Rise of the Third Power Review (Switch)
Every once in a while, there is an indie release that stands out from the crowd. Although most projects are conceived out of a certain level of passion, only a select few exude qualities that elevate it to a genuine “labor of love.” In 2020, I felt that Ara Fell: Enhanced Edition by Stegosoft Games easily fit that bill. The flawed, but big hearted RPG was the culmination of years of blood, sweat, and tears that all started as a hobbyist project two decades prior. While the studio’s latest entry, Rise of the Third Power, doesn’t have quite the same level of historical depth, it is nonetheless an impressive end result of years of dedication and hard work by a genuinely passionate team.
Rise of the Third Power is set in the 1930’s European-inspired political landscape of Rin, revolving around three regions of power: Cirinthia, Arkadya, and Tariq. Rather than World War I, we have the “Great War,” which took place 15 years before the opening act of the game. While the war would ultimately lead to a time of peace, it was paid for by the countless soldiers and citizens caught in its crossfire. All three powers sustained grievous wounds, but the snowy region of Arkadya bore the brunt of the blows, leading to its surrender and compliance.
Many Arkadyans, however, did not agree with the Arkadyan king’s armistice, instead labeling him a weak, powerless leader. This ultimately led to the rise of Noraskov, an Arkadyan figure that was willing to do anything to restore the kingdom’s former glory, usurping the throne in the process. Now, on the eve of the wedding of princess Arielle of Cirinthia to prince Gage of Arkadya, players in the shadows begin a seemingly reckless plan in hopes of stymieing rumblings of a second Great War – one that no nation can afford – just on the horizon.
Out of all the narrative backbones a small indie studio can tackle, heavy politics is arguably one of the most difficult to do well. Not only do you need to establish a compelling and tangible leadup to current events and beyond, you also need an equal array of strong, unique characters through which to deliver it all. Fortunately, Rise of the Third Power handles both aspects remarkably well, with a globe-spanning history that equally emphasizes the scars of the past and both the concerns and goals of the future.
The game features a diverse cast with varying ethnicities and backgrounds, all of which have their moments to shine and develop in their own arcs as well as contributing in a meaningful way to the overarching narrative. While Rise of the Third Power doesn’t feature multiple endings, it does provide an overall satisfying resolution with a few unbound bits for which the player can draw their own conclusion. The game’s one and only fault, in terms of storytelling, comes from a lack of a bit of polish in the script. There are several spelling mistakes throughout that won’t necessarily break immersion, but are still worth mentioning.
Rise of the Third Power is a turn-based RPG spanning the world of Rin through the eyes of eight distinct party members. While only two party members are available at first, the team quickly expands as the player uncovers the truth behind the supposed coming of the second Great War. The player can control up to three party members at a time on the battlefield, with the eventual ability to swap in reserve party members up to three times per encounter. Combat overall is very synergistic, with strengths (and weaknesses) of individual party members truly coming to life with proper pairing and coordination.
Corrina, for example, excels in quickly dispatching foes in a single-target fashion while providing some light crowd control through her sleeping powder. Rowan, on the other hand, has high health and shouts drunken pirate obscenities at opponents to force their attacks on himself. Moreover, powerful Team Attacks become available when certain characters are paired with one another, further playing into the idea of synergistic combat.
Rise of the Third Power does not pull any punches when it comes to battles, specifically boss fights, which can often be a test of both patience and endurance. This is from the perspective of a “normal” playthrough – there are four difficulties in total that should help cover hardcore and casual players alike.
Rise of the Third Power handles character progression a bit differently than the norm. For starters, characters do not level up independently, rather they all share a singular party level. Newly attained levels increase the entire party’s health and mana (where applicable), as well as rewarding the player with talent points. Each character has their own individual talent tree and while each offers very strong, sometimes game changing bonuses, the player must be mindful of how they distribute the points across their roster.
Party members must share and split the limited number of talent points received each level, and there won’t be enough to go around to everyone. While I’m of the mind that there should be some weight in the decisions of any talent tree system, and that you shouldn’t necessarily be able to fill everyone’s entire tree, the current design kind of goes against the game’s encouragement to experiment and swap between multiple characters on the fly.
That said, there is a way to reset individual talent trees, but the item is exceedingly rare in the early game and by the end, the player will likely already have a comfortable party setup and not really need them. In the game’s defense, it rarely throws the player in a situation where a potentially untalented party member has to do battle – but it DOES happen sometimes.
Another unique feature in Rise of the Third Power is its equipment system. Rather than arriving at new towns and decking the party out with progressively better equipment, players instead will leverage crafting to permanently equip new gear that provides stat bonuses. Although some of the new gear comes with very powerful boosts, it feels a little bit too streamlined (for my tastes) compared to a more traditional method of gearing. This only applies to weapons, however, as various accessories can be freely equipped that do provide some level of gearing customization. Lastly are relics, which are rare, permanent party stat boosts that are generally awarded through side quest completion.
Dungeon Diving + Side Content
One of the strongest aspects of Rise of the Third Power are its many dungeons. Whether they are linked up to the main campaign or are simply part of a side quest, they are all intelligently crafted to not only respect the player’s time, but also to encourage exploration alongside light puzzle solving. Almost every area has branching paths, monsters, and treasures that are all integrated through a three-key design. These keys gradually open up new areas within the dungeon while often providing a shortcut to previous areas and, more importantly, the entrance. Dungeons are filled with enemies that appear on the map, and can come in normal and elite flavors – the latter being an immensely more powerful version of its normal counterpart. To round it all off, there are at least one or two boss fights in each dungeon for the player to conquer as well.
Rise of the Third Power not only has excellent dungeon design, it also has some surprisingly good side content. While no RPG is immune to “kill x, loot y” type of content, there are some genuinely compelling side story bits here to discover. One of my personal favorites had to do with discovering why a veteran felt unworthy of joining his fellow comrades for fellowship. Even in instances where the side quest story content isn’t all that deep, they often take you well off the beaten path to one of the many aforementioned dungeons that are brimming with treasure.
Presentation and Performance
The overall aesthetic of Rise of the Third Power can be described as the “best and worst” the game has to offer. On one hand, the game’s art and sound are stunning at best and above average at worst. Like Ara Fell before it, Rise of the Third Power excels at breathing life into its many seemingly handcrafted locales within various biomes, accompanied by an eclectic soundtrack that bolsters the already enticing ambiance to even greater effect. Battle graphics blend animated pixel art, pseudo hand-painted assets, and flashier visuals together into a very impressive way. Critical hits are handled especially well, emphasizing both the visual and sound effects to extreme, satisfying degrees whenever they are dealt.
On the other hand, Rise of the Third Power lacks a bit of polish elsewhere. Besides the previously mentioned spelling mistakes, blank lines can occasionally be seen in map tiles, some areas are missing some wall boundaries, one sub-event can erroneously trigger in the wrong spot, and there are a couple cases where sound effects are seemingly absent – or worse, can even bleed over – from certain events. The framerate will sometimes bog down a bit, too, usually when flashier battle effects go off and especially in docked mode. Furthermore, I experienced several crashes throughout my 25-hour playthrough, though these are somewhat pardoned by the game’s generous save (and auto-save) system.
Fortunately, these are all minor issues that can certainly be patched at a later date (if they haven’t already by the time the game goes live).
Like Ara Fell: Enhanced Edition was in 2020, Rise of the Third Power will undoubtedly be one of the best budget-friendly Switch RPGs of 2022. While there are some minor imperfections here and there, the overall package is still quite polished and impressive. Rise of the Third Power will easily provide a couple dozen hours of meaningful content for the player, with the potential for 30+ hours depending on how much side content is pursued. Simply put, it is an absolute must-have for all turn-based RPG fans.