Chained Echoes Review (Switch)
Release Date: December 8, 2022
File Size: 717MB
Developer: Matthias Linda
Click here to view on the Nintendo eShop.
Version Reviewed: 1.1.2
Solo dev projects are not a strange thing in the world of gaming. The community loves to hear stories of developers taking a long journey to publish a labor of love, especially when said labor of love ends up beloved in said community. Coming in at the end of the year, Chained Echoes truly has taken the RPG scene by storm and ended 2023 on a high note. But just how high of a note is it? Labeled a love letter to classic JRPGs, how does this title hold up for people who don’t have that nostalgia?
Chained Echoes opens up with you waking up because your mom has burst through your door. It’s time to go, right now. Only, instead of a loving parental figure urging you nicely, your mother turns towards you, and slaps you right out of your dream sequence and right onto an airship. Your name is Glenn and you are on a suicide mission to destroy the Opus Stone. The kingdom of Taryn just conquered Wyrnshire and you’ve got to help get back control of the city. But things aren’t what they seem, as the moment that you go to destroy the Opus Stone, a bright light envelops everyone.
You find out later that that stone actually caused an explosion that killed thousands. Due to said explosion, a peace treaty has been formed. But as is standard in the game of politics, this treaty is just a front, as Taryn is looking for a reason to start the war again.
There is a large cast of characters that you’ll find yourself immersed with, and the introductory portion of the game is spent with you playing as each one of them. Each character has their own motivations and back stories and while at first, some characters seem a bit two-dimensional, they do eventually grow into their own person. A lot of this development is done in the main storyline, but some characters, such as Robb, also have side quests that will tie in parts of their backstory. Chained Echoes also does a pretty good job of drawing everyone into this big plot, even when everyone seemingly has different motivations.
When it comes to the actual storytelling, a lot of effort is put into building out the main cast. Even the side characters, who you can recruit to be a part of your clan later in the game, are given their own mini-spotlights as well. It’s really amazing how built out this world is, both with its characters and its general world building. The only criticism that comes to mind would have to be how sometimes, it can feel as though the storytelling is a bit heavy handed with its themes. There are moments when Glenn will turn around and burst into a standard JRPG speech about believing in yourself, or Lenne reminiscing on how the world has changed in a way a bit too lofty for a regular conversation.
Chained Echoes is a turn-based RPG where you can explore around the continent of Valadis. You’ll come across monsters that you can engage with in battle. In the beginning portions of the game, there are quite a few tutorials that go through the basics. Some of these tutorials, such as how hate (aggro) is built up, come much later than expected in the game rather than in the early stages when battles are first introduced.
Since you are able to see all enemies on the map before entering battle, you are able to prepare initially before going into battle. Although, that doesn’t mean that you can avoid all battles. There will be some fights that are required with regular enemies, no matter how hard you may try to avoid it. Turns are decided based on your speed stat. You can choose to use a regular attack, use a skill using your TP, use an item, or defend. Your skills are your most viable asset, with a wide variety of effects across many different characters. You’ll come across support, offensive, and defensive units and depending on your play style, you can build your team however you feel best. Although, given how quickly the tide of battle can change, it’s recommended to at least have a healer on your team.
You have eight character slots to build out with your formation, with up to four characters being allowed to actively fight. Each character can be assigned a reserve character that you can switch to at any moment for no cost. And since you can use that character immediately after switching, there’s no reason to not switch out if you find yourself in a tough bind. Another reason that switching out is heavily recommended during times when your units are hurt is that once a unit is knocked out, you can’t switch to the reserve character. But if you have amazing luck (or have your enemy aggressive meter bumped up to high), then you’ll find that enemies will target one specific unit and knock them out before you even have the chance to switch.
A major mechanic with Chained Echoes is the Overdrive bar. In a typical Overdrive bar (some bosses can change this with a special skill), there are three zones: yellow, green, and red. All actions, from both you and the enemy, move the bar to the right. Once the bar reaches the green zone, you are officially in Overdrive. Your party takes less damage, deals more damage, and skills spend half TP. It is absolutely important not to allow the Overdrive gauge to enter the red zone, where Overdrive will be switched to Overheated. In this state, you take massive damage. And oftentimes, this can mean that enemies can easily wipe your team, or get close to it.
There are ways to manage the Overdrive bar. A skill icon appears to the left of the bar that lets you know which type of skill will lower the bar. For the most part, it’s easy to manage as long as you keep a well-rounded team. However, there will be times where the same skill icon can appear back to back, resulting in the feeling of having to use skills that won’t benefit you in that particular moment. But it’s better to use a throwaway move as opposed to ending up in Overheat and potentially losing the entire battle.
You also have an Ultra Move bar, which builds up every time you attack. This bar builds up between battles, so you don’t have to feel as though you never get to use your Ultra Move outside of boss battles. And speaking of boss battles, the Ultra Move bar is automatically full at the beginning, making it easy for you to use this strong move right at the start. Each character has their own Ultra Move with its own abilities, but some characters, such as Glenn’s, feel more useful due to the additional effects it offers like lowering attack and defense.
When it comes to difficulty in Chained Echoes, there are difficulty spikes, especially when moving from one area to another as you progress. There is no leveling mechanic outside of your skills and given the meager amount of skill points (or SP) that you’re given after battles, grinding is ultimately a waste of time. It’s more important to take advantage of enemy weaknesses, build up your buffs and debuffs, and make sure your Overdrive gauge doesn’t end up in Overheat. But if you still find battles to be too difficult (or too easy), you can change the difficulty of enemy stats and enemy aggressiveness.
Early game in Chained Echoes, you are locked to specific locations and must follow where the story is guiding you. Each area in itself is pretty big, with a map allowing you to see all the paths you can take. There are also a few fast travel crystals available that make later traveling a breeze when trying to get from point A to point B.
Eventually, the game does open up to where you can use an airship to travel anywhere in the continent of Valadis, provided that there is a landmark to land at. The map in airship mode actually makes the world feel a lot bigger than it does when traveling from one zone to another. It actually feels a bit cumbersome when trying to figure out exactly where to land. There are side quests that you can complete before this point, but once you get the airship, you’ll be able to see specific locations of where to pick up some side quests using your map, and where to go to continue others.
Some of these side quests are recruit quests, where you’ll get a new character to join your clan. Some of these characters can be used in your party while others will give new effects, such as gaining additional SP after defeating an enemy or revealing how many treasure chests there are in an area. But if you’re only interested in the main quest line, you will unlock enough characters to fill out your main formation roster.
Since there isn’t a typical leveling mechanic in Chained Echoes, upgrades are handled a different way in order to give the player a feeling of progression. All characters have a list of skills that they are able to learn from. After completing key missions, you are given a Grimoire Shard, which can be used to learn a new skill. There are three different skill types that you can learn from: active skills that are used as actions in battle, passive skills, and stat increases. You are able to select which skills you want to have in your lineup, with a maximum of eight active skills and three passive skills.
Each skill, excluding the stat increases, has three different levels that they can achieve. With each level increase, the skill gets better. You can level up skills using the SP that you gain at the end of battles. Skills also gradually level up on their own. As mentioned earlier, the amount of SP that you actually get in battle is small, so grinding isn’t the best use of your time. It’s better to just fight battles normally and occasionally check up on your skills to see if the SP you’ve accumulated is enough to push it to the next level.
There are some better skills that are gated off until you learn a specific number of skills, but the skills that characters learn early on are just as good. Honestly, reinvesting in newer skills doesn’t feel as worth it.
Along with skill management, you can also manage equipment for characters. Each character can equip one weapon, one armor piece, and one accessory. Equipment can be found in treasure chests out in the world, or bought through shops using money. And while you can just slap the newest piece of armor or weapon onto your unit, you’ll also want to upgrade those pieces using crafting. In some locations, you’ll notice an anvil where you can do upgrades to your armor and weapon. Along with giving small stat boosts, they also increase the amount of slots in order to insert crystals. Crystals can have passive skills, such as TP increases or a chance to give a status affliction to an enemy.
One part of the game that doesn’t show up until around the halfway point is Sky Armors. It is a bit of a shame, given that you get a taste for them early on. But given the story direction, it makes sense that these huge mechs aren’t just flying around willy-nilly. So when you finally get the chance to man one of these beasts, it does end up being a lot of fun. But of course, you’re still facing enemies your own size and the areas that you can explore with the Sky Armor are limited, so don’t think that you’ll be sweeping through enemies like a knife to butter.
Sky Armors have their own skills, equipment, and even their own combat system. When you go into battle, you’ll immediately notice that there is a spinning gear that appears. This is the main mechanic for Sky Armor battles, and depending on how you’ve found the battle system so far, you’ll come out of it thinking that the battle management is either too simple or more streamlined. Each turn, you can change the gear of your Sky Armor, each gear level giving a different effect.
Gear 0 deals and receives normal damage, but isn’t able to use any skills. It also does not move the Overdrive gauge. Gear 1 is the default that you open with in battle. You deal and receive normal damage and are able to use your skills. The Overdrive bar also moves towards the right. Gear 2 is the highest gear level. In this mode, you deal and receive more damage and skills cost more TP. You’ll need to switch through all of the Gear levels available to build up your TP so you can use your skills, as well as managing the Overdrive bar.
The Overdrive bar now only has two zone types, with the Overdrive section right in the center while the Overheat sections are to the left and right. Managing this is a lot simpler as it doesn’t end up feeling like you have to use “useless” moves in the moment just to keep your gauge under control.
Sky Armors in general are an interesting mechanic to add to the game, but it does end up feeling as though they aren’t fully utilized. It can be a hard balance to manage when you want to have these powerful mech suits available for battle, while also wanting to keep battles where you can’t use the suit relevant.
Pixel games are no stranger to the Switch, but Chained Echoes carves out its own path among the other highly acclaimed titles such as Eastward and Octopath Traveler. The art for the characters and monsters are fantastic, giving personality to every creature that appears. But what really sets Chained Echoes apart is the gorgeous background art. Each location is built with so much attention to detail that it all truly comes alive. It’s a treat wandering into a new location and taking in all there is to see.
A lot of inspiration for Chained Echoes came from classic JRPGs such as Breath of Fire and Final Fantasy VI, and that is just as apparent in the gameplay as it is in the music. Eddie Marianukroh did a fantastic job with the score of the game, truly capturing the pivotal moments whether it’s the stomach-dropping fear of realizing the truth behind the Grand Grimoire, or the lighthearted moments between party members. Chained Echoes truly shows just how important music can be to leaving a lasting impression.
There is a lot of fanfare for Chained Echoes, and for good reason. It is a wonderful treat as an RPG and one that feels as though it was a great gift to end 2022 on. Going from a solo project, to absolutely destroying their Kickstarter goal, to releasing with such fanfare that is only to be expected, Chained Echoes is a tale of a game done right. There is a lot of hard work, passion, and love put into this title, and it shows it in the best of ways. The writing is enthralling and the characters are wonderful to watch grow on their journey. The art is beautiful and the music one of my favorites from this year.
Personally, I don’t have a lot of nostalgia for old-school RPGs just because I didn’t have the chance to play a lot of them growing up. So while Chained Echoes doesn’t have that going for me, I can say that this game is a treat to experience. It does a nice job at mixing that “old” RPG feeling with a more modern twist. It shows that you don’t need 60+ hours to develop a hard-hitting story, charming characters, and engaging combat. While there are some hiccups with Chained Echoes, overall, it is still a game worth checking out.