Intelligent Systems is an influential developer in many ways. Especially when it comes to strategic series. I mean, it’s responsible for two of the finest ones out there. So it’s only natural for other developers to look at that and try their hand at the formula. Makee’s Rise Eterna is a prime example of a game shaped by Fire Emblem. It’s an indie affair clearly influenced in many ways by the series. And while it isn’t another general in the army, it’s not a bad soldier to have in your reserves.
Rise Eterna begins as many strategy games do. One country utterly decimated another. The Athracian Empire assaulted the peaceful Ars Rare Kingdom 35 years ago and now the former subjects are barely getting by. Athracian forces are still hostile. Bandits are everywhere. People struggle to get by. Natheal is an Ars Rare soldier turned bandit to survive, though he mainly tends the camp while the others harass people. When his crew doesn’t return after a village raid, he investigates to find a young woman named Lua amidst the ruined village, claiming she defeated them all. She has a mysterious backstory and only “appeared” at the village when she was seven, entrusted to an elder. Now she, Nathael, and a bunch of people she seems to generally dislike are all gathering to reunite her with her “sisters” for a greater purpose.
However, Rise Eterna‘s narrative isn’t the best. This a game that attempts to be gritty. Let’s take some of the opening moments as an example. Lua is portrayed as a potential savior. She detests Nathael’s behavior. However, her behavior and actions end up feeling as villainous, if not more so. It’s a game where swearing can feel gratuitous and tossed in an effort to make people seem edgy. For the sake of avoiding spoilers, it is also one where it doesn’t feel very satisfying or well thought out.
Like Fire Emblem, Rise Eterna places your army on a grid to face off against opposing units. Your goals are stated at the outside of each match. The more general ones are “defeat all enemies.” The harsher ones might ask for a specific boss to be killed, you to reach a certain area while keeping people alive, or both. You move around and ideally defeat foes. (Eventually, maps will include unseen traps littered along the way.) When you select a foe to attack, you’ll get a brief look at the odds of dealing a certain amount of damage. Though take hit percentages with a grain of salt. I would regularly see someone like Sarajed have an 85% or higher chance of landing a hit and miss.
When an attack takes place, Rise Eterna gives you a classic Fire Emblem perspective where you zoom in on the two characters dueling. If other characters are nearby to provide support bonuses, you’ll see them alongside your attacking ally as well. (Likewise, if enemies are clustered together, they’ll get that same bonus.) This could cause a group attack. There are no support conversations, however, so don’t expect people to get chatty on the battlefield. No “weapon triangle” system is in effect, so no need to worry about sending certain people to fight specific units.
To be fair, there are times when Rise Eterna does try to do its own thing. For example, there’s a skill tree system. Each character gets a skill point for every battle. While there’s something of a general branch and character-specific one, each attempt to offer a way to customize someone. However, only the character-specific skills really make a difference, so it’s clearly a situation where you follow one path. It introduces crafting as well. When you go through maps, you can “gather” at glimmering spots to acquire materials. These can be turned into items and potions.
In place of equipment, Rise Eterna has items and stones. You can’t change a character’s default weapons. However, they have items in their inventory for brief attacks. You also can come across stones while gathering or looting treasure chests. Each one can randomly have certain stat buffs or debuffs. Assigning them can alter their build. It’s also a situation where it is best to trash ones with negatives far outweighing positives for resources. And, since this is a game with opportunities to grand for more items, it’s fine to trash the worst gems you get.
I’d say Rise Eterna’s greatest failing is that it is both tedious and unbalanced. The AI, coupled with opportunities to grind and maps that are often much larger than they need to be, keep the game from testing the player. If you aren’t in an enemy’s range, they either won’t move tactically or will outright ignore you you. From what I saw, they weren’t really smart enough to “team up” against my units for support bonuses. But then sometimes, since there are no terrain bonuses and open expanses, you could be forced into a situation where a squishy character like Sothy will immediately be ganged up on and killed. Though that threat is mitigated once you lead him up with gems. After a while, only enemies or traps that inflict status effects are a real hazard.
The crafting system also means that sometimes you won’t get what you need. You want a Minor Health Potion? You need to make a Minor Health Potion. Which means you need to hope you ended up grabbing berries and water while gathering. Which perhaps means it is a good thing that it often isn’t too demanding. But also sometimes you’ll gather and find nothing. That’s disappointing. Just as disappointing as a randomized chest giving you an item you won’t use or terrible gem. Especially if you were counting on certain resources. At least you can pop back into past maps to gather again, check newly refreshed chests, and earn more skill points for newer recruits, which can help.
Makee definitely knew what it wanted Rise Eterna to be. I applaud some of its ideas, like how the developer tried to implement a crafting system and skill tree. But on the whole, it doesn’t offer the same balanced challenges as its contemporaries. The resulting game is filled with maps that are too large and enemies that stop feeling threatening. There’s effort here and it tries, but it doesn’t leave you feeling like you accomplished anything.
Rise Eterna is available on the Nintendo Switch. A PC version is on the way.