Review – Chained Echoes
Classic RPGs are one of my favorite types of games. I’m always on the lookout for a good old-school RPG to satisfy that nearly insatiable craving. I’ve played countless over the years, with most barely managing to leave their imprint on my memory. Fortunately, I’ve also been lucky enough to have had some truly memorable experiences, with Rise of the Third Power, Ara Fell, and Octopath Traveler being some of the most fun I’ve played in recent years. When I came across Chained Echoes from solo developer Matthias Linda, I was immediately intrigued by its blend of high fantasy elements along with piloting giants mechs. It was a concept that definitely caught my attention right away, which was already a more promising start than many others in the genre.
The premise isn’t necessarily the most complex thing ever, but honestly, that’s not really a bad thing. There’s an ongoing war on the continent of Vlandis, and Prince Frederik, the prince of Tormund, is seeking to unite the lands under one ruler, himself. However, he opts to bring this about by using force, which includes massive armies and a magical weapon of the gods, the Grand Grimoire, which has the power to annihilate everything for miles. Sky pilots, Glenn and Kylian, are tasked with stopping the prince, but things go awry, and destruction ravages the land and its people. Eventually, they meet up several other characters, who have all been affected by the war and have their own ideas on how to finally put it to an end.
Chained Echoes follows several heroes over the course of its epic adventure. Nearly all of the standard tropes are here, but thankfully, not to an annoying degree. There’s the brave princess, Lenne, who’s just trying to learn what she can about her people from beyond the castle gates, so she can best understand how to help them. There’s an assassin femme fatale, Sienna, who seems to be only in it for the money, but actually has a soft side. Then of course, there’s also the young warrior, Glenn, who feels lost after failing an important mission. There are quite a few others as well, but you get the idea. All the basic tropes are present, but at least they do manage to subvert expectations enough to keep them from feeling stale.
At first glance, Chained Echoes appears to be yet another turn-based RPG. It is, to a certain extent, but it does also have a few features that shake up the formula a bit. First off, with the inclusion of so many characters, your party size can range anywhere from a single character to up to eight in one party. When you have a party larger than four members, you can place them in specific formations, so you can switch out characters from the front and rear lines. This might not sound like a brand-new concept, because it isn’t, but switching out characters does greatly affect the truly original gameplay mechanic of Chained Echoes: the Overdrive system.
The Overdrive system is a fairly simple concept, but one that adds a layer of complexity to traditional turn-based combat. At the top of the screen is a meter, divided into sections of orange, green, and red. You start off in the orange section whenever you begin a battle, and each subsequent turn either raises or lowers the gauge. Getting the gauge into the green zone brings you into Overdrive, which is essentially the sweet spot. Being in Overdrive allows your attacks to hit with their maximum effectiveness. Naturally, this is when you’ll want to use all of your most powerful attacks.
However, continuing to attack keeps the gauge moving, which can lead you into the red “Overheat” zone. Being in Overheat isn’t the end of the world, but it does make you far more susceptible to damage. To get out of the Overheat zone, you’ll need to have your characters stop attacking and defend themselves. Or, you can switch out party members for others in their rear formation, which lowers the gauge a bit. Eventually, you’ll get special moves and items that can lower the Overdrive gauge, but there’s a long stretch in the beginning where you’ll have to rely on either defending or switching out characters to get back into the green Overdrive zone.
Speaking of how gameplay changes after a while, the way you manage your Overdrive gauge isn’t the only thing that drastically changes about the gameplay over time. In Chained Echoes, you start off by controlling a character that pilots a giant flying mech, called Sky Armor. This immediately goes south, and you won’t see another Sky Armor for a significant chunk of the game. Honestly, I kind of forgot about the mechs until I got past the first twelve or so hours when they were introduced again.
That being said, once they are reintroduced, they completely open up the rest of the game. Because they can fly, you’ll able to reach previously unattainable sections and loot. You’ll also be able to do this with the introduction of an airship, which is made available around the same time. This makes going back and re-exploring early areas of the game much more interesting and rewarding.
Sky Armors have their own gameplay styles as well. Because they are so much larger and stronger, they are used to defeat Chained Echoes‘ toughest enemies. They also have their own Overdrive system, which plays similarly to the normal Overdrive system, but with a few differences.
For example, instead of switching out characters during battles, the Overdrive gauge is affected by switching your Sky Armor’s gears. Gear 1 allows players to deal and receive 100% damage, uses the amount of TP (basically your MP in this game) as it’s listed, and moves the cursor to the right. Gear 2 increases the amount of damage dealt and received, as well as the amount of TP used by 25%. It also moves the cursor to the left. Gear 0 brings damage and TP back to 100%, disables special skills, recovers 60TP, and stops the gauge from moving at all. It forces players to think strategically about how and when to switch Gears and use special moves, as the Overdrive gauge is always in a delicate balance.
The art design is fantastic in Chained Echoes. It utilizes a pixel art style that fits the retro aesthetic of the game. The character models are well detailed and easy to identify. There’s also a surprising amount of locations to visit along the journey. Each land has its own distinct look, which range from typical forests and countrysides, to alien looking landscapes and creatures. There’s a huge variety in enemy designs, with each area having its own unique bestiary. I never felt bored with any of the areas, because each one felt so completely different from one another.
The sound design is excellent. Because it’s a retro-styled RPG, there’s no dialogue, but the sound effects are very well done. The attack sounds are particularly impressive, since they have some real weight and depth to them. The soundtrack is also one of the best I’ve heard in a while. Each area has its own distinct theme, and the battle music is wonderfully epic. I found myself humming some of the tunes long after I had stopped playing, which is a testament to how memorable the score is.
I went in with high expectations from Chained Echoes, but remarkably, it managed to exceed every one of them. The characters are enjoyable (although Robb can be a bit insufferable at times), and most of them are fleshed out pretty well by the end. The storyline isn’t overly convoluted either, and has just enough depth and twists to keep it interesting. The combat in particular surprised me with how engaging it was, all thanks to its inventive Overdrive system. All in all, I can’t recommend Chained Echoes enough. It was a breath of fresh air in a somewhat stale market, and I didn’t want it to end. I can’t wait to see what Matthias Linda’s next project will be!
A gorgeous pixel art style and a wide array of different locations to keep things interesting.
What starts off as a fairly simplistic turned-based combat system, continues to deepen into a more complex and interesting gameplay system as the games continues. The Overdrive mechanic breathes new life into the traditional turn-based combat style.
Each area has its own distinct theme, and the battle music is wonderfully epic.
Fun Factor: 9.0
Chained Echoes incorporates some fun new concepts into the RPG formula. It’s starts off with a bang, and doesn’t let up until the credits role.
Final Verdict: 9.0
Chained Echoes is available now on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, and Nintendo Switch.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
A copy of Chained Echoes was provided by the publisher.