There is something beautiful about Chained Echoes, a game developed by Matthias Linda and published by Deck13 Spotlight. A game that was Kickstarted back in 2019 as a love letter to old-school JRPGs (“Japanese role-playing game”), Chained Echoes has shaped up to be up there with the best of indies. It features gorgeous pixel graphics, tonnes of quality-of-life features to keep its gameplay fast paced, great music, and a lengthy campaign. It should be so perfect, but this rose has a very strong thorn and its prick can be a bit painful.
Allow me to echo my sentiments.
Unapologetically A JRPG
In Chained Echoes, players follow a cast of characters from all over the land following the destruction of the Opus Stone during a great war—done by Glenn in the prologue, your hands to be exact. This changes the course of fate, and you’ll follow the adventures of these characters from their unlikely meeting to preventing another pointless war from occurring. The land of Valandis is a well-made one and much of it reminds me of Ivalice of Final Fantasy XII fame—animal beings, machinations known as Sky Armour, the undead, and etcetera. The world is filled to the brim with lots of tiny details and plenty of characters to have brief chats with (and bookshelves!) if you want to learn more about Valandis.
Which brings me to the world map. This game is big and yet easy to explore. And this is where those quality-of-life features I mentioned are—Chained Echoes feels smooth to play compared to JRPGs of old because of how it paces its content and features. For example, besides a brisk walking speed, each zone is as big as it needs to be and not a metre more. Enemy encounters are almost always visible on-screen, and you can usually dodge them if you’re just not feeling it. The game offers unlimited, 100 percent success rates for escaping battles and you never have to worry about post-battle healing because the game always starts off fights with everyone at full health. In comparison to something as rigid as Dragon Quest of yore, this game feels like a dream to play.
I’ll admit, I didn’t care too much for the writing and dialogue, but I thought the characters were likable enough to keep reading.The tone and word choice used by characters always seemed to vary as you walk about in Valandis and it kept me from truly immersing myself. You can skip cutscenes if you’d like, but I don’t think I would ever bother playing a JRPG if I wasn’t somewhat invested in its narrative. That, and you’ll likely be left wondering what to do for your next objective as the game will plop you right to the next gameplay beat with no context or summary of the events skipped.
But of course, the other half of a JRPG is its combat system, which is both great and yet ultimately left me in a bit of a pinch.
Chained Echoes is a turn based JRPG, which for many of us is self-explanatory. Battles consist of each unit taking their turn, either by attacking, using skills or items, or defending. Who goes first depends on the unit’s agility stat, which can be raised in a character’s skill page after beating specific encounters (namely bosses) in the game. What this means is that there’s no point grinding for experience points. What you will be doing is finding resources by beating enemies or mining crystals on the overworld which is used to upgrade your weapons and armour. You’ll also find orbs that fit into your weapon slots that increase stats or offer bonuses with certain skills (such as stealing from an enemy during battle). Fighting enemies also gets you loot which you can sell to shopkeepers not just for monies but also to unlock ‘deals’ and, in turn, netting yourself cheaper items offered as bundles or even rare upgrade materials.
Combat is very fun because of how many setup opportunities are available for the player. If for example, an enemy has no weakness to a particular element, a player could create one by dousing the enemy in oil or water via items or skills and attack them with the corresponding antagonist dealing tonnes of damage in the process. Each character has a lot of opportunities with one another, and I had a lot of fun figuring out how to take on the next fight—because I do think most of the encounters in this game are quite balanced. And bosses usually have a gimmick or take part in a set piece that keeps the action interesting.
But there is one unfortunate system that is hooked into the combat system and, in my opinion, serves to be an annoyance at best and the antithesis of fun at worst. This is the ‘overdrive’ system, a bar that is split into three colours: orange, green, and red. The bar starts at orange and slowly fills up or goes down depending on damage dealt and received, skills used, defence, and more. Depending on the position of the bar you’re at, you’ll either do more damage and take less (“overdrive”) and vice versa (“overheat”). This single mechanic made many fights far more frustrating than they had to be because any set ups you want to do will fill up the bar fast enough that you’ll be overheating by the time you can execute your plan of action.
This bar can be lowered quicker by using specific skill types marked right by the overdrive bar, but too often I found myself being limited to specific strategies because I was trying to manage the bar, which made battles far longer than they had to be. This mechanic makes far more sense for the Sky Armours that players receive later on in the game (which allows for interesting exploration and bigger fights). You can make this bar a little less annoying and lower enemy difficulty through a set of oddly worded settings in the accessibility menu. But I think this is one of those times where, if the overdrive bar was taken out, nothing would change, and the game would improve. If that meant spongier baddies or more boss gimmicks, so be it—those were a lot more fun anyway.
One Man Army
It is amazing how much passion was put into this project by its sole developer Matthias Linda and the artists involved. And you can see it permeate through the games gorgeous 16-bit visuals, accompanied by Eddie Marianukroh’s phenomenal score consisting of tempered orchestra and pleasing synthetic melodies. Despite my frustrations with the combat system, there’s a lot of good you’ll find in Chained Echoes. I can easily recommend this game for any Super Nintendo era role-playing game. A beautiful rose with a very sharp thorn.
Xbox Series X, Windows PC
- Gorgeous visuals and music.
- Interesting world with a lot of detail placed all over.
- Tight level design and quality-of-life features make traversal easy and fun.
- Combat system offers a lot of unique set up possibilities to take on foes.
- Overdrive system is a huge thorn in the side.
- Dialogue and its delivery are hit or miss.