get comfy and settle in for a lot of talking on the breaks you get from all your busywork.
And it's busywork which, in the end, overshadows the dungeon-crawling here, sending you back and forth repeatedly through the same areas on extremely short ventures that see you fighting through the same corridors against the same enemies and bosses so many times you start to lose any desire to explore you might have had left. It feels like there's a decent enough little game hiding here, it really does, there's some interesting characters to meet, alongside a handful of reasonably fun boss encounters, and we do so want to explore this colourful world further, but Eiyuden Chronicle: Rising seems more interested in throwing up barriers to our progress, making us retread the same paths over and over, going back and forth until we can't take it anymore.
But look, let's take a step back here a little. This is a low budget title, a Kickstarter bonus that's meant as a brief setup to a bigger adventure, something to give eager fans a glimpse into the world of Eiyuden Chronicles, introduce some of its characters and lore and all of that stuff. For the price of admission there's probably just about enough going on here to see you through the 20 hours it'll take you to complete it all and the story itself will, perhaps, keep you hooked in to proceedings - if you can stomach all the padding. With some more refinement on the combat front and far less in the way of fetch quests getting in the way of just diving into its dungeons, Eiyuden Chronicle: Rising could have been a more than decent little intro to the franchise. As it turns out, however, what we've got here is a rather clunky and repetitive adventure that gets itself so bogged down in menial tasks and time-wasting that it's hard to stay particularly interested.
Eiyuden Chronicle: Rising is a distinctly average prequel/spin-off that gets itself bogged down in busywork and repetitive running in circles, overshadowing its core dungeon-crawling and town-building action in the process. The combat here certainly has some reasonable ideas, the story is decent enough at providing a setup and it all looks very pretty, but there's just far too much in the way of unnecessary padding and jank to make it feel as though it's really worth your time and effort beyond gleaning a few insights into next year's full adventure, even at this budget price point. Fingers crossed 505's main course is much more satisfying.