Chained Echoes Review – Old School JRPG

Chained Echoes is a sincere tribute to old-school JRPGs with a fantastic battle system and some modern conveniences.

Chained Echoes proudly displays its influences, and it has the vibe of a long-forgotten late-SNES/early-PS1 JRPG. Having said that, it’s a distinctive enough experience to establish its own identity while incorporating many new concepts into its time-tested formula.

Chained Echoes - Solid but Familiar Plot

In Chained Echoes, a mercenary named Glenn finds himself in the middle of a fight on the Valandis continent. Glenn’s story is told through his experiences. For six generations, war has raged between its three kingdoms.

In the first act of Chained Echoes, Glenn teams up with a number of other characters, each of whom has a different motivation for joining him in his mission to bring about peace across the continent. By the time the game was through, we had a total of 12 players in the party (four of whom had joined through optional side missions), four sets of Sky Armor (mechs), an airship, and we had established an adventuring clan on an island base with recruitable NPCs.

With scenes that genuinely caused my jaw to drop at the conclusion of each of its four acts, Chained Echoes does a terrific job of propelling you through its narrative. Although it acknowledges its influences openly, it manages to feel unique by rearranging otherwise well-known plot themes. There is hardly any filler or fluff to make the experience less enjoyable, and the pacing is perfect throughout.

Chained Echoes

But it doesn’t mean I don’t have problems with Chained Echoes. I enjoyed the ensemble overall, and while each character brings a wide range of skills to the fight, I wasn’t really enamored with any one individual character. The tale has an arc for each non-optional party member, whereas the optional party members don’t receive the same attention.

In a game of this magnitude, their influence on the plot can’t be too great. They receive their side quest and a few snippets of dialogue here and there, but other than that, they are merely passengers. A great party is really important to me in JRPGs, and while the one in Chained Echoes is good, it isn’t on pace with some of my favorite parties in the genre.

A glossary for all the names of the people, places, and words I came across would also have been wonderful. There are a lot of moving elements in Chained Echoes’ plot, and I had trouble remembering some of the characters I’d met. There is a comprehensive bestiary and a notebook that record every step of your adventure, so it’s weird that this is missing.

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Chained Echoes

Chained Echoes’ closing act, in my opinion, was a little rushed. Numerous characters looked to be written out of the tale as if the creator was at a loss as to what to do with them, and there were loose ends that were never tied off. But even if some of the little things didn’t quite work for me towards the conclusion of the story, I was still ultimately happy with it.

Combat System

Chained Echoes’ narrative may be well known, but the gameplay is where the game really distinguishes itself. I have never seen anything like the truly great design elements that Matthias Linda has incorporated into his game. The combat system in Chained Echoes could be my favorite turn-based JRPG battle system ever. It ranks right up there with Final Fantasy X’s party member swapping mechanism and the Press Turn System from Shin Megami Tensei.

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There are no random encounters, and battles are turn-based, allowing you to avoid conflict if you so desire. Although it has grown more frequent in contemporary JRPGs, this is still a much-appreciated feature because, in my experience, random encounters can ruin the flow of a game. The fact that the party’s HP and TP (MP equivalent) are replenished after each combat is another aspect of the design I liked.

This allowed me to concentrate on individual battles rather than hauling a heavy load of supplies I would have otherwise gathered in case I needed them later. Should you lose a battle, you can restart it from the beginning, load the most recent autosave, or choose a save manually. It’s a wonderful accessibility touch that the game allows you to change your team composition and equipment if you decide to retry the battle.

Chained Echoes

Additionally, the usual XP/leveling system is absent from Chained Echoes. You are given a page of skills for each character and skill points for defeating bosses or accomplishing challenging tasks rather than leveling up with experience points to become stronger and unlock new moves on a straight path.

Play Your Way

Each character has 48 skills to unlock. Each skill page is separated into 4 sections of 12: get enough skills in one, and the next section unlocks. There are 3 skill types: Action Skills that give you new commands to use in battle, Passive Skills that give you various stat boosts, and Stat Boosts that permanently increase the associated stat.

Each skill has 3 levels of power, raised by beating monsters and gaining SP. Each fight awards between 1-20 SP depending on the difficulty. This SP is then applied to every skill every character unlocks. Once a skill gains enough SP, it will level up. A levelled-up skill will either cost less TP, deal more damage or buff a stat by a higher percentage. Each character is also given the same amount of SP to apply to the skills of their choice. Each character can have a stock of up to 999 SP, and it’s great for quickly levelling up newly acquired skills that might feel a little underpowered otherwise.

You have a lot of freedom with how each party member plays thanks to this skill system. All of them have a conventional class type, but because the player can choose which moves they’ll employ, each character can be played differently depending on the player. While there is a lot to unlock on the skill tree, it is never too much to handle these skills in a fight because each party member can have up to 8 active action skills and 5 active passives.

Chained Echoes

There are even 12 optional sub-class items to find throughout Valandis to further specialise each party member. They can be equipped to any character, giving them an additional 2 Action Skills and 2 Passive Skills. It’s an amount of freedom rarely seen in the genre. 

There is no option to respec your characters, which is the sole drawback. This isn’t a big deal in the later stages of the game because I’ve amassed a ton of abilities, but in the early to midgame, it’s feasible that someone will earn skills they don’t use or enjoy.

Kick it into Overdrive

Eight people can be in your party at once. Eight people make up the group; four of them participate in the fight while the other four stand by as reserves. As the game progresses, you can switch between each pair of characters, allowing you to set up debuffs or cure your hurt party members before switching back to bring in the big guns. There are restrictions on this though. Each pair can only exchange once per turn, and you can’t swap at all if one of them is KO’d.

This system on its own is neat but isn’t totally unheard of. Where it really becomes something special, however, is with Chained Echoes’ Overdrive system. In the top left corner is a bar with 3 coloured sections: yellow, green and red. 

At the start of a fight, the arrow on the bar will be in the yellow section. In the yellow, your characters receive no benefits or downsides. As you hover over different actions on the command menu, a second arrow will show where that action will put you on the Overdrive bar. You always want the bar to be in the green. In the green section, your party deals more damage, takes less, and all skills cost half their TP.

Chained Echoes

But damage also moves the Overdrive bar forward. If you proceed too far, you’ll enter the red area, where your party will sustain far more damage. The overdrive gauge can be kept in the sweet spot in four different ways. Utilizing a skill type (Physical/Magic/Buff/Debuff etc.) matching the one shown on the Overdrive bar, defending, replacing a character, using an Ultra Move (like limit break, but it’s a party-wide meter instead of each character).

I absolutely love the overdrive bar. This little tug-of-war microgame inside of combat kept me engaged in every fight, be it common enemies or endgame optional bosses. It lets every party member feel useful and helps you plan in advance by ensuring each character has some skill variety to lower the overdrive bar and keep you in the green.

Lots to do to Save the World

A very system-intensive JRPG is Chained Echoes. That’s one of the company’s selling points on the website. The party creates a clan in the second act, as was already mentioned, to assemble allies for their quest. You are also given an airship, allowing you to freely discover much more of Valandis. The NPCs you encounter along the way will join the clan, visit your island, and offer your group a variety of optional but highly recommended services and bonuses.

Some will provide you buffs that will help you in battle, while others will grant you access to your base’s shops and other amenities. Some of them are purely amusing, such as a dog that plays a different sound effect whenever you interact with it. The NPC that allows you to check for unlocked chests, hidden treasures, or underground caves in an area was my favorite. Finding these NPCs is a delightful little side activity, and if you have difficulties finding any of them, the first one you see is a fortune teller who may provide you with hints on where to locate potential clan members.

Chained Echoes

The reward board comes next. It is divided into parts for each of Valandis’ major neighborhoods. Each one has a certain number of squares connected to a certain assignment for that area. You can exchange the reward for that square once you’ve finished it. These objectives might be anything from exploring or discovering chests to defeating an adversary when using a particular party configuration or one of the game’s several alternative bosses.

As you complete tasks on the reward board, any completed tasks will form a chain with other adjacent completed tasks. There is another set of rewards for building up the longest chain you can, with the highest being for a chain of 120. It’s another little mechanic that helps with keeping track of the game’s massive amount of side content.

In addition to all of this, there is a crafting component. Various resources can be used to enhance both armor and weapons. Finding and combining crystals that function similarly to the materia system from FFVII will grant you passive bonuses rather than skills. When I could, I updated my weaponry, but I rarely used the crystal system. It wasn’t necessary for me to complete the main game content. However, a few of the secret enemies near the endgame gave me the boot, so using crystals with a little more precision would’ve been helpful in those far more difficult confrontations.

Chained Echoes

Looks and Sounds like you Remember

Chained Echoes has stunning art. The entire planet is loaded with beautiful designs and is produced in extremely intricate pixel graphics. Monster and boss designs range from adorable to downright terrifying, and there are numerous fantasy races that all have extremely different appearances. The entire game had a feeling of being both new and old. It made me feel nostalgic, as a decent homage should.

The soundtrack is equally fitting and absolutely fantastic. Because the game lacks voice acting (understandable, as it’s made primarily by one developer), the music has to do a lot of the work in some of the heavier scenes, and it does the job excellently.

How long to beat Chained Echoes?

To beat Chained Echoes Main Story line – 27 hours, Main + sides – 41 hours, All styles – 42+ hours.

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