Chained Echoes Review
Chained Echoes might be a bit of an unknown to many, flying under the radar to join a December release month that’s filled with bigger and more famous names. What started out as a Kickstarter project back in 2019 by developer Matthias Linda, the game saw its €60,000 goal smashed as it promised a 16-bit fantasy RPG experience that featured flying mechs.
The game tells the story in the continent of Valandis, with three Kingdoms under it that have been at war for most of their existence. During a fragile era of peace, trouble stirs anew as internal workings are trying to bring these Kingdoms to war again through deceit and betrayal.
As we always do, we’ll skip talking about the story to avoid spoilers, but instead talk about the game mechanics that make Chained Echoes a fantastic game to play and a real surprise as one of the best games in December.
Plan for Success
From the first time you boot up Chained Echoes, you can immediately see where its inspiration comes from. While it does not shy away from wearing them on its sleeve, the game certainly adds tweaks to its mechanics that make it more than just an homage to the greats of the past.
The biggest one is the introduction of the Overdrive system, which, to be honest, I wasn’t too thrilled with at first. You basically have a gauge that, with every action you do, will have the pointer either go up or down. Go up enough times and you’ll hit Overdrive, which is basically a state where your party does increased damage and receive other benefits. You’ll want to avoid hitting the Overheat part of the gauge, which applies some debuffs on your party and is a surefire way to die.
Keeping it in overdrive is where you’ll want the gauge to be at all times, but staying there is a balancing act that will require planning a few turns ahead. At first, I was simply going on full offensive to raise the gauge as much as I can before spending a number of turns defending to bring it back down again, and this was probably not the best way to go about it because the game becomes a boring back and forth of attacking and defending. Once I got the hang of it, battles became much more involved and more fun than I thought they would be.
As you stay in Overdrive, some skills and actions will change the way they interact with the bar. Some will increase the gauge, while others will bring it down, and it is up to you to determine which course of action to take for the turn that will allow you to keep up the momentum. This tug-of-war in Chained Echoes allows players to cycle between skills, forcing them to use buffs and debuffs to keep the party in Overdrive.
Chained Echoes also allows as much as 8 members in your party, with 4 active fighters and 4 “subs” per fighter that can tag-in at any time without taking up a turn. As you can imagine, this opens up a treasure trove of offensive and defensive combinations that can turn the tide of battle when planned properly. Enemies in the game love to stagger your party members for an absurd amount of turns, and getting caught in a bad spot without a healer will almost always spell trouble, so tag them out and bring in another person to help out.
Skills are also locked behind tiers, as you’ll need to learn enough from the first pool of skills before you unlock the next pool. There are a ton of skills to learn, and you’ll eventually realize which characters are fit for certain tasks, so this is a great touch as it allows players to take full control of how they want to build their characters as they try to fill certain roles in the party.
If that’s not enough, Chained Echoes also introduces Class Emblems, an equippable item that gives players a stat increase and allows them to learn new skills that they can eventually master, allowing for use of the skills even without the emblem equipped. These emblems can essentially give your characters another role in the party, which further adds more personalization in how players can approach the game.
While you’re given a taste of it at first, you’ll eventually get to don your Sky Armors once again later in the game. Sky Armors in Chained Echoes are basically equippable mech suits that can be used in and out of battle that will give your characters a big boost. Battle mechanics also change when wearing them, allowing the use of a Gear system that work similar to the overdrive gauge but will allow for different actions depending on what gear you are on.
All of this is wrapped up nicely in a turn-based affair that’s very easy to learn but will take a lot of involvement from the player to really maximize. It also helps that HP and TP (basically MP) are refilled after each battle, allowing players to go all-out in each battle without worrying about the next one.
Visually, Chained Echoes is simply eye candy. From the vivid environments to the creative character and enemy design, the game is such a treat on the eyes. The pixel art serves well to portray the setting, and the many beasts and bosses you fight throughout the game looks impressive, to say the least.
There’s no voice acting here, as with games from years back, but it places the focus on the great soundtrack that very much reminds me of the likes of Chrono Trigger. Composer Eddie Marianukroh must be given props here, with Chained Echoes brimming with personality and life thanks to its wonderful tunes that will definitely take you back to the good old days.
The usual old-school RPG trimmings are also found in Chained Echoes, and you’ll get to explore huge towns and environments that hold many secrets and treasures if you stray off the beaten path. You’ll get to craft and slot gems in weapons, further adding to your arsenal, and even side-quests and a reward board that will scratch your itch to do more than just the main storyline.
Playing the game on a Steam Deck, I’ve had no troubles installing or running Chained Echoes. Load times are fast and the game performs at a rock-solid 60fps, which is just a cherry on top of the cake. I did, however, notice a weird occurrence that some NPCs will shake as I move around the town, like their animations are in fast-forward. It’s a very minor nitpick, in the grand scheme of things, and is merely a wrinkle in what’s a mostly polished and bug-free experience.
What we liked:
- Overdrive and Gear systems keeps battles involved
- Fantastic visuals and soundtrack
- Lots of skills and upgrades to tinker with
What we didn’t like:
- Very minor model stuttering on Steam Deck
Verdict: Buy it!
Chained Echoes is a fantastic game that hearkens back to the good old days of the 16-bit RPGs and adds its own flair to make it stand out from the bunch. The turn-based combat system is very involved thanks to the Overdrive mechanic, and the art style is simply eye candy, which is music to the ears of all old-school RPG lovers out there.
The first few hours of Chained Echoes can get a bit messy and confusing, events-wise, but really gathers itself and goes on to tell a solid and heartfelt story across multiple characters that is punctuated by stellar gameplay. The experience has been mostly bug-free and the game has simply been a surprise, as I’m sure many didn’t expect such a gem amidst all of the big triple A titles this month.
Overall, Chained Echoes is a must-play for old-school gamers such as myself but has also enough charm and heart to capture a more modern audience. It would certainly be a crime to let this fly under your radar, and if you’re in the market for a good 30-40 hour turn-based RPG, look no further.
*Chained Echoes was reviewed on a Steam Deck with a review code provided by the publisher.