Chained Echoes is a classic SNES-styled RPG style game developed by Matthias Linda with composer Eddie Marianukroh that accomplishes a nearly impossible task. It reminds us of the classic JRPGs of old, but brings many quality-of-life improvements even modern games fail to realize and carves its own style, delivering a truly great and memorable experience.
The core story of Chained Echoes has us follow a group of heroes on their journey through the war-ridden land of Valandis. From the start of the game there are many diverse characters who each have their own storylines and segments and who ultimately join forces to carry out their personal and shared missions.
The story is nothing we have not seen before, but the crossover narratives and the choices available make the game stand out from the pack. At times the party splits up and re-forms, which adds a nice dynamic to the story flow. The real meat of the game, though, is the exploration and combat, and that is where Chained Echoes excels.
The game initially feels very familiar, with overland and dungeon traversal feeling like the Mana or early Final Fantasy series of games. Combat as well is easy to pick up as it is turn-based with standard actions, special abilities fueled by TP points, and defensive postures and item use.
The tweaks to classic systems quickly become apparent, setting Chained Echoes apart from the games that inspired it. Once the party gets larger you can stack two characters next to each other in formation and swap between them during combat. This allows for damaged members to be changed for healthy ones or diverse skills to be used from round to round.
Another innovation is the Overdrive system, which initially made me think there were summons or power attacks, but this is much more nuanced. As the party attacks, is hit or takes other actions, the Overdrive bar fill. Once it’s hovering in the green section, attacks, defense and other abilities are augmented. If it slides to the red, the party takes more damage and attacks with less power.
This simple system adds a ton of strategy and nuance to battles, especially the longer boss encounters. Round to round, different abilities will be tagged to reduce the bar, while others increase it. This makes decisions to heal, attack or defend crucial to finishing some encounters. The system is not perfect but it does add a great strategic element that gets deeper as more skills are obtained.
Apart from the frankly great combat there is an interesting skills mechanic that eliminates standard leveling from the game. As key enemies are defeated you receive a special token that allows you to learn new skills. As standard enemies are defeated skill points are acquired to level up the skills. The system can be clunky at times and skill points accrue very slowly, but it is a nice take on progression.
Add to this a basic but functional crafting system, as well as crystals found throughout the adventure to slot into weapons and armor, and Chained Echoes has a surprisingly deep set of features. Later in the game airships and mechs become available that add further combat and exploration options.
What truly impresses me about Chained Echoes is all of the annoyances the developers removed from the standard JRPG experiences. Characters move really fast so traversal is actually enjoyable. There are no random encounters (aside from story-based ones). The map is actually usable, load times are minimal, fast travel is easy, and items are easily spotted and collected. Most importantly, when battles are lost the encounter can be restarted instead of being punted to a save point.
All of these seem like no-brainers but many current games still force hardships on players: Oh, you lost a fight? Go back 30 minutes to your last save. You need that item? Do a slow pixel-by-pixel search on the screen. Need to get back to a city? Better find a save point to fast travel. Not in Chained Echoes, which makes things streamlined and fun to navigate, resulting in a game that stands out from the crowded market.
Aside from all the features, the combat and the story beats, the other big selling point of the game is the stunning soundtrack. Being from a small team the game has no voiced characters, but the music, from Eddie Marianukroh, throughout the adventure is just stunning. It truly delivers and lifts up the experience in each an every instance.
Chained Echoes is a phenomenal achievement for developer and artist Matthias Linda. It looks amazing, sounds even better and has gameplay hooks that many much larger games fail to implement as effectively. The story leans into standard tropes, but thanks to split character paths and fun, effective gameplay the experience is truly memorable from start to finish.