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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (477)

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Pikmin 4 4/5
No Man's Sky 4/5
Dragon Quest Monsters: ... 4/5
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Ruzar - The Life Stone 3.5/5
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin 3.5/5

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Eiyuden Chronicle: Rising   PC (Steam) 

Fetch Quest: The Game    3/5 stars

‘Eiyuden Chronicle’ is a new IP brought to us by the Japanese Indie developer, Rabbit & Bear, consisting of several former Konami employees who once worked on the dormant ‘Suikoden’ franchise during the PlayStation and PlayStation 2 eras. Like so many other renowned Japanese IPs, ‘Suikoden’ failed to make the leap into the ‘HD Era’ of the 7th Generation, and ultimately ended its run with the dismal “Suikoden Tierkreis” on the original DS, way back in 2009.

However, there is still a raging demand for – and distressing shortage of – high-quality Role-Playing games that hearken back to the Golden Age, when that genre reigned supreme as the Console Kingmaker, leaving a legacy of fond memories with gamers, even those who first encountered such gems decades after release on legacy hardware or via emulation.

I am always on the lookout for new, good RPG experiences, especially those that promise a return to form. Unfortunately, Square-Enix often talks about doing such things, but almost never delivers on those promises. And with Konami appearing content to – at best – turn ‘Suikoden’ into a series of Japanese pachinko machines, learning that the old crew behind the series wanted to make a spiritual successor really bolstered my spirits. After all, we’ve recently seen inXile take old IPs and old developers and churn out incredible, modern sequels… so why can’t Rabbit & Bear do the same?

As a Kickstarter project, ‘Eiyuden Chronicle’ needed to build up a critical mass of hype and support – which it got – with one of the stretch goals being a ‘prequel’ game of sorts that would introduce some of the world and characters in the main “Eiyuden Chronicle: Hundred Heroes” scheduled to be released in 2023. With a 2022 release to help tide backers over, “Eiyuden Chronicle: Rising” (“ECR”) took the unprecedented step of teasing a story-based, character-driven, turn-based RPG with… an Action game that isn’t any of those things. Oh, dear.

Presentation
“ECR” is, like so many modern Indie games from every region on earth, built in the Unity Engine. However, the perfectionism that used to be synonymous with Japanese videogame development still seems to be strong in the team assembled by Rabbit & Bear (in collaboration with NatsumeAtari – what?), as the finished product shows few, if any, Unity Engine quirks. “ECR” is a 2.5D side-scrolling game in the style popularized by many Indie revival projects, where some aspects of the game – in this case, the environments – are 3D and crafted from polygons, while other aspects are 2D sprites. In the case of “ECR,” the 3D and 2D sort of blend together, with additional sprite-based layering in the backdrops, which look very nice and provide a unique aesthetic that isn’t overly ‘retro’ or ‘old-school.’ Character sprites show off a lot of personality and variety, as the game’s small world is populated by a large number of unique characters, in addition to a handful of generic folks. However, while the sprites look great in screen shots, they aren’t exactly well animated, coming across like paper-craft puppets rather than the type of hand-animated work we used to see in 5th Generation ‘Suikoden’ games.

Audio is fairly strong, but definitely feels like an afterthought. The soundtrack is pleasant enough, but ultimately doesn’t hold a candle to the likes of “Suikoden 2” or “Suikoden 3,” as it’s even lacking in a strong opening theme to really kick things off on the right foot. Audio is further short-changed by the fact that the game is entirely undubbed: No Japanese voiceacting, no English voice acting – pure silence. To be fair, I don’t know if skipping VO work altogether is ultimately a negative, considering that projects like this always tend to hire from the same pool of anime dubbers when they do feature voiceacting.

Technically, “ECR” is an incredibly solid experience. I didn’t experience so much as a single minor glitch during my time playing. Furthermore, as a PC-first release, the game features excellent Xinput support, an auto-save system (complemented by a traditional save point/slot system), a toggle-able quest log, and a useful map system. If only more modern games could get these basic down as well as “ECR!”

Story
“ECR” introduces us to our protagonist, a tomboyish teenage girl in pink hot-pants named CJ who shows up in the outskirts of a town called New Nevaeh in search of treasure. As CJ so vociferously points out to anyone who will listen to her, her Scavenger Clan has a unique coming-of-age ritual in which all children are kicked out of their parent’s homes at age 15 and aren’t allowed to return until they’ve claimed a treasure bigger than their predecessor. In CJ’s case, she’s hot on the trail of rumors of humongous (her word, not mine) rune lenses being discovered in a recently-unearthed archaeological site near New Nevaeh, and she’s going to find the humongous-est.

CJ quickly discovers that New Nevaeh is setting itself up to profit off its proximity to the Rune Barrows, and that she must pay an unreasonable sum of money for an excavation license, then pay a further 30% tax on anything she finds in her expeditions. Of course, an alternative quickly presents itself, by which CJ can earn a ‘free’ license by doing good deeds around New Nevaeh – in what I can only hope is a parody of the Chinese Social Credit system – in exchange for stamps on a stamp card.

Teaming up with a kangaroo beastman named… Garoo (yikes) and a blue-haired girl named Isha (who is the acting mayor and mind behind all of the taxes and schemes in the city), CJ sets out to make her fortune… by making friends with everyone in town. And how does a tomboy in pink hot-pants make friends? No, it’s not the way one would think: It’s by fetch questing.

Everyone in and around the town of New Nevaeh quickly realizes that CJ is an absolute patsy and will risk life and limb if she can get her card stamped. Thus everyone constantly badgers her to bring them stuff that they can’t be bothered to get themselves. Need some lumber? Ask CJ to knock down a few trees in the forest! Need some ore? Ask CJ to go to the mine and get some! Need medicinal herbs? Forest! Giant Ice Cubes, Molten Lava Lumps, Thunderbird Eggs, garden seeds, pelts, fish, and any/all lost and/or stolen items? Ask CJ! She’ll go get all that crap and drag it right back!

Ultimately, there is a little bit of world lore teased within the bound of “ECR” that hints at a wider world and some of the geopolitical tensions within it. Other world lore can be divined by the names, architecture, and other cultural signals which indicate that “ECR” takes place in a fantasized version of Southeast Asia, with an Evil Empire threatening the independence of smaller city-states through subterfuge, covert agents, and good old corruption. However, all of this is subtle, and, sadly, gets completely buried by the pedestrian banality of collecting junk for a bunch of needy townsfolk. There’s even a great magical mystery to be solved, but it pops-up and is given a solution within the last few chapters of the game, leading me to worry that the team at Rabbit & Bear aren’t really up to the task of creating story-based games, if this was the best they could manage for their stand-alone prologue.

“ECR” is fairly short, clocking in at around 15 hours to finish, with an extra 5 hours or so required to slog through the post-game material, which – I kid you not – gives CJ the opportunity to do ALL THE FETCH QUESTS over again for a second time. Needless to say, I found the storytelling in “ECR” to be excruciatingly boring, and the only reason I bothered to 100% the achievements is the promise by the dev team that there will be nebulous ‘bonuses’ in the main ‘Eiyuden Chronicle’ game for people who import their “ECR” save.

Gameplay
What do you do when you want to build hype for your new turn-based RPG? Do you release a prologue that introduces the mechanical ideas and concepts from your upcoming project? No! That would be tipping your hand too much, obviously! Instead, you should release a short, repetitive Metroidvania-style Action game featuring some of the same characters! That’ll build hype, for sure!

Biting sarcasm aside, yes, “ECR” is a sidescrolling Metroidvania in every sense of the term. CJ and company start out with the ability to visit a small forested area, with numerous impassable obstacles and a (repeatable) boss fight at the end. By advancing through both the story and the weapon/armor upgrade trees, CJ and company can unlock extra abilities that allow them to return to previously-explored areas and venture onto new, untrodden paths.

The upgrade system, however, is heavily gated by the storyline, as “ECR” seems to be teasing a city/castle-building system like those seen in the ‘Suikoden’ series, only without any of the nuance or interest. In ‘Suikoden,’ recruiting people from around the world to work at the player’s castle was interesting and engaging, keeping the player on alert for anyone who seemed discontent with their current circumstances and who might be open to putting their unique skills to use in the war effort. In “ECR,” people just show up in town when the story beats dictate and demand CJ bring them some crap that they need to build their storefronts. Of course, these people are never explicitly content with their storefronts, and, as the story dictates, will demand new shipments of crap in order to upgrade – with a bright, shiny, slot-machine-style “LEVEL UP” that flashes across the screen – their stores to offer better tiers of stuff for sale and additional upgrades. Upgrades are further walled off by the fact that CJ and company will need to provide specific materials for each – in addition to the materials provided to build/upgrade the vendors – and higher-tier upgrades require materials from dungeon areas that only become accessible – again – as the story dictates.

The upside of running through the same handful of dungeon areas – of which there are a rather picayune number, at five – is that the game features a robust fast-travel system that allows the player to warp around town at incredible speed, and to skip retreads of significant portions of each dungeon by warping between signposts, which also act as save points, that appear at sensible intervals. Likewise, the drop rates for the various types of junk and debris the player must collect from monsters and environments are incredibly generous, which makes hunting for the stuff less time-consuming and annoying than in, say, the ‘Atelier’ series.

Combat in “ECR” is fairly unique, in that it is kinda-sorta combo-based and takes the three-player party into account in a rather novel way. Each character in the party corresponds to one of the controller face buttons: CJ is X, and performs light attacks; Garoo is Y, and performs heavy attacks; while Isha is B, and performs ranged attacks. Each character, further, has a unique evasion skill, with CJ able to double-jump and dash (eventually) through enemies and attacks, Garoo able to block and sometimes reflect projectiles, and Isha able to do a Princess Peach-style slow-fall and limited-range teleport. Hitting a character’s respective button makes them the active character for all platforming and movement, but hitting an enemy with one character’s attack can be ‘link chained’ to another character’s attack, leading to devastating combos that are mildly enjoyable, but really only come into play against bosses. Of course, with CJ’s ability to double-jump and dash, she will be the primary movement/platforming character 99% of the time, since Garoo feels fat and clunky, while Isha’s teleport is flaky and extremely situational.

So, are there any RPG elements in this game, or is it pure Action? Yeah, there’s a leveling system. Characters gain more health and boosted stats as they level up, but the lion’s share of the stat boosting occurs via the equipment upgrade trees. But, as I have established in some of my earliest writings at MeltedJoystick, just having an experience-based leveling system does NOT make a game an RPG. “ECR” looks like a Metroidvania, progresses like a Metroidvania, and controls like a Metroidvania. It is what it is, and as a Metroidvania, it feels small, repetitive, and kinda dull.

Overall
While it is fairly easy on the eyes and ears, “Eiyuden Chronicle: Rising” feels very out of place for what it’s trying to be. As a prologue or teaser for the upcoming “Eiyuden Chronicle: Hundred Heroes,” I can’t understand why the development team decided to go with a completely different genre. Teasing a turn-based RPG with a Metroidvania is about as silly as advertising a Dungeons & Dragons product during the Super Bowl – yeah, there might be some crossover appeal, but I feel like that Venn Diagram is just showing a sliver. Likewise, teasing a story-based game with a seemingly-endless laundry list of fetch quests isn’t exactly getting off on the right foot. Golden Age RPGs didn’t lean particularly hard on fetch questing and menial filler, but instead started off with plot and intrigue right out of the gate. Indeed, I feel like “Eiyuden Chronicle: Rising” had the exact opposite effect the team intended, as my unbridled excitement for “Eiyuden Chronicle: Hundred Heroes” is now tinged with trepidation.

Presentation: 4/5
Story: 2.5/5
Gameplay: 2.5/5
Overall (not an average): 3/5

 

 


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