As far as I’m concerned, the indie game Chained Echoes might just be the perfect retro-styled JRPG. From the storytelling to the combat system, it seems to do everything right!
I was provided with a free digital code of Chained Echoes for review. The opinions I have shared are my own.
This review is of my experience playing Chained Echoes on the Nintendo Switch.
Developed by Matthias Linda and published by Deck13, Chained Echoes is definitely a title I recommend for JRPG fans. Linda did an impressive job of combining the retro vibe with mechanics that will appeal to modern players. Everything is fast and to the point while paying homage to similar games from the past.
The story takes place in the continent of Valandis. The in-game world’s a mix of fantasy and Steampunk. The residents have experienced centuries of war. However, things changed drastically after a the Opus Stone caused a massive explosion and killed numerous people.
Chained Echoes actually opened by putting the player in the midst of said major event. You get introduced to mercenaries named Glenn and Kylian. They can pilot large mech suits called Sky Armor. I liked how the game gave me a small taste of what the Sky Armor was capable of doing before making me go back to non-Sky Armor battle sequences after Glenn and Kylian’s mech suits got destroyed.
The good news is that you do get access to Sky Armor again. However, it will take you a very long time to get them back in a game that easily provides you with 30 to 40 hours of gameplay (if you’re into doing side quests). The wait isn’t a bad thing though, as there’s a lot to do before you get to the Sky Armor portion again.
Before I talk about the gameplay, I want to speak a bit about the storytelling. I wasn’t expecting Chained Echoes to have a well-written mature take that looked at the gray areas involved in politics. Even though the three Kingdoms signed a peace treaty after the massive explosion, things were still vulnerable due to certain Kingdoms having their own agendas. In a sense, it’s true when they say that humanity can’t live without war. There’s always going to be someone out there that will instigate violence and chaos in their pursuit of power or profit. Our main group of heroes gets involved in preventing a continent-spanning war from breaking out as well as finding the truth behind what caused the massive explosion in the first place.
I liked how the game introduced the characters separately before having them come together. After Glenn and Kylian’s screen time at the beginning of the game, we move on to control Lenne and Robb. Lenne’s a princess who decided to run away from her kingdom to learn more about the outside world. Robb’s her sworn protector. Lenne’s arc was quite interesting as she tried to make sense of her loyalty to her brother and what’s actually happening out there.
Glenn’s guilt due to the role he played in causing the massive explosion also made for an interesting character arc. We’re also introduced to a thief named Sienna who got to learn that helping others is better than always looking out for her own interests. There are a bunch of characters you will get to play as, with the narrative allowing them to interact with each other to change their relationship dynamics. Be ready for blossoming friendships and betrayal. Certain twists and turns really got me.
Each character comes with their own unique skills and abilities. You can easily switch between using magic attacks and traditional weapons, depending on the characters you have recruited. Of course, new skills can be unlocked and upgraded. Weapons can also be upgraded. Each character also has an ultra move that, depending on the character, can be accompanied by certain buffs and nerfs. More special abilities can be unlocked by praying at certain heroic alters. So, yeah, the upgrading and crafting systems to make your party grow stronger in the manner you want are quite deep.
The fact that character actions have their own animations adds to the immersive offered by this game.
The most unique gameplay feature has got to be the Overdrive Combat System. It’s visualized by a bar on the top left corner of the screen. The bar has three sections. The goal is to keep your team in the Green, or Overdrive, portion of the bar as doing so will lead to your party dealing more damage, taking less damage, and spending less TP for using skills and abilities. Going into the Red portion will lead to the bar overheating and causing your party members to take more damage and deal less damage to enemies.
The tracker below the bar can be moved by performing certain actions during the turn-based battle system. Keeping the tracker in the Overdrive section encourages you to try different skills and abilities instead of mindlessly spamming the same action during fights. The tracker will also move during enemy turns. So, watch out!
Keeping an eye on the Overdrive bar and trying to make sure that you remain in Overdrive as much as possible added a very fun strategic layer to my confrontations with various monsters and Boss fights.
You can also switch out certain characters during battles whenever you want. This allows you to go into battle with a maximum of eight characters, even though you can only use four of them at a time. I really liked the switch out, or ‘tag’, mechanic because it didn’t make you lose a turn. The character that’s tagged in during battle can perform an action immediately. The mechanic allowed me to have fun during certain fights. For example, I would use Robb to poison my enemies and then switch him with Lenne to deal elemental damage.
And of course, gaining access to the giant Sky Armors allowed my party to deal incredible damage and look cool while doing it.
There’s a lot to explore in the colorful in-game world. You can spend hours trying to find hidden areas and gain awards by completing certain mini or side missions. I found the design of the mission board to be very interesting. Chained Echoes really encourages players to try and experience everything the in-game world can offer. And it’s a good thing that the pixel-art characters basically run everywhere. As I said, this game is quick, which makes exploring not feel tedious.
The enemy designs aren’t the most memorable, though, especially when it comes to the random minion-like creatures you will encounter in the wild. I found the designs to be a bit too cartoony, and they didn’t gel well with what I would expect from the fantasy steampunk vibe in Chained Echoes. Then again, that can be chalked up to personal preferences. The Boss designs are cool, though.
The soundtrack featured in Chained Echoes is also one of the best I have heard in a while. I tend to turn off the volume if the repeating soundtrack in RPGs starts to annoy me. However, I didn’t have to do that while playing this game. The official soundtrack is by Eddie Marianukorh and it includes 50 tracks. It’s available through bandcamp and Steam. It’s so good!
Released on December 8, 2022, you can go ahead and play Chained Echoes right now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series, PC, and the Nintendo Switch. It’s also available through Game Pass.
Exclusively distributed by First Press Games, a physical release (you can pre-order it) is planned for the Summer of 2023. Someone buy it for me. Thank you!
If you’re into JRPGs that offer hours of engaging gameplay and deliver the nostalgia of retro-styled games, you need to check out Chained Echoes. I have a feeling you will love it as much as I did, if not more. Also, if someone you know is into JRPGs, get them this game as a holiday gift that they will surely appreciate.
Have you played Chained Echoes already? What did you think of it?
Let us know.
Farid has a Double Masters in Psychology and Biotechnology as well as an M.Phil in Molecular Genetics. He is the author of numerous books including Missing in Somerville, and The Game Master of Somerville. He gives us insight into comics, books, TV shows, anime/manga, video games, and movies.
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