Everything about Chained Echoes works for me. It's a retro RPG with some great modern updates and innovations… but it hasn't held my attention.
- Title: Chained Echoes
- Release Date: December 8, 2022
- Price: $24.99
- Suggested Audience Age: Rated M for Mature by the ESRB
- Availability: Switch, PlayStation, Xbox, Steam
- Recommended for fans of: Classic RPGs, Mechs, and Political Machinations
Geek to Geek Media was provided with a review copy of this title.
Playing through Chained Echoes has been a super weird experience for me.
I grew up on Nintendo systems, but never really saw an RPG until I watched a kid named Jimmy showing off Pokémon Blue in the back of the library in fourth grade. After that, I played Final Fantasy X on PlayStation 2. I never built up much familiarity or nostalgia for the 16-bit era of RPGs, which means that Chained Echoes laser beam focus on that era misses me just a little bit.
Don't get me wrong, I like the game a whole heck of a lot. It just hasn't pulled me in the way I've seen it do for so many others.
Chained Echoes wears its 16-bit inspirations right on its sleeve. Not only are the art style and sound design hyper-reminiscent of games like Final Fantasy VI, but the opening cutscene is a direct homage to Chrono Trigger.
In fact, it was so direct that for a moment I couldn't believe that they were ripping that game off, until I realized that they were actually wielding that reference in an extremely clever way.
After the opening, the references definitely feel more like inspirations than direct recreations. Chained Echoes drops you into a fantasy world that feels a lot like many you've probably saved from one Elder God or another, but with enough nuance to feel unique.
Most obviously, there are mechs (calling back to Xenogears). The opening has you piloting one in a massive battle, but then they get locked off for the first several hours of the game. During that period, you get to know the world at the ground level through a variety of characters.
Character and Class
Chained Echoes is a party-based RPG in a way that most party-based RPGs aren’t. Typically, the player is primarily following a character who sort of absorbed a party around them, like some sort of anime-haired Katamari. While there is a character whose overall story seems to be the binding thread in Chained Echoes, the structure of the game discouraged me from feeling like that was my character and everyone else was with me.
In fact, the opening character disappears for a while after the introduction. Even when that character does come back, there is no push to have him as the lead character in the group, neither while exploring the open world nor in battle.
Your party grows and shrinks and grows again throughout the adventure, but the leveling system does a great job of keeping everyone relevant. Each character has a unique class that dictates what sort of arms and equipment they are suited for, and what sort of special abilities they have to deploy in battle. This is a super narrative-heavy game, and from what I’ve seen so far the personalities the characters show in dialogue match wonderfully with the way they take on enemies.
While Chained Echoes is a loving tribute to classic RPGs, it also goes out of its way to make the gameplay experience way more pleasant than its inspirations. All over the game are little tweaks to make things more interesting, more streamlined, and more fun.
Some of these are simple, like having your characters sprint through the world instead of strolling through it or frequently auto-saving. The big innovation, though, is the battle system.
There are two key details that ensure that every combat counter in Chained Echoes is interesting and engaging. First of all, even though only four of your characters are engaged in a battle, up to another four can be standing on the wings ready to jump in. Instead of taking an action, one of your characters can use their turn to swap the bench character you paired them with before the battle started.
The strategy that evolves from deciding how to pair your characters is really fun. In some fights, I paired two damage dealers so that I could swap the first out when their HP ran low, while in others I entered the battle with magic characters up front and a line of physical fighters ready to swap in.
The second cool twist on combat in Chained Echoes is the overdrive system. In every battle, whether it’s against a swarm of rats or a giant demon, a gauge of yellow, green, and red is on the screen. You always start in the neutral yellow section and build up towards green as you attack or use abilities.
While in the green section, your team hits harder and uses less mana/stamina for abilities. If you get into the red section, you take more damage and abilities cost more. To stay in the green, the game randomly selects a type of ability that will slightly lower the gauge when used. Combine that with the character swapping, and Chained Echoes is a game that will have you using all of your characters and their abilities in combat instead of mashing the attack button.
Chained Echoes is a really solid experience for fans of classic RPGs. The aesthetics will hit nostalgia hard, but the gameplay and combat are all fine-tuned for a fresh and, frankly, more player-friendly experience. Heck, there are even options for adjusting combat difficulty to make the experience tougher or breezier at any point in the game. And on top of that, a sprawling story about a world at peace being pulled to war through deceptive political machinations, and this is a long, chewy experience to sink into.
Having said all of that, I’ve gotta be honest in saying that I’ve dropped off of Chained Echoes. It is a game I struggle to find an unkind word about, but I was just getting into a groove with it when Persona 4 dropped and, for me, the flash of that title was enough to break the retro spell. Still, that doesn't mean you won't love it through its 30+ hours of story.