Rise of the Third Power is a Kickstarter success story and new Switch release from the makers of Ara Fell. This throwback to the SNES era of turn-based JRPGs draws mechanical inspiration from Chrono Trigger and story inspiration from the real world political climate of 1930’s Europe.
Title: Rise of the Third Power
Release Date: February 10, 2022
Suggested Audience Age: Rated T for Teen
Time to Play: … I'm honestly not sure. I'm 10 hours in and feel like I'm just getting started!
Availability: Switch, PlayStation, Xbox, Steam
Recommended for fans of: Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VI, European history, pirates, and lots and lots of plot
Geek to Geek Media was provided with a review copy of this title.
I’ve had a weird relationship with RPGs. Pokémon was my gateway as a kid, and shortly after that, I played both Chrono Trigger and Earthbound. I loved all of those experiences, then just sort of fell off of the turn-based train for a good long while. Thanks to the No One Can Know About This podcast I got back into Final Fantasy with VI, then played and loved both VII and VIII.
When I saw the pixelated graphics of Rise of the Third Power, it filled me with old nostalgia for my time spent with Chrono and Ness and more recent nostalgia for the incredible story of Final Fantasy VI. I’m still only part of the way through the game, but so far Rise of the Third Power has totally sucked me in with a great story, excellent aesthetics, and one of the best turn-based battle systems I’ve ever seen.
A Story of a Historical Sort
Rise of the Third Power is very much a “story forward” RPG. The action is outstanding and the characters are great, but there’s a heavy emphasis on political intrigue, deception, and machinations. The story kicks off with you controlling a party of two ne’er-do-wells out to kidnap a princess on her wedding day. Her wedding to the heir-apparent of a rival nation was a bid to put to rest animosity that had been brewing since “The Great War”. As the story unfolds, you learn more about your characters and about a bigger plot that involves hidden military bases, espionage, and false flag operations, all in a bid to take over the world.
The stakes feel just as high in Rise of the Third Power as they do in any entry in the Final Fantasy series, except that they are grounded in the real world. There’s no undead, genetically manipulated demi-god out to suck the life force out of the very planet, nor a mad clown reigning over the apocalypse from a floating island.
Instead, Rise of the Third Power pulls on the real-world political climate of Europe between the first and second World Wars to tell a story about how delicately peace balances on a knife’s edge.
Stylization and Simplification
The team behind Rise of the Third Power has a history with RPG Maker, and some of the aesthetics from that engine have carried over into this game in the best way possible. The pixel-art on both the exploration screens and in battle look absolutely wonderful, even if stylistically they are a bit generic. You might not be able to identify a random screenshot from this game as being from this game, but any random screenshot from it looks like a beautiful little piece of retro art.
Moving into the nitty-gritty, the identity of this game takes a bit more shape. The menus are big, bold, and super easy to read. I’ve been playing this almost exclusively on the Switch Lite, and have never felt like I needed to squint to see anything.
Inside the menus, you’ve got all sorts of stuff to pick at, including skill trees, gear, items, and a super handy quest-log.
One of the things that really shines is that all of that “behind the scenes” stuff has been streamlined. The skill trees are small, but give you a bit of flexibility in how you build your characters. There’s nothing as in-depth or as overwhelming as Final Fantasy X’s sphere grid here. Similarly, healing items are extremely simplified, with names like “lesser heal” and “heal” and, presumably, a “greater heal” showing up later in the game. It reminds me of Pokemon in leveraging ease of readability rather than complication for the sake of “immersion”.
The battle system, on the other hand, is a bit more complicated than I expected it to be. This is where the development team claims they were inspired by Chrono Trigger, which is a pretty lofty goal to strive for.
From the very first encounter, I was surprised to see that there is no simple “attack” command in Rise of the Third Power. Instead, every action your character takes to attack their enemies or help their friends is in a “skills” menu. Inside that menu, each character has a unique set of abilities. True, most of them do have what is effectively a straightforward attack, but even those have flavor text and usually some specific effect that helps each character to feel unique.
Realistically, on most of your turns, you won’t end up using those basic attacks anyway. This is a battle system that is all about status effects and combinations. As an example, the early battles in the game guide you to use skills like “Sleeping Powder” and “Taunt” for crowd control, and then to use one character to inflict a “bleed” status effect to set up your next character who has an attack that gets a bonus against bleeding enemies.
The game also gives you the ability to swap your characters in and out of a battle on the fly. On any character's turn you can have them jump out and have one of your benched team members take their place. From what I’ve read, once you’ve unlocked the full roster you can even swap the entire party out in the middle of a fight in one go.
I’ve really loved the time I’ve spent with Rise of the Third Power, and am eager to keep progressing through its story. The game is an absolute joy to look at, and the way that the story unfolds has been engaging, funny, and touching… sometimes all at the same time! I’m also deeply in love with the battle system. There’s enough going on in fights to keep me focused and engaged, rather than defaulting to “tap A and hope for the best”.
I’ve been playing on Normal, and have only gotten game-overs on boss fights where I either went in unprepared or made a stupid mistake. I’ve never felt the need to grind, and even when I’ve avoided battles I’ve never felt horribly under-leveled. That is exactly the level of difficulty I want in my games, but Rise of the Third Power also has a Story difficulty setting for folks who want to treat this more like a visual novel.
Honestly, outside of the aesthetics feeling a teensy bit generic, there’s really not a lot I can say against this game. Okay, there was one place where I got stuck for hours before I reached out to the publisher begging for help because I thought my game was bugged but it turns out I just hadn’t pressed A to investigate a specific tile in the map that I needed to hit to progress, but if that isn’t an essential part of 16-bit JRPGs, I don’t know what is.