Despite a number of high-profile failures over the years, Kickstarter has still managed to help fund a number of excellent games. Chained Echoes, successfully crowdfunded in 2019, looked like it had the potential to be another success, promising a “16-bit SNES style RPG” with a mix of mechs and magic. But does it manage to live up to that golden age of 2D JRPGs?
Chained Echoes sees Glenn — a young mercenary skilled in piloting giant mechs known as Sky Armors — and a ragtag group made of various backgrounds and races, as they try to survive in the war-torn continent of Valandis. Your band of nobility, thieves, and the occasional beastman often finds themselves having to deal with the latest scheme being thought up by the story’s 3 main factions, taking you across the realm in search of answers.
While the overall playable cast exceeds 10 party members, the core group generally consists of half of this. Some are available during the main story but don’t have too much impact on the narrative, while a few others are optional — you won't even see them during cutscenes. Thankfully, Chained Echoes’ opening chapter gives you a decent amount of time to get to know the cast. You’ll jump between a number of them, detailing the events that take place before everyone ends up teaming up later down the line.
Even after the short character introductions are over, the story still moves quickly. While there are moments of downtime, you’ll constantly be visiting new areas, meeting new people, and learning more about Valandis’ long history of conflict. As mentioned before, this brisk pace also unfortunately leads to some characters having little screen time. They do get some scenes here and there, but they could have perhaps done with some side story chapters dedicated to them.
Still, there’s enough intrigue to carry Chained Echoes’ 25+ hour story, with a lot of twists and turns during each act. I’d have liked some of the final story sections to have been fleshed out more (some story beats feel rushed by the end), though I’d say the story mostly manages to stick the landing overall.
When it comes to exploration and combat, Chained Echoes does a lot to incorporate modern gameplay design while also keeping what you’d expect from an SNES-style RPG. Fast travel is available early on, but you’re still required to explore most of each area first. You also get access to a tracker that details how many unopened chests or other secrets are left to find on a map. Simple things like this don’t take away from its classic feel and are welcome ways to modernize things without going too far.
The combat follows a similar pattern, taking familiar turn-based battles and adding a few twists here and there. Most notably, all battles start you with full HP and TP (the resource used for skills). Because of this, you’re able to use buffs and skill combinations freely, instead of just using basic attacks to save resources. It also allows Chained Echoes to throw harder regular encounters at you, something that can make the early hours somewhat rough if you aren’t paying attention.
To attempt to stop you from just spamming the strongest skills each encounter, an “overdrive” system is present during all battles. This is represented by a bar split into orange, green, and red sections. To start with, all actions will make the marker on the bar move to the right until it reaches the green section. From there, all skills have their TP cost halved, and certain types of skills also become highlighted. Using highlighted skills will make the marker go back, with the goal being to keep it in the green section of the bar. Having the marker go too far right will instead cause your characters to take increased damage, so it’s something you’ve always got to keep an eye on.
Initially, this system seemed like a novel way to balance combat around the way HP and TP work. But after a while, this system doesn’t really feel that interesting. Sure, you’ll still have to keep an eye on your Overdrive meter, but it becomes a mild annoyance than something that enhances battles. It’s a shame since a small handful of encounters do try to play with the system a little — sometimes the different Overdrive sections are moved, or it’s made harder to stay in the green the further the battle progresses. If there was more of this, then it'd feel impactful rather than merely inconvenient.
Combat also ties into a lot of Chained Echoes' other systems. Rather than levels, characters can become more powerful by gaining Grimoire Shards, items that are primarily dropped by defeated bosses. Shards allow characters to unlock new skills, while also granting the occasional stat bonus. It’s an interesting way of handling progression, though you end up acquiring most skills by the end anyway. There’s also no way to refund any spent Grimoire Shards, though it’s usually fairly obvious what you should unlock first.
Another source of Grimoire Shards is the Reward Board, which acts as an in-game achievement system. Finding treasure, killing certain enemies, and completing side quests will fill in squares on the reward board, and you’re encouraged to chain together completed objectives to gain even more bonuses. It’s an ingenious system, giving your travels more structure without completely dictating what you should do.
Visually, Chained Echoes doesn’t try to fully emulate SNES RPGs. You get some nice 2D character sprites and environments, though the latter can occasionally be too cluttered. In general, it’s a nice-looking game that can occasionally look beautiful. The issue I have comes in the form of cutscenes, where characters are often not given anything other than their default standing sprites. Dialogue is also given via character portraits, of which there are, you guessed it, only one per character. An easy example of this is Glenn’s portrait, which looks completely disinterested in whatever’s happening despite how serious it might be.
And yet, despite some minor issues, I still enjoyed my time with Chained Echoes. Even when not going through the solid main story, it was fun just to explore to discover new items and secrets. I haven’t had this much fun clearing out each area in an RPG since CrossCode (a game that also happens to be published by Deck13). Chained Echoes manages to forge its own identity despite its SNES-era inspirations, and deserves to be given a chance by any JRPG fan.
TechRaptor reviewed Chained Echoes on PC using a copy provided by the publisher. This game is also available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
- Intriguing story
- Fun exploration
- Reward Board makes 100% completion... rewarding
- Some rushed story elements
- Not all mechanics have impact