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Chained Echoes Is A Masterfully-Crafted 16-Bit RPG Tribute

Platforms: PC (version reviewed), Nintendo Switch
Genre: 16-bit RPG tribute

Chained Echoes delivers a very familiar experience for anyone who is a fan of JRPGs but yet is able to remain relatively distinct from its sources of inspiration. Based on the 20+ hours I’ve experienced so far, it’s really compelling old-school-yet-new-school adventuring to cap off 2022.

16-Bit Lush Look

Right off the bat, we can see that Chained Echoes pays special attention to creating absolutely gorgeous world spaces! Every corner of the game has been crafted with such care and it really shows. Despite being 16-bit, Chained Echoes’ vast open world is absolute eye candy. From bustling marketplaces, overgrown forests, dusty deserts or even dreary cityscapes, every part of this game is wallpaper worthy!

Environments for cities and small towns are where this game shines the brightest, in my humble opinion. Every city and town have distinct & unique aesthetics. On your adventures, you’ll find quaint villages that make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, you’ll find dreary, rainy capitals with depressed citizens, you’ll find dirty steampunk-esque cities, the list goes on and on!

Since the game runs on 16-bit graphics, it’s safe to say that most devices should be able to run this game with relative ease. If you’re looking for a game to play on your century-old laptop, Chained Echoes would be an amazing pickup!

A Tale Of Friendship, Deceit, And Political Strife

What is a beautiful world without a story to go along with it? Chained Echoes’ main story revolves around the conflicts between kingdoms in the land of Valandis. Without getting into spoilers, the story is full of twists and turns, great character development and moments that’ll make you question your preconceived notions of certain things.

Chained Echoes isn’t extremely story heavy but I do believe that story and actual gameplay are really well balanced. There are quite a number of cutscenes throughout the game but none of them last too terribly long where you’ll be forced to mash a single button to skip a long wall of text.

At the beginning of the game, you’re introduced to the first main character of the story, Glenn, an ace Sky Armor pilot (more on Sky Armors later) that’s part of a mercenary group, Band of the Iron Bulls. They’ve been tasked to help retake a kingdom under assault and destroy a supposed power source that is powering their cannons.

However, Glenn and his team are stopped by a Sky Armor (with an awesome Anubis design, might I add), which will serve as your first mini boss of sorts. After successfully defeating the Sky Armor, Glenn manages to destroy this supposed power source, or so we think. Without giving away too much, this is the event that triggers the main plotline of the game.

The first act of the game introduces the player to various playable characters. What I enjoyed the most was how the storytelling organically brought these very different characters from very different backgrounds into one culminating event.

Each of these characters have their own personalities, goals and quirks, with backstories that fit the narrative really well. I can’t really talk too much about Glenn as it will spoil some of the early story, but I can talk about the other playable characters you meet early on.

Lenne, a princess of the Taryn Kingdom, fled the safety of the castle to see the world and to better understand the people of her kingdom. Lenne is accompanied by her ward, Robb, who is overprotective of her and seems to have a chip on his shoulder. A little later on, we’re introduced to Ser Victor, a peasant poet turned nobleman that creates plays enjoyed by high society. Despite being of noble status, Ser Victor is a likeable and quirky bard that is loyal and chivalrous. One of the last characters you’ll meet early on is Sienna, a red-haired thief that supposedly joins your team ‘for the money’ but slowly shows to actually care about her travelling companions, a tsundere character if you will.

Chained Echoes’ storytelling is rather focused, not deviating from the main purpose of the plot, so you’ll never feel too confused about what is going on. However, there can be small doses of dialogue about warring kingdoms and political disputes but if you have some basic understanding, you’ll be fine. The ensemble of characters and warring kingdoms really give me Avatar: The Last Airbender vibes.

Hidden Loot, Tough Bosses

Maybe you don’t play these games for the story, may we can interest you in loot? Lots of loot and an expansive open world to boot!

The world of Chained Echoes consists of various locations, all bigger than the last! As you embark on the main storyline, you’ll unlock many large expansive regions of a much larger open world. Some parts of these regions won’t be accessible in the earlier stages of the game until you unlock certain gameplay features or progress further into the story. Thankfully the game’s map UI provides an easy way to assess the paths and areas available in that location (provided you’ve already traveled to that part of the map).

Chained Echoes’ open world doesn’t feel overbearing or gratuitous, every new location serves to further the main plotline and many, many opportunities to hide loot and mini-bosses. The Chained Echoes team really went all out on hiding as much as they could in their vast open world. If you’re a loot fiend like me, you’ll enjoy spending that extra bit of time looking at every nook and cranny for a shiny red item chest (red chests usually means good loot). Loot can be hidden anywhere, literally. The developers have deviously hidden chests in interiors, exteriors and even parts of the map that aren’t highlighted on the map explicitly. So always keep your eyes peeled even if you’re exploring a lowly insignificant tavern.

Whether you’re able to find these hidden chests might actually impact how hard or easy the game is as sometimes you’ll find higher-tier gear before the game actually allows you to purchase them from merchants. This is not necessarily a good or bad thing, but you might keep this in mind when you decide to ignore that one path you never explored.

In addition to hidden loot, each region you travel to in Chained Echoes seemingly has a couple of optional mini-bosses. Some of these encounters are standing out in the open, ready for you to battle whenever you’re ready, some you might stumble upon by pure coincidence and some requiring some prerequisite actions before appearing. These fights are unique to the region and don’t appear anywhere else and usually drop materials that’ll be used to upgrade your gear.

Mini-bosses are a great way to determine how strong your team is. If the boss is killing your team in one shot, you’re probably not meant to be taking it on just yet. Chained Echoes’ open world is an absolute joy to explore with serotonin hits hidden everywhere!

Magic, Daggers, Swords, And Mechs

Beautiful world, check! Interesting story and characters, check! Big open world with lots of loot, check! Time to get to the meat and bones of Chained Echoes: its combat system!

Chained Echoes offers a myriad of different gameplay features like merchant deals, base building and side quests but for the sake of this review, we’ll focus on mainly the combat and gear system.

The fighting uses the tried and true turn-based combat system with the Agility stat affecting which characters move first in combat. The way it sets itself apart from other RPGs out there in the market is the Overdrive system.

Showing up as a yellow, green and red bar in the top corner, the Overdrive bar is an indicator of how in-sync your team is. When in the green section, your team is completely in-sync, your skills cost less Technical Points (Chain Echoes version of Mana) to cast, your team takes less damage and deals more damage. However, in the red portion of the bar, skills cost their original amount and your team takes significantly more damage.

The Overdrive bar can be manipulated by using your character’s skills. Skills in Chained Echoes are classified as Attack, Magic, Debuff, Buff, Healing and Utility, each with their own icon. The Overdrive bar will indicate which class of skills will reduce the Overdrive charge, while using skills aside from what is indicated will increase the charge. So it’s a game of balancing the Overdrive charge, ensuring that you won’t be able to spam the same few skills without facing severe consequences.

Like most RPGs, you’re able to unlock skills for each of your characters as you progress into the story, allowing you to further diversify your playstyle and even combo with other characters. Every character can be customized with different passives and stat spreads to personalize your gameplay. However, each character does more or less fall into certain categories like pure damage, pure support or pure utility. The great thing is that most characters do have access to skills that serve purposes outside their designated role, like your magic damage character can be outfitted with the Dispel skill to help remove enemy buffs

Adding to that, you’ll come across Class Emblems that can be equipped on your characters. Class Emblems provide additional stats, passive skills and active skills which further deepens Chained Echoes’ character customization. A piece of advice, Class Emblems can be hidden away, so make sure to explore if you’d like to get your hands on these.

The gear you encounter increases in quality as you progress the story and visit new locations. Most times you’ll find merchants that will sell these better quality gear but as mentioned before you can find higher tier gear way before you meet the merchant that sells the same. Other than that, the gear system is rather straightforward. Each character uses a specific weapon so you can’t really customize your character in that regard, however, in the armor department, some characters can equip different classes of armor ranging from Light, Medium and Heavy, all with differing stats.

Not Quite Shiny

The only feature that I can criticize in this JRPG offering is the Crystals mechanic. Crystals are items you can slot onto your weapons and armour while at a blacksmith. During my playthrough, I felt that the Crystals were a tad bit clunky or required grinding in order to fully maximize their potential, here’s why.

Each Crystal has an initial size (affects how many Crystal Slots it occupies on your gear), purity (affects how many times it can be combined) and rank, with the Crystals effects increasing at rank 3, 5 and 10. My gripe with this is when you want to unequip the Crystal from your gear, the Crystal’s size would reset to its maximum size and lose all its purity. So in order to preserve good quality Crystals, you’re actually incentivised to not equip them so you may combine them with other Crystals to reach their full potential.

Even though the Crystals can be farmed, it’s not something that is very viable until much later in your playthrough. I found myself not bothering with equipping Crystals in the entire first act because I didn’t want to waste a good quality Crystal. I assume that this system was developed as such in order to add a level of resource management and strategy to your gear building. But in my opinion, it felt rather awkward in the early stages of the game as your Crystal collection doesn’t grow much unless you purposely farm them, which honestly ruins the game’s pacing. The Crystals don’t make or break the game’s combat so indulge in it however you please.

Before we conclude this section, we have to talk about the mechs! Or Sky Armor, if you want to be lore accurate.

Sky Armors are a feature that you’ll only unlock after the first act of the game, allowing you to engage in combat with your kickass mecha suits, ahem, I mean, Sky Armors. Sky Armor combat is similar to normal combat, utilizing a similar Overdrive system to keep things balanced.

Sky Armor combat feels super satisfying, seeing large damage numbers pop up and the attack animations really changes up how you view combat in this game. Each Sky Armor can be equipped with different weapons and gear similar to normal combat but the best part is that you can choose what colour scheme each Sky Armor uses! The colour scheme that makes my Sky Armors look like Iron Man has to be my favourite!

Chained Echoes’ combat and gear system is nothing too out of the ordinary but is different enough to make it stand out. Chained Echoes delivers on a solid combat system that deters skill spamming, character customization that’s meaningful and a gear system that’s relatively straightforward.

A Grand Day Out

Simply put, Chained Echoes is a beautifully made 16-bit RPG adventure, fluid and strategic combat with an interesting cast of unique characters, alongside a compelling tale of warring kingdoms and tragic heroes. This indie offering is a love letter to the RPGs of old. Older generations of gamers will be able to appreciate where the game takes inspiration from and newer generations will certainly gain a love for the 16-bit aesthetic of Chained Echoes. The pixel art style is definitely timeless and, in my opinion, really transcends time.

Chained Echoes delivers a heartwarming tale of unlikely individuals coming together for the same cause and a tragic story of what war can do to a nation. They’ve done a great job at writing each character so that players can feel attached to these characters, and even relate to some of them.

The overall gameplay is definitely where this game excels. An open world with tons of exploration, loot aplenty, engaging combat and gear system. Even as you progress further into the game, more and more features/mechanics continue to be introduced keeping the game feeling fresh no matter how far along you are.

As someone who knew nothing about Chained Echoes prior to this review, I’ve been absolutely blown away by the amount of detail and care that has been poured into the creation of this game. The developer of Chained Echoes, Matthias Linda, has definitely created something special here, a game full of heart, which is rare these days. I’m excited to see what else they create in the future if this is the quality of their work!

 

Pros

  • A fresh take on turn-based combat.
  • Beautiful 16-bit world space.
  • Well-thought out story and dialogue.
  • Complex but straightforward character customization.
  • Mechs!

 

Cons

  • Potentially grindy Crystals mechanic.
  • Hidden high-tier loot can significantly alter the difficulty of certain early & mid game encounters.
  • Mechs are only unlocked much later in the game.

 

Final Score: 80/100

Review code provided by Deck13. 

 

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