A fun and challenging RPG with unique combat and a few missteps.
From Stegosoft, the developers of Ara Fell, comes Rise of the Third Power, another turn-based RPG that leans heavily into nostalgia for the 16-bit era. Unlike its direct predecessor, Rise of the Third Power brings together a colorful cast of characters with different personalities that help to propel the story forward, a tale that begins with the kidnapping of a princess. From there, your team eventually grows to a party of eight, with side quests and a bit more of an open world in the game’s final hours. While some of the art leaves a sour impression and the progression lacks genuine depth, there’s a fairly enjoyable 20 to 25-hour experience for fans of 2D RPGs.
The story opens with two characters, Rowan and Corrina, stalking outside a castle waiting for their opportunity to sneak inside. Their short term goal is to kidnap the princess Arielle to prevent a wedding, but their ultimate aim is to stop an all-out war between the major nations of the world of Rin. Rise of the Third Power carries with it a pronounced sense of history, much of which is detailed throughout character dialogue. Most in this world are still feeling the effects of the Great War, and so it stands to reason that our heroes would do everything it takes to avoid another one. Not so for the villain of this narrative, the nefarious emperor of Arkadia, Dmitri Noraskov, who seeks to instigate a major conflict involving the other two major powers. The story’s loose historical connection gives it a weight that makes major narrative beats more interesting, but it’s hard not to feel that there’s a fair bit of padding to extend the game’s runtime.
The fairly linear path through the story takes you from different towns and castles to desert paths, caverns, and even the high seas. Along the way, enemies show up on the overmap and can be engaged with by walking into them, although it’s even enough to just run around most of them. Combat is actually fairly involved, opening with a choice of which party members from your group you want to start the battle with, up to a maximum of three. In addition to standard health meters, every character has a secondary meter that acts a bit differently; for some, it’s a regular old MP meter, while others build up Fury through various actions that can be used to activate stronger abilities. Almost every party member has status-inflicting or crowd-control moves. The mage, Aden, can even summon a demon to fight alongside the party. The attacks and abilities of your party are delivered with a distinct visual flair, which makes watching your side of the combat a real treat. Overall, battles are largely enjoyable, and there’s no shortage of challenging boss encounters from the midpoint onward.
The entire party gains experience as a unit, with level-ups bestowing skill points that are pooled and can be used to unlock new abilities for each character, improve old ones, or boost specific stats. While certainly a bit novel, this simplification makes it difficult for new members of your team to be as proficient as those you’ve been focusing on strengthening. Weapon upgrades, rather than being purchased in stores, are crafted at any time from materials you find in chests, around the overworld, or as loot from vanquished foes. Each character has their own weapon ladder that you work your way up through crafting and then a single slot for a relic accessory. My favorite of these allows one character to always have the first turn in battle, no matter what, but others provide meaningful buffs as well.
In terms of presentation, the world of Rise of the Third Power is filled with vibrant colors in all their pixelated glory. As mentioned earlier, some of the visual effects during combat are particular standouts, but on the other end of the spectrum are the character portraits that accompany dialogue. These seem to be aiming for an anime style, but they clash with the retro look of everything around them. What’s worse is that they take up so much screen real estate that they end up being more of an eyesore than a compliment to the interactions between party members. Even though the music isn’t all that distinct or memorable, it does fit well with the mostly light-hearted tone of the game. Most parts of the world map are nice to look at, even if certain areas drag on for a few too many screens.
One major concern about Rise of the Third Power is that the tone is wildly inconsistent. In one moment, the death of an important character takes place, and minutes after the characters most impacted by that event will have moved on entirely. The dialogue skews very heavily into the comedic and slapstick, and this hinders the emotionally weighty scenes from having any real payoff. There are times when the game seems to want to deliver meaningful gravitas and drama, but it never stays with those darker or more serious beats long enough for them to feel meaningful. In a shorter RPG, I could forgive the more abrupt tonal shifts for the sake of pacing, but across more than two dozen hours, it’s a glaring problem with this story.
Another issue is that the main dungeon exploration loop relies far too much on a simple key-collecting process. Within every chapter, the primary dungeon or city escape will task you with collecting a bronze, silver, and gold key, in that order. There isn't usually much of a trick to gathering the keys except for backtracking through rooms that all look the same or being forced to notice small visual details that don't necessarily stand out with the art style. This is a prime example of the type of padding I mentioned earlier, and it detracts from what is a solid experience overall.
Rise of the Third Power, whether in 2022 or 1992, will still slot into the middle of the pack for SNES-inspired RPGs. The combat and overarching story are clear highlights, but there's undeniable bloat that hurts the pacing and the character portraits, for the most part, would be better left on the cutting room floor. While a babystep up from Ara Fell, which I awarded a 7 out of 10 in 2020, Rise of the Third Power doesn't quite do enough to earn a full-throated recommendation. That said, it's still a fairly enjoyable classic RPG experience with interesting characters, a simple but fun battle system, and some humorous dialogue.