Eiyuden Chronicle: Hundred Heroes, a spiritual successor to the legendary Suikoden series of Japanese role-playing games, blew past its funding goals on Kickstarter two years ago, raising a whopping 4.5 million USD and shattering all its stretch goals in the process. It’s safe to say that many have a strong appetite for the kind of game director Yoshitaka Murayama creates, which made it all the more bothersome when Hundred Heroes, like many crowdfunded projects before it, was delayed – this time until 2023.
Enter Eiyuden Chronicle: Rising, a spinoff/prequel that promises to tide us over until the main course (although there are question marks over whether it will make it to Switch at all). However, if you’re looking for a JRPG, look elsewhere; Rising trades Hundred Heroes’ turn-based battles for a side-scrolling action adventure steeped in town-building mechanics with a little Metrodvania thrown in for good measure.
Eiyuden Chonicle: Rising stars a trio: CJ, a naive treasure-hunter on a coming-of-age quest, Garoo, a grizzled kangaroo-man mercenary (yes, really – he has a pouch in which he stores his massive sword), and Isha, a teenage girl with magical powers thrust into mayorship over the town of New Nevaeh. What begins as a treasure hunt quickly becomes something much more mysterious as these three uncover the secrets of the Runebarrows, a complex of ruins beneath New Nevaeh filled with untold riches and quite a lot of monsters.
To explore the Runebarrows, and a few other dangerous locales, you’ll control the trio on a completely two-dimensional plane. Switching between each character happens with the press of a single button. CJ attacks with fast axes. Garoo swings a slow, massive sword. And Isha fires off magical projectiles from a distance. Individually, each character feels underwhelming, but by switching characters mid-combo you can link their attacks together to rack up massive damage.
It’s a simple system that doesn’t show much depth until many hours in. You see, Rising is also a town-building game, meaning CJ takes on quests from New Nevaeh’s residents to build up the smithy, the armoury, the tavern, the apothecary, the farm, and more. Upgrading these buildings in turn improves abilities and introduces new items. CJ’s dash extends in distance and her basic attack gains extra hits. Garoo learns a charged jump, and Isha’s teleport skill lasts longer, etc.
We found it satisfying to build up the trio’s repertoire, yet two frustrating issues with this gameplay loop quickly reared their ugly heads. First, helping residents amounts to extremely simple and tedious fetch quests. For example, Hogan the alligator-man asked us to find the tavern owner as she hadn’t picked up her order from his shop yet. So we hopped on over to the tavern, spoke to the owner, and then hustled back to Hogan for our reward – and that was it. That was the entire quest, and few of them are more involved than this. Go into the forest to find three pieces of light lumber to upgrade this shop here, find some snow pelts to unlock more bonuses for the inn over there.
This never ends. We dreaded coming back from a main-story quest because each time a horde of egregiously boring side quests popped up, yet the promise of gear upgrades compelled us to accept them. This dispelled any satisfaction we might have had watching New Nevaeh grow from a town ruined by an earthquake into a bustling hub of adventurers – and this is without mentioning that we had no say in how New Nevaeh grew. Much like the side quests, there is no nuance or choice involved; New Nevaeh simply builds itself. Some meaningful decision-making – whether to upgrade the farm or the inn with scarce resources, for example – would have added some much needed depth.
The second issue stems from how long Rising takes to get going. Quite a lot of time passes before CJ and friends unlock enough techniques to make combat truly engaging. It took about four hours of play before CJ could target monsters above her with an upward attack, and about six hours before we could explore a dungeon without interruption for more than 15 minutes. Quite often, something blocked progress – say, an elemental barrier – meaning a trek back to town, a chat with a handful of the colourful cast, and then all the way back to the dungeon to smash through the barrier with the right element equipped. Not long after this would happen again, dragging the beginning hours of the game to a crawl. Abundant fast-travel points helped alleviate the frustrating backtracking only so much.
And this is where Eiyuden Chronicle: Rising rewards those with saintly levels of patience. After around seven or eight hours, the game loosened up. While the fetch quests never stopped, the combat evolved into a satisfying mix of chain attacks and dodging. Light platforming with minor Metroidvania-esque mechanics encouraged us to explore further for rare resources. And the story surprised us with a few clever twists and some endearing – if rather cheesy – characters. We challenge you not to grow fond of them by the time the credits roll about 14 hours in. We’re genuinely interested to see how the story progresses in Hundred Heroes and where our handful of heroes wind up.
It’s a blessing that, with so much trekking from New Naeveh to the Runebarrows and back again (and then again to catch a fish for a snarky kid), Rising shines aesthetically. Some colourful backdrops frame our pixel heroes, not unlike the style seen in Octopath Traveller and Triangle Strategy. Our Switch OLED became our preferred way to play as the vibrant screen really allowed the game’s colours to pop. And the soundtrack had enough catchy tunes – particularly in town – that set the mood well. We found ourselves humming them when we took a break from being asked to find a cat somewhere within New Nevaeh for the third time.
Do you enjoy waiting for public transit in the rain? Could you bear sitting next to a screaming toddler on a transatlantic flight? Do you think you’d derive pleasure from chopping down trees in the Great Forest over and over again until you had enough light lumber to fulfil three or four requests? If so, Eiyuden Chronicle: Rising has a delightful little adventure hidden beneath a lot of tedium just for you. If not, we wouldn’t begrudge you for staying clear and hoping Hundred Heroes doesn’t follow too closely in its predecessor’s footsteps. This game certainly has charm, but it makes you work too hard for it.