Published on February 6th, 2023 | by Jamie Kirk
Chained Echoes Nintendo Switch Review
Summary: Chained Echoes is a loving tribute to 90s JRPGs but also a thorough reinvigoration of the genres stalest aspects. Not just a great tribute, a great game.
Off the Chain
Chained Echoes is a project seven years in the making from solo developer Matthias Linda. It is a love letter to 16 and 32-bit JRPGs of the past and wears its influences on its sleeve. But Chained Echoes is not content to just ape RPGs of yore. Linda has created a game that modernises and betters many of the genres more frustrating aspects. He has also surrounded it with a world full of interesting lore, compelling story and characters and an engaging spin on traditional turn-based combat.
Right off the bat you can see the influences dripping off of Chained Echoes. The game starts with an homage to Chrono Trigger and throughout the game you can see riffs on Final Fantasy VI, Suikoden, Xenogears and more. Every facet of the game makes it clear that Linda has a real affection and knowledge for the genre.
The pixel art is gorgeous and varied, each locale has its own distinct look and feel that helps the world feel lived in. Character designs are also great, there are a variety of races throughout the world that help distinguish NPCs and the major characters all have vivid portraits that show the range of looks that have gone into them.
If Chained Echoes stopped here it would be a perfectly serviceable SNES inspire JRPG that have become increasingly commonplace over the last few years. But for all its influences it is decidedly its own game. A good game at that.
The story takes place on the continent of Valandis. The last 150 years have been plagued by near constant war until the present day. Multiple kingdoms have entered an uneasy peace treaty that most rulers don’t seem all too happy about. Behind the scenes multiple parties are working to ensure war reigns again, and that they come out as the sole victor. Your party of mercenaries, princesses, thieves, playwrights and soldiers gets drawn into the conspiracy and are drawn into a quest that will alter the very fate of the world.
All the classic JRPG storytelling beats are hit. Twisty political machinations, surprise twists and eventually fighting gods. It is to Chained Echoes credit that it never feels like its narrative is just checking off a list of tropes however. Instead Linda has crafted a compelling story that stands on its own, and often subverts classic JRPG story conventions in favour of something more interesting.
Chained Echoes is an ensemble piece, meaning every character in your party gets a chance to shine. There’s Glenn, the mercenary whose use of a destructive weapon has left him with a guilty conscience and heavy heart. His comrade Kylian, who wishes to harness the power of said destructive weapon to ensure peace. Victor, who has lived for hundreds of years and knows more than he is letting on. Lenne, a princess who longs for peace and has fled her life in the castle to see how the world works. Everyone has a reason for being in the party and nobody feels like they were there just to fill out a roster. The cheeky thief Sienna and the dry mercenary Ba’thraz are definite highlights.
Gameplay is where Chained Echoes really gives these games of old a much needed fresh coat of paint. Traditional levelling up is gone. Instead defeating bosses will give you Grimoire Shards, which are used to acquire new skills or upgrade stats. Defeating regular enemies gives you SP which you can use to level up skills you have already acquired. This system works well as it takes away the repetitive grinding that JRPGs of the past have become known for. Random encounters are also gone, all enemies can be seen on the map. Thankfully, enemy placement is also fairly sparse and they won’t respawn as soon as you leave the area. This is great for exploring the world, and Chained Echoes has a lot of secrets to uncover. Treasure is dotted all over the map, and ranges from insignificant amounts of money to powerful accessories that require you to win a battle to obtain them. Enemy layout makes looking in all the nooks and crannies fun, as you don’t worry about constantly having to fight.
Either way you won’t be worrying about fighting, because the Chained Echoes combat system is an absolute joy. It utilises a traditional turn-based system, but with plenty of tweaks and unique features to separate it from the pack. While only four characters can fight at any one time, your whole party can tag in and tag out. Sometimes you may need to tag someone in to exploit a specific weakness, sometimes you might need buffs and debuffs and sometimes you might just want to kick a little ass. It adds an extra layer of tactical thinking and keeps you from just using one party configuration the whole game.
The major innovation of the battle system is the Overdrive system. In every battle there is an Overdrive meter. Some actions will increase the Overdrive meter, and some will decrease it. Once you hit the green section of the Overdrive meter your attacks will do more damage, magic will be more potent and defence will increase. If you keep charging it eventually you will hit the red section of the meter and overheat. This substantially weakens you and leaves you open to attacks than can wipe you out far easier than usual. This means in battle you need to constantly think about where your Overdrive meter is and how your actions are going to affect it. You may be absolutely destroying someone but then go one attack too far and find yourself in overheat. Suddenly, an enemy that didn’t seem too tough is decimating your entire party.
In addition to the Overdrive meter there is also a special move meter. Once this is fully charged each character has their own unique move to either deal damage, heal or buff and debuff. They all have their own advantages and all conveniently decrease the Overdrive meter, making it a good idea to execute right when you’re about to overheat for maximum damage.
Battles are also hard. Not frustratingly so, but you definitely can’t take your eyes off the screen and just spam the attack button. In fact, attacks are pretty much the weakest moves in the game, and you will rarely use them. Instead you will rely on skills. Skills can do both physical and magical damage, heal and cover all your buffs and debuffs, which are very important in Chained Echoes. Status effects and debuffs are essential to winning fights, whereas in some JRPGs they can feel like an afterthought. Every victory will feel earned, and not just like you’re going through the motions.
Chained Echoes is not just a tribute, it’s a fresh new take. An old school JRPG for a new school. Archaic systems and features have been cleaned up and now all the worst conventions of the genre are surprisingly manageable. Add in beautiful art direction, a rousing soundtrack, fleshed out characters and a wondrous world to explore and you have an excellent game in its own right.