Fernando Da Costa
Review: Rise of the Third Power
By: Fernando Da Costa
Developer: Stegosoft Games
Publisher: Dangen Entertainment
Available On: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Review Console: Nintendo Switch OLED
A BLAST FROM THE PAST! - Introduction
I grew up during the SNES era and, because of that, have an infatuation with pixelated goodness. The JRPGs using that style were among my favourites because the simplicity of the visuals spoke to me, captivating me with the beauty they exuded. At 32, it seems there's a resurgence of old ideas, and I'm here for it - I support anything that makes me feel young again. Rise of the Third Power comes from Stegosoft, the same team that brought us Ara Fell. Like it, this title invokes a potent sense of nostalgia deep within my heart. From every screenshot I've seen thus far, this title seems to boast an expansive overworld - islands, forests, and so on. I'm excited to jump in and discover its secrets. The music on the start-up screen has me optimistic, but is that a red herring?
THAT SUPER NINTENDO TOUCH! - Writing
Many would arguably deem any JRPGs that graced the Super Nintendo as the genre's gold standard. Apart from the crispy pixel art, another commonality is the distinct writing style. It's hard to explain, but every game had that certain je ne sais quoi. Due to the limited graphical prowess, it was up to the literary side to hold it down, and hold it, it did. There's an unmissable charm that contorts your lips into a big smile and causes your belly to bounce with laughter. Rise of the Third Power manages to mimic that same appeal comfortably. I was frequently chuckling and found every character charismatic. For example, the woman that harnesses a cannon exclaiming that she adores explosions is strangely endearing. It won't be perfect throughout, of course, but most of the time, it's a friggin' slam dunk.
THAT'S A LOT OF TALKING! - Writing
A regular occurrence in my reviews is touting how important excellent banter is to investment. That's a sentiment I hold firm and one Rise of the Third Power shares. Stegosoft has done an amazing job nailing chemistry. Off the bat, we're introduced to both Rowan and Corinna, two individuals with an unsavoury past. The snark they exchange is rather humorous within the first few minutes of meeting them. It felt authentic to their closely-knit relationship. Hell, the writing's so good, I began to hope for the best for either. It also touches on love, with Rowan being a hopeless romantic. I found the presentation was grounded, and I sat here, rooting for his success. Never fret, as that's a reaction I shared with every party member. They're all so well-defined and a joy to watch.
Again, Rise of the Third Power is a stellar nostalgic romp. It isn't only because of the graphical fidelity and script, but also how the world's structured. Those inconsequential pleasantries of NPCs are full of silly quips. While having minimal effect on the actual plot, they help to flesh out the universe, giving it a lived-in feel; it provides these strings of code lives. My sole gripe is because so many folks populate these towns, the dialogue can be overwhelming. I could see some eventually deviating from conversing with everyone. I'm not confident labelling that as a negative, though, because if anything, it's a testament to the meticulous effort put forth. Don't worry; cutting back on chatter won't affect quests. None are missable since they're always shown with exclamation marks, though some are hidden in buildings.
THINGS ARE GETTING REAL! - Writing
A particular facet I wasn’t expecting due to the fast and loose sense of humour is how genuine Rise of the Third Power can be. Seriously, some subject matter caught me entirely off-guard with how visceral it is. It's never overly grotesque, though shoutout to the woman with the desire to disembowel her enemies. No, I'm referring to moments that touch on real-life emotional pain and grim acceptance. For example, a character goes through the grief of losing her parents. It made me wonder what life will be like when I lose both of mine. However, what truly resonates most are the aforementioned matters of the heart. It never shies from the reality of having your soul crushed or those feelings being manipulated to coax you into doing favours for your love interest. That additional dimension helps round out the narrative further, making it infinitely more engrossing.
SOME LIGHT TRIPPING! - Writing
Alright, I've been gushing endlessly about the writing, but, as I said before, it isn't without fault. Before the story really begins, there are a couple of blunders that don't paint a reassuring picture. One instance happens during the kidnapping of the Princess. Everything is playing out as one expects - guards preventing your escape, and she's resisting. That doesn't last very long, though, and Stockholm Syndrome seems to afflict her immediately; she starts cooperating. I understand that because of running into the sewers and monsters being there, they want to survive. So, of course, they work as a unit, but she's convinced quite easily. There's also a snippet of convenient plot progression - there's no nuance. Fortunately, that's minor, and I urge you to push through because perceived drivel can turn into audible cusses. Some foreshadowing is subtle, and I adore the moment of realizing something isn't as it seems.
C'MON, LET'S GRIND A LITTLE! - Gameplay
As another JRPG releases, another discussion about grinding opens. While there's some in Rise to the Third Power, how much of a role it plays is totally up to you. See, upon starting, the game prompts you to choose a difficulty setting. By selecting the hardest option, enemies see an increase in strength, forcing you to stay on top of levelling. If, however, grinding isn't your cup of tea, opting for an easier option lessens it but maintains a semblance of challenge - it's also the ideal way to enjoy the superb story. Doing it this way is ingenious as it appeals to both spectrums of players. I chose the equivalent of normal because it allows me to get the best of both worlds. Don't get too cocky because even at the easiest, game-overs are possible. Enemies remain formidable, so having an auto-save feature is appreciated.
Now, the experience points earned serve another purpose; they can enhance accessories. These already have a perk by default, be it a betterment of stats or an affliction immunity. It's typical fare so far, although, upon close inspection, you'll notice an empty bar. Filling that up unlocks an Attunement and, doing so, unleashes a saucy bonus on top of the one that accessory already offers. So, shine off the blade and load up the pistol because some are damn useful, from bolstering your defence against either melee or physical to granting a random buff before combat. Again, this is optional to do, but I loved working on unlocking those hidden additions for curiosity's sake. Stumbling on an immeasurably helpful one is such a rush of dopamine. If you choose to opt-out, the game is still bearable, if not slightly harder.
SOME OLD AND SOME UNIQUE! - Gameplay
Something that helps set Rise of the Third Power apart from others is the method of acquiring equipment. It's unique in that the traditional approach of purchasing a stronger one isn't feasible. Instead, it uses a crafting system, though it's quite basic in implementation. All characters possess a base weapon that can periodically be built up seven times, with armour not having many upgrade tiers. Any upgrade materials usually drop after hard-fought combat. If you're determined to stay out of battling, though, then fear not, as they can also be bought at shops as the story naturally progresses. Another standout feature that JRPGs rarely utilize is skill trees. Each character has one, and that is how they learn new techniques. These are limited, but I didn't mind that much. I rarely ever use all that's available in other titles anyway, so this was great.
For those curious about the combat system, it harkens back to the classic turn-based days. Attack order is determined by an active time bar located in the top corner. Who takes action first relies on the overall speed values, and who among yourself and the enemies is higher. Well, that's unless you're wearing a specific attuned accessory. I love this as it makes me strategize assaults and position my healing commands accordingly - nothing worse than forgetting the order, only to heal the dead before resurrection. It's a waste of a turn, leaving the newly revived character entirely vulnerable to being killed again. Of course, there's an inherent tedium with turn-based since everyone acts one at a time. There's potential to drag on unless you choose easy mode. Still, it's something to keep in the back of your head. Although, the fluent animations and enemy blood splattering freely help alleviate waiting.
Here's another aspect I immensely adore that Rise of the Third Power does. As we've established, quests exist, and sometimes, they include fetching an item. What I find remarkable about this, and to an extent, quality of life improvement, is that it's viable to finish the first step without officially accepting it. In other words, the game recognizes you're working towards completing an aim. So, it kickstarts from that instance before carrying on normally, thus bypassing initial steps. This is beneficial for anyone that, like me, loves to survey new areas before continuing the main plot. Any miscellaneous caves I come by, I enter gleefully. See, those objectives tend to lead into these spots anyway, so skipping those starting steps helps mitigate backtracking. Even without speaking to the task giver, I can activate the quest by simply grabbing whatever is inside.
INSPIRATION FROM A GEM! - Gameplay
If what I've said thus far still fails to convince you, then listen up. One thing we can all agree on is that Chrono Trigger is a damn diamond. Rise of the Third Power attempts to emulate that same greatness by infusing elements into its DNA. Overworld traversal has a striking resemblance and functions in an identical manner. There are several islands waiting for you to sail to them, each holding secrets of their own, like booty. Another lifted feature is partnering abilities. Essentially, a particular twosome has the chance to combine and unleash a devastating strike, inflicting massive damage - note the animations of these are smooth as butter. It marries their fighting styles into this amalgamation that never sacrifices their individuality - it's never flashy for the sake of being flashy.
WHAT A PRETTY PHOTO! - Presentation
The amount of detail poured into every crevice of this pixelated world is truly something to behold. If the passion wasn't evident by my endless praise up to this point, then it's going to be screaming soon. There are minor hiccups, with collision detection of one area being wholly forgotten. The good news is walking through the wall doesn't break the game in any way. In actuality, it brings you to a dead end. My second small nitpick is during fanfare after a slaughtering. The gleeful looks on sprites didn't quite match the aesthetic - the lines were too clean. The animations, again, are basically flawless. Arms were rising as characters would cheer, or hair would flop as it's flicked. It bears repeating how fluent movements are. Since there's never a stutter, I could lose myself without constant reminders that this is a video game.
WHAT SULTRY MUSINGS! - Sound Design
Point blank, I'm thoroughly impressed by the OST. It's definitive proof that Rise of the Third Power is a project Stegosoft committed themselves to make a hidden gem. Given the retro aesthetic, the door was wide open to going the obvious route of chiptune. That's not exactly what happens. The score here is orchestrated, or at least it's so good, it's tricking my earholes into thinking it is. The ambiance of rain and water is perfect, and that battle track is damn catchy. This game is a wonderful return to the days I'd cuddle beneath a blanket with a hot cup of coffee and play JRPGs like Final Fantasy VI. It's a blend of modern sensibilities in the form of a pristine score with the instruments blaring while maintaining old-school charm. It does commit a cardinal sin, though, and infrequently uses the tracks to amplify the emotional stakes of scenes.
AND THE OLD-SCHOOL VERDICT IS…
Rise of the Third Power is a faithful recreation of the JRPGs of the golden era. Everything it attempts, it nails with vigour. Regardless of my tiny nitpicks and brief narrative stumbling, it's outstanding. There's betrayal, death, relationships, and everything that makes a compelling experience. There were countless days I'd lose all concept of time as I would push on a couple more minutes. Few games can successfully fudge up my sleep schedule, and I adored it. The sense of humour, while yes, is subjective, had me smiling and chuckling like an utter dork. My first impressions of the character portraits were unfavourable. To say neither of them grew on me would be lying, though. They were full of expression. Sure, the story follows a generic "trying to prevent a war" plotline, but what surrounds that propels it to superiority. Oh, and the doggies can give you kisses!
With LGBTQ+ relationships represented and a soundtrack that's beyond pleasing, I recommend Rise of the Third Power until I'm blue in the face. There is zero reason not to pick this up.
Special thanks to Dangen Entertainment, who provided the code used for this coverage.