Review | Chained Echoes
"What do you get when you have a single developer, a will to make a video game, and 7 years of time? The answer is Chained Echoes! One man achievement can sometimes be bigger and better than what the industry is striving to accomplish – a game with a soul and passion."
I don’t want to drag too long, so let me just praise the person behind this project – Matthias Linda. The guy singlehandedly crafted this game on his spare time over the last 7 years, got a bit of help with the music and enemy models etc.; but overall, this is a single-person game.
And for such a game, wow! It takes over 30 years of gaming experience while “swimming” in the RPG genre to find and so something that can still prove to be good. In such a shortage of turn-based JRPGs, this project really piqued my interest (considering Facebook JRPG groups are full of comments about Chained Echoes – this just helped me buy the game). Let’s say what Chained Echoes is all about.
Glenn is a regular dude, but he fits well in the whole bunch. This game feels like JRPGs from PS1 and SNES era - and the good thing is that the quality followa that fact.
First of all, I’m kind of tired and full of RPG-maker kind of games. You know that certain style of 2D RPGs where everything feels similar and you just get tired of the formula? I’ve played many RPGs of the same style and presence, and only a few shined (e.g. Cosmic Star Heroine, and Sea of Stars is what I wait for the most). This one is different, but feels so similar.
Chained Echoes is a story about Glenn, a hero (to be) that can control the mechas, called Sky Armors (Xenogears reference!) in a world of constant wars between the nations. Without spoiling anything, Glenn and his companions will discover how their souls echo, how to prevent the war between the humanity (again), why and what does the Grimoire stands for (it is a crystal of tremendous power that can destroy a continent or grant power to humans). When I talk about the overall feeling and the nostalgia that were present while playing the game, I can say that the storyline feels like FFVI, combined with a bit of Suikoden titles. The whole structure of the game is like that, including the Sky Armors that become available later. And I loved it. It’s not something that we can talk about to upcoming generations, and maybe while drinking beers, but it’s something that will provide just enough of interest to push through towards the end. For sure it’s better than what Nomura tried to explain in Kingdom Hearts 3.
Both Glenn and his companions are a well-characterized bunch, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. The story is decent, it doesn’t contain any voice acting, and it lasts for a 30 hours, more or less. Combined with decent tunes in the OST department, and you have a retro nostalgia packed for your pleasure! Some tunes reminded me of NieR, but that’s about it. OST is decent, but nothing I will listed to again.
The world map, Sky Armors, having a base where you prepare for a war... Sukoden much? I love it! Too bad the base itselft doesn't really provide much in the scope of the game and enjoyment. The Sky Armors could've also used a bit of complexity.
Even though the gameplay feels “old”, I loved it. Exploring the areas is fun, although the areas look a bit simple and I miss the touch of an artist to make it truly unique and memorable. It’s still great, but you know when you visit some locations in some older games and they just stick? I didn’t find anything like that here. Locations were fine, but nothing I will remember after some time.
The thing that matters is how you explore the areas. They are well-designed, filled with unique monsters, treasure chests, secret buried treasure spots, hidden caves… If you explore more, the game will rewards you with unique rewards that will help you progress easier. I’m simply stunned how well the pacing and difficulty fits. You can’t overpower your allies easily, making numerous boss fights challenging and fun. Each fight is a bit different, although towards the last part of the game you will learn most of the skills and just spam what works the best. And the enemy variety if off the charts!
When we talk about other kind of mechanics, Rewards Board is what makes the game so good. Each area holds something unique that you can accomplish, unlocking a node on the mentioned board – which can ultimately grant you special items, level you up, or help you discover hidden stuff in the game. I loved this, I really did. I think the games with few interesting mechanics such as Rewards Board works well and keep you enthusiastic for the whole 50 hours (which is how much I’ve spent for unlocking all trophies and finishing all there is).
There is even a world map (god, how I miss the world maps in games), which you can use to reach hidden areas, unlock more areas, or you can simply quick-travel. Also, I’m a sucker for these games like early Suikodens where you collect an army and build your base – yep, also here! This is one well-designed game (even though gathering crew for your base is nothing like in Suikoden games and it feels rather simplistic, but I appreciate having this)!
But, what about the combat? I’m glad you asked!
Exploring the world feels right. I wish more games follow the formula of pacing that is presented here. Also, boss fights are unique and fun, so everything you do in this game matters. There is almost no idling.
The combat feels like Chrono Trigger + FFVI + Xenogears. It’s a classic turn-based combat where you have your turns, and enemies have their own. You can attack or use a skill; the regular stuff. What differentiate the combat here is the Overdrive bar – which isn’t the most-welcoming part for many players out there. I think it’s decent, but not something I would love to see and use again. It goes like this – You attack, the bar fills. You defend, it goes back. An enemy attacks, it goes up. If you keep the bar in the middle, your defence, skills, attack – everything is buffed. When you boost too much, you receive a lot of damage. So, it’s a balance mechanic that will make you think about your moves. It’s also reflected on Sky Armors if you use them in a fight, just as bit different.
The only thing I dislike is how you gain levels. You can’t, unless you defeat a story-related boss, or some tough mini-boss during quests (or unlock by collecting rewards on the Reward board). When you gain a level, you can unlock a skill, or some passive new skill. The only thing you can actually grind is these skills, which will make them stronger and help you if you’re struggling. Because of this, the game is well-balanced and you can’t really become strong, although some skills are just game-changer.
Combat is really fun, but it got a bit stale towards the end. Sky Armor fights are even simpler, but it just feels cool waving with big swords. I love the limit-breaks and some skills, as well as some characters which I’ve ended up using throughout the whole game. Too bad we don’t get more skillsets that we can use, but that would probably break the game.
And lastly, our group can have 4 active members, and 4 replacement members (that you can switch once per turn without losing a turn). There are even more members to recruit, but I kind of used the top 8 I liked the most. Using some members can help you a lot, as only few comes with Silence skills for example. I especially loved the boss fights and all of the side-content. Also, Poison and other status ailments are actually working here! You can depend on then early and at the end of the game in almost the same manner.
The only thing I don't understand is why are the classed even introduced. They bring skills, but if you don't grind, you will almost never max them out, meaning you are stuck with the class if you want to use them. It's too bad you can't combine multiple classes and get unique skills on your characters.
If you decide to cross of everything in this game, be assured, you will not be disappointed. Every unreachable area can be reached while enjoying your time towards that moment. Side content is awesome, it’s well-designed and it follows the element of pure joy when you find something new. There is almost none of the backtracking, just a natural progress and exploration that we all love in JPRG games.
I must mention that I had a game-breaking bug on my PS5. It was during the story in Pyhon Oasis in between the 2 boss fights. I’ve saved, and later loaded the same, and my camera was way of, while I was unable to trigger a second fight, nor could I teleport anywhere to retry. Fortunately this got fixed in a week or so, but it made me lose a bit of interest. I was so hyped until that moment, but that just killed that feeling for a bit. Save in different slots, do not be like me!
Everything else felt good, like I’m playing a game from the PS1 era and these games were one of the best when it comes to JRPGs. Maybe this game brings nothing new to the table, but you know, reusing good mechanics while fitting them into a unique storytelling and the world Matthias presented to us – that works well.
I would recommend this game to all turn-bases nostalgic gamers out there, especially the ones that love FFVI, Chrono Trigger, Xenogars and Suikoden games from the PS1 era. This is a mash-up of these, and for sure it’s something that will grip and let you once you’re done. I had more fun with this game than with some big titles in the recent history. I would definitely play any upcoming title from Matthias, even on Day 1.
"If you’re one of the old-school retro JPRGs enthusiasts do not miss out on Chained Echoes. Turn-based RPGs will never die (I surely hope so!)."
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