As always, I’d like to give thanks to the developer and the publisher who made this possible for me to cover Chained Echoes. This was an RPG I was thankful to have the chance to review as this one has been making rounds among peers. Throughout the month of December, the game received plenty of buzz as a callback to classic 90s RPGs including the Chrono series. In what I’ve played so far, Chained Echoes has its own personality and flair unique to any game of its type I’ve come across. Despite its December release, this may be one of the best RPG titles of 2022. What makes this game unique compared to its peers above all else is the gameplay.
Chained Echoes gameplay is a traditional turn-based RPG with a twist as maintaining tempo is the core part of staying alive and ending fights quickly. The main mechanic is an “Overdrive Bar” that’s split into yellow, green, and red sections. The party starts in the yellow section, with every passing turn increasing their position on the bar. Eventually, the party will enter the green section or “Overdrive” mode. This increases the damage dealt, decreases the damage received and cuts the cost of TP skills in half.
Conversely, as the battle continues, the party will enter the red zone. This is when the party enters the state of “Overheat,” meaning the party takes twice as much damage as they would in yellow. There are several ways to get out of Overheat including switching party members and defending, but the main method will be to match skills. Next to the Overdrive Bar is a skill icon and whenever a party member does an attack that matches the corresponding skill, their placement on the Overdrive Bar decreases.
This also has a drawback as chaining too many moves with the correct icon can knock the party out of the green and back into the yellow. Each fight in Chained Echoes then becomes a see-saw, balancing between the lackluster yellow and the dangerous red. This also ties into TP management as each skill requires it. If a character is the only one with access to a specific skill but they can’t use it, they can’t decrease the bar in a timely manner. Likewise, the party would want to use its most powerful skills while they are in Overdrive for peak optimization.
Perhaps the most welcome change from most RPGs is that your health and TP recover after each fight. This means that using your strongest skills is encouraged as there’s no caveat for holding back. Likewise, losing a fight against a pig is something that is near impossible, making grinding seamless. That, plus the ability to save almost anywhere makes this an easy RPG to get into without the risk of a critical failure. Speaking of battles, enemies appear on the screen making transitions in and out of battles as seamless as other titles that have taken a similar approach, like Pokemon Scarlet and Violet.
The story for Chained Echoes also does a good job of introducing the player to the prologue protagonist and the setting. Taking cues from games like The DioField Chronicle, Chained Echoes takes place in a neo-steampunk era where advanced technology coexists with traditional locations. Airships and giant mechs exist yet at the same time, the environment delivers a “medieval” like appearance. Chained Echoes’ intro is well animated for a predominantly sprite-based game as camera cuts and dynamic shifts to the opening credits take cues from several pieces of film.
Glenn, an ace pilot, is a part of a unit known as the Band of the Iron Bull on a “suicide mission” to destroy a stone. Alongside his close friend Kylian and as is the case with most prologues of this nature, things go south fast. While Glenn is successful in destroying a stone, it’s quickly revealed that it was the wrong stone. Doing so effectively wiped out “tens of thousands” of individuals that none of the warring states could pinpoint as the culprit. Afraid of the repercussions, a ceasefire is made. We may have doomed thousands of lives but at least we prevented a war, right?
This time around, the story focuses on Lenne and Robb. The former is a member of royalty on the run with her companion by her side to protect her. Reminds me of a recent Star Ocean title I’ve played. The actual story begins with this ceasefire, as well as an introduction to Grimoire Shards. These shards are used to increase the abilities of your party members ranging from Action and Passive Skills and Stat Boosts. Action skills can also be leveled up via SP gained from battles. The player will need to obtain a lot of SP in order to level skills, but this also eliminates the traditional “leveling system” found in other RPGs.
One thing I can give immense praise for is its graphics. Chained Echoes does a great job at depth perception, walking across rooftops and bridges as the background scrolls with the player’s movement. Even going under waterfalls gives the game a “2.5d” despite it being a 2D title. It may be a “simple trick” for those in the know of parallax scrolling since the 16-bit era. When executed well as in Chained Echoes, it works flawlessly and adds another layer to the game’s charm.
Shortly after defeating the first boss, Chained Echoes enters a “rapid fire” style of pacing, focusing on several different characters at the same time. Much like the SaGa series, the game is told through different perspectives from all walks of life. From an enigmatic member of the theater, Victor, who wants to spend his money on heavy metal turtle racing, to a samurai thief who is known for ripping off men like him. In terms of the latter, Sienna makes a living being a thief so her playstyle is similar to creating the perfect crime.
From foiling an assassination plot to playing rock paper scissors with a mascot and stealing from a hapless bar patron with skill and guile, the cast of Chained Echoes is vast and diverse. Just as quickly as you’re traversing through the sewers en route to the palace, Glenn and Kylian appear out of nowhere just as a Kraken was about to engage with our red-headed thief. Armed with more questions than answers, the trio decides to team up.
This boss fight was the first fight for the player to prove they understood Chained Echoes’ mechanics. There are three tentacles, one that heals, uses physical attacks, and magic attacks. Getting rid of all of them at once is a priority, but so is maintaining Overdrive. If the party Overheats, the damage taken can quickly get out of hand (or out of tentacle…perhaps?) It’s not a difficult fight, but the “see-saw” momentum of combat is shown in full display here.
Another unique thing that Chained Echoes does is that the game is aware of everything the player does. If a player is expected to be sociable among honored guests yet can’t remember their occupations, the guests will reflect on that. In a more dire situation, piggybacking to the moment you played as Sienna and stole from the townsfolk, if she was caught then the soldiers would be rewarded for their efforts. If the player was a master thief then there’d be no bonus for the soldiers due to no eyewitnesses. This means that their spoils are now yours. Everything you do has an effect on a future event, even battles, so it’s best to pay attention to your surroundings.
At this point, six of the eight party members are finally introduced in one place at the same time, which opens up the game’s party system. Each character can be paired with a reserved character, allowing them to tag freely at any moment. This offers strategy as you’d want a character that complements the team composition at the time. Whoever is paired up with the other cannot be together with their tag partner, allowing players to have up to eight members in a fight, yet four at any given time.
However, if any of the party members are incapacitated, the reserved party member can not tag out, so it’s best to swap before things get out of hand. This is also useful for lowering the Overdrive bar, adding yet another layer to an already stacked mechanic. Any thoughts of Chained Echoes being merely “just another RPG” was completely wiped at this point. Despite being several hours in, there was always something new to discover.
If I were to highlight everything that Chained Echoes does uniquely, I would be here until New Year's. There are many intriguing elements to the overall gameplay held together with several anti-frustration features that ensure the game doesn't overstate its welcome. This is an example of a game made to cater to all players done right.
Veteran RPG fans can adjust settings to make the game difficult while those who wish to engage in a great story and see damage values fly across the screen will appreciate what the game has to offer. It will take some time to clear through the game but you are getting your "bang for your buck." Chained Echoes is a title deserving of its "word of mouth" praise and it will remain one of 2022's last entries for the entire Game Of The Year.
Chained Echoes is now available on Steam, NIntendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One