Game Review: “Chained Echoes” (Switch, PS4, Xbox One, Steam PC)
Just a few months ago, I decided to bust out my old copy of Chrono Trigger and relive a bit of my youth. As I played I was reminded why it is considered by many one of the best games ever made. The music, the gameplay, and the innovative ideas put Chrono Trigger into a whole new category of what RPGs should be like. I found myself saying over and over again, why don’t they make games like this anymore? Well, Matthias Linda apparently heard my pleas and said, “Hold my beer,” because he has not only given us a game that is worthy to stand with the RPGs of old like Final Fantasy III (or FFVI) and Chrono Trigger, but he has given us a gift that in many ways surpasses what those juggernauts built.
Chained Echoes is a turn-based role playing game that – in its core – is straight from the 16-bit era. But it also builds upon the ideas of what those games are and makes the gaming experience better in almost every way. Let’s look at the combat system to show you what I mean. Like Chrono Trigger, gone are the days of random encounters. Enemies are at set places on the map and when you walk near them you will jump into an encounter. Just like any turn-based system, players take turns attacking, but Chained Echoes has three major changes that radically change the gameplay.
First and most importantly is the overdrive mechanic in the top left corner of the picture below. This is a sliding scale that moves in different directions according to what moves you use and whether you take a hit. Your ultimate goal is to keep your overdrive in the green section of the play area, because doing so boosts your defense and your attacks. Being in the red lowers both your attack and defense, so you want to get out of it as quickly as possible because it truly is a death sentence. This is such an important addition because in other RPGs, there is almost always an optimal strategy that you can repeat with each of your characters. The overdrive mechanic forces you to use moves that you may never normally use to help bring you back into the green. And it will make you really question some of your decisions. You need to heal your team but that will keep you in the red. If you do a special attack though you will go out of the red and back into the green.
Second, is the character switching mechanic. Like other RPGs, Chained Echoes you can only have four members in your party at a time, but every character can have a backup character that they can tag in at any time during their turn in battle. You will have to switch players for the best chance to win and stay alive, and this adds a big layer of strategy on who you want to start with and when you want to switch a player in or out with another. These two ideas greatly shift how you would normally would play an RPG, but I know what you are thinking, you want more. Chained Echoes got you covered, you greedy bastards.
Third, and maybe, maybe the most easy to miss, is that at the end of every battle, your health and TP (magic) are fully restored to the max. This may not seem like a big deal, but damn does this change things. For one, it allows you to always go all out on every battle without having to ration out specific abilities. Gone are the days where you spam the attack command for normal enemies while saving your big guns for the boss battle. Now, you can go all in for every battle – and it feels good. You feel pretty badass always having your special moves at hand, but that doesn’t mean random encounters are easy, quite the contrary. The random battles can be incredibly tough, and I died several times just on normal enemies. However, even that has been tweaked, because Chained Echoes allows you to restart your game at the beginning of the battle to be less punishing. If that doesn’t do it for you, then about halfway through the game, you can start fighting in freaking mech suits. Still not enough? Greedy bastards.
Matthias Linda also added a few overworld map features to expand on old school travel. In most retro RPGs, you walk the map and randomly encounter an enemy, and the only real exploring you would do is find a chest hidden down a hallway from time to time. Chained Echoes pushes for even more exploration, adding several features that add to the depth of the game. One of the most enjoyable of these is the hidden treasures scattered in the game. While you are exploring, you will find a circular symbol with three arrows pointing in random directions. Two of those arrows lead to nothing, but the other leads to a hidden unmarked treasure! How do you know which arrow is the right one? Well, you will have to explore the area and find another circle with arrows. One of the arrows from each circle will cross paths if you create an imaginary line to where they point, and where they intersect – that’s where the booty is!
Travel changes even more once you get Sky Armor (mech suits) and an airship, allowing for new puzzles to be unlocked about midway through the game and the ability to recruit characters who join your base, which keeps travel interesting.
Many of Chained Echoes’ story beats seem to come from some old school game or another. I could see several nods to the old Final Fantasy games, Chrono Trigger, the Tales series and Xenogears, but even those nods can be flipped to keep older players guessing as to what is truly going on in Chained Echoes. With that said, the overall story is one of the weakest areas of this game. The continent is thrust into war because a war monger king takes control of a super weapon, and a bunch of ragtag people rise up to stop it. Of course, certain characters are more than what they seem, and as you progress, their true abilities and intentions are revealed. While I do like the characters well enough, they fall short of being very interesting. They play their part to move things forward, but do so in a fairly stereotypical way. None of this is bad, but these old school tropes are a few things that I wish they would have left behind, or at least twisted a bit to craft something a little more interesting.
Graphically, this game is a nice love letter to the games that inspired it. Yes, it looks like a 16-bit game, but it takes the look and builds upon it to make it more unique and more fleshed out on much stronger hardware. Adding details to the world creates a more beautiful experience than a Super Nintendo could ever produce, but Chained Echoes still feels like a 16-bit game and I never grew tired of the game’s aesthetic. It is an incredibly polished game that spans over 30 hours in gameplay.
Eddie Marianukroh’s soundtrack can not be overlooked, either. It was a wonderful addition, with unique, adventure-inspiring tunes that complemented the wonderful style of the game. If you do nothing else, I encourage you to listen to the soundtrack on YouTube, because it is pretty sweet. It has been a while since I have gone and pulled up a video game soundtrack to just listen to the tunes of a game (Celeste being the last one I can remember).
A game that was seven years in the making, Chained Echoes doesn’t disappoint. It is exactly the type of RPG that I have been hoping for, and I suspect others have been, also. It does so many things to remind me why I love old school RPGs and builds upon the formula in ways that are meaningful and beautifully done. Chained Echoes is a must play for any retro role playing fan. It is currently available for Nintendo Switch*, PS4, Xbox One, and Steam PC.
*Disclosure: A copy of Chained Echoes on Nintendo Switch was provided to The Splintering for the purpose of this review.
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