Chained Echoes Review: A perfect homage to classic RPGs

Chained Echoes Review: A perfect homage to classic RPGs

Embark on a journey into the realms of nostalgia and innovation with Chained Echoes, a game that breathes new life into the classic RPG genre while paying homage to its roots. Developed by Matthias Linda, this captivating adventure offers a symphony of intricate battle systems, deep customization options, and a rich narrative tapestry that unfolds amidst breathtaking pixel art landscapes. In this review, we'll delve into the core components that make Chained Echoes a standout title in the realm of turn-based RPGs. From its meticulously crafted battle systems to its engrossing storyline filled with political intrigue and nuanced characters, every aspect of the game contributes to an experience that feels both familiar and refreshingly new. Join us as we explore the depths of Chained Echoes, uncovering its strengths and occasional pitfalls, and ultimately discover why it has garnered such acclaim among fans of the genre. So, grab your controller, prepare your party, and immerse yourself in a world where every decision counts and every battle is a thrilling adventure in today's Chained Echoes review.

Battle System - 10

This is, without a doubt, my new favorite turn-based combat battle system! Following in the footsteps of the Final Fantasy X battle system and its spiritual successors, this game boasts a phenomenal CTB (Conditional Turn-Based) battle system. However, being a CTB system doesn't set this game's battle system apart on its own. There's so much more here! First of all, each of your four main characters can have one buddy that stands behind them in the back row. This allows for innovative party switching that doesn't trivialize the game and creates challenging and rewarding combat that requires smart party formations. Second of all, the difficulty is high, but to compensate, all HP and TP are restored after battle, allowing the player to go all-out with their abilities every battle. This makes a huge difference, as battles were always fun, not a chore. Third of all, the character abilities of the thirteen playable characters synergize very well! Yet, the game still does a great job of making each character feel more distinct than the last—something many games struggle with. Fourth of all, each character has unique Ultra Moves that can be summoned by filling up the Ultra Move meter! These moves can clear out groups of enemies, support the party with buffs, or save the party from imminent demise. Fifth of all, if you lose a difficult battle, you can retry it as many times as you want as long as you don't close the game! But, perhaps best of all, there's the Overdrive Meter, which completely shifts the paradigm of battle. This meter has three zones: neutral, Overdrive, and Overheat. As you could likely guess by the names, neutral is in favor of none, Overdrive buffs the party, and Overheat invigorates the enemy party. But these aren't small buffs—going into Overheat is more often than not a death sentence for the party. This single addition is able to be so simple yet drastically shifts the tide of battle and makes for a tactical and strategic battle system. Managing this guage and hitting insane numbers while in Overdrive makes for some of the most satisfying turn-based combat I've ever had the opportunity to play.

If that were all of it, this game would already easily score a ten. Bu Matthias Linda went completely overboard, creating a second battle system for his masterpiece. As a love letter to Xenogears, but with an entirely new spin on it, this game also has a Sky Armor battle system, which allows four of your party members to suit up in combat as Mechs. However, the abilities and customization of these Mechs are completely independent of the traditional combat, and the way battle works is a completely different turn-based battle system! Since this unlocks later in the game, I'll stop here, as I want to keep the rest of this amazing feature a surprise. Ultimately, with two masterful turn-based battle systems, this game's combat never gets old and stands as some of the best combat I've ever played in a video game.

Customization System - 10

This game's customization system is a doozy, that's for sure! The first method of customization is people's innate skills they learn. After beating a boss or completing sidequests, you get Grimoire Shards, which can be used to unlock three types of skills: action skills, innate skills, and stat boosters. Since these aren't unlocked by leveling, this game does not really let you grind, forcing you to rely on strategy and smart choice of skills. However, after battle, you receive SP, which allows you to upgrade your skills. Even if you can't unlock them via grinding, you can at least improve your skills! The second method of customization comes with weapons and armor, which can be upgraded with materials at anvils; accessories, which boast plenty of unique and useful innate skills, and class emblems. Yes, this game has a class system! There are twelve classes you can obtain through exploration of the world, and they drastically buff your stats and grant new abilities! The third method of customization comes through Crystals, which can be equipped to your weapons and armor (akin to Materia from Final Fantasy VII), and the more you've upgraded equipment, the more Crystals you can fit inside of them. These Crystals help fill in any gaps in character skill sets that aren't quite covered by unlocked innate skills. The final form of customization comes from Sky Armor, which can be customized with unique frames, weapons, colors, and RAMs (basically accessories, but for armor). Ultimately, this game has a plethora of phenomenal customization options that make the battle system all the more fun.

Story - 8

While this game has some interesting issues with some story beats near the end of the game, as a whole, this game has an incredible story. The story in this game focuses on political drama, deep motives, morally gray characters, amnesia, and even reincarnation. However, that doesn't come at the cost of beautiful interpersonal moments and silly, laugh-out-loud moments. While more character development and focus in the final act would be nice, the story is great as-is, so I'm hardly complaining. This game's story is just straight-up awesome!

Music - 6

This game's soundtrack reminds me of the Final Fantasy XII soundtrack! While it may not have the most catchy and memorable tunes, every song perfectly builds on the game's beautiful environments, and I always loved hearing the game's music. While the songs weren't earworms, they were still good, and this soundtrack was awesome as a whole.

Characters - 8

While the character development in this game isn't always the strongest, the distinct personalities, beliefs, and experiences of the characters are very apparent, making for an incredibly unique cast of characters. Glenn and Lenne are fantastic protagonists with deep and rich backstories; Victor is a bright and fun musician guy with awesome late-game plot revelations; Robb's loyalty to his throne (but moral ambiguity to another throne) makes him become a character that grows on you over time despite his tsundere personality; Sienna is a morally gray thief who has a good side to her; and Amalia and Ba'thraz both have awesome backstories. And, of course, all the other characters are swell as well, but I don't want to spoil information about all the characters here! In the end, the characters in Chained Echoes may be pretty static, but they are incredibly fleshed out, making this a great cast of characters as a whole.

Art & Graphics - 9

This game has beautiful, modern pixel art that is incredibly distinct and hearkens back to the SNES era of RPGs. The UI and attack animations are just as fantastic as the characters and environments, and, as a whole, the art in this game is beautiful and genuinely impressive, especially since Matthias made it on his own. It's simply incredible.

Locations - 9

While some of the locations in this game are pretty forgettable, the majority of locations are beautiful, full of life, and fun to explore! With tons of treasure chests, hidden treasures, caves, Leonar statues, secrets, sidequests, Sky Armor upgrades, puzzles, and obscured passageways, this game has phenomenal dungeon design that makes every single location tons of fun to explore. In the end, this game is just phenomenal.

Sidequests - 10

This game executes its sidequests masterfully, with the Reward Board being my new favorite way of dealing with sidequests in a video game—I wouldn't complain if this were the new norm for video game sidequests! With the Reward Board, you can keep track of all the sidequests you've done and still need to do! By chaining sidequest completions together, you can unlock special rewards such as Grimoire Shards, materials to craft the Ultimate Weapons, and even a monument for your clan base. Yes, you have a clan in this game, where you can recruit 23 different members to gain tons of rewards! This game is full of sidequests but never feels over the top or repetitive, and very few RPGs are able to impeccably strike that balance like Chained Echoes does, so this easily deserves a perfect score.

Quality of Life - 8

This game is incredibly well-optimized with fast traveling, saving anywhere, auto-saving, healing to full health after every battle, etc. However, there are a couple of issues. First of all, a ton of areas do not have fast travel Crystals, even though they are important places that have important things to collect. Second of all, the game has issues with occasionally crashing while interacting with NPCs or battle skills and not triggering achievements until rebooting the game. However, as a whole, this game doesn't get too annoying as long as it doesn't crash during the long final cutscenes... I speak from experience, unfortunately.

The Verdict

Fun Factor: 8
Overall Score: 86%
Letter Rating: S

This game is a masterclass in classic RPG design, and it stands up to SNES-era RPGs (and surpasses most of them). The fact that I found more enjoyment from this game than the masterpiece that is Chrono Trigger is a testament to the fact this is one of my favorite games of all time. While it's not perfect, this is exquisite, classic RPG fine-dining at its best, and I recommend this game to anyone who loves classic RPGs or is looking for a gateway drug to get into them.

Primary Version: Chained Echoes (PC)