Initial release date: December 8, 2022
Developer: Matthias Linda
Genres: Role-playing video game, Indie game, Adventure game
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, Linux, Mac operating systems
" Review Copy Provided By Deck13 and PR Hound"
As a lifetime fan of RPGs, there are so many that have influenced me and are in my opinion timeless classics. Games like Suikoden 1 and 2, Terranigma, Xenogears, Breath of Fire, Final Fantasy VI, and so many more have shaped my childhood and love for gaming. This was the golden era of JRPGs and since then, we haven’t had a lot of these franchises in the modern era and have had to look to the indie developers to step in and fill the void left by the AAA developers that have since moved on. When I first heard of Chained Echoes, it was suggested to me by Steam based on my having played and loved games like AraFell and Shadows of Adam (both of which you should definitely play) and so I checked out the games demo and immediately fell in love with it and needed to know more about the game and when it was coming out. When I got the opportunity to review the game, I immediately dove right in and am here today to talk about this game and if it’s truly the spiritual successor to Chrono Trigger that we’ve waited decades for. Let’s find out!
The story of Chained Echoes takes place on Valandis, a continent that is over 3000 years old and is home to a rich and robust history. Valandis also has a long history of wars that have occurred for over 156 years between the three kingdoms of the continent, Taryn, Escanya, and Garvos, all vying for the complete dominance. Due to a tragedy that took the lives of untold tens of thousands of people, the three kingdoms eventually come together to sign a treaty of peace due in large part to none of them wanting to take ownership of the catastrophe. In the year of 807, exactly one year following the signing of the peace treaty, destiny pulls at the strings of fate to push forward various individuals to come together to stop the inevitable tides of war from awakening again.
What I truly love about how Chained Echoes goes about presenting its story, is in how it gives us shifting perspectives amongst the cast to showcase their varying viewpoints and opinions, backgrounds, and motivations which makes them feel like fully realized living characters. Most RPGs fail in this regard as they often will present you the main characters that the story revolves around and everyone else is just there to be plot relevant when the story calls for them to be only to be pushed to the background once again and forgotten, this makes for worlds that are incredibly static and unrealized.
Chained Echoes goes above and beyond to not only flesh out it’s characters, but also establish the lore of the world and the nations and its people within it with such intricate care and detail that its impossible to not stand back and be in awe of what Matthias Linda and his team created here as this level of world building, while incredibly dense, is unlike anything you’d find in any other indie game let alone any AAA game. To add onto all the above, is the writing of the dialogue which truly shines and gives every character you meet from the main cast to the villains and the numerous NPCs, a very believable personality and sense of being. All of the characters in the game have whole ideologies and belief systems that sway on the spectrum scale from mild centrist to insanely devout extremist, and yet because of this and the masterful story-telling, you get to see how the game's cast comes to handle all of this and even challenge their own beliefs and values. The game tackles some serious subjects that can be difficult to stomach at times, but it also isn’t afraid to throw in humor to lighten up the mood when the moment calls for it.
This is honestly some of the best story-telling that I’ve seen in an RPG since Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger, and Suikoden II.
When it comes to the gameplay, it is very much Chrono Trigger-like with a lot of abilities from that game such as X-Slash and more while being its own beast at the same time. Battles play out in a turn-based fashion with you being able to see the turn-order in the top right corner, a risk vs rewards meter called an Overdrive bar, character health and TP rates on the bottom right corner, and finally the command options being Attack, Skills, Items, and Defend. If you’ve played any classic or traditional JRPGs, then you well know what to expect here especially if you’ve played Chrono Trigger as the game is heavily inspired by its battle system, yet where this game differentiates is the Overdrive Bar.
The Overdrive Bar has three segmented parts that you have to pay attention to; yellow, green, and red. Every action that you take either moves the Overdrive bar further to the right or to the left which can be to your advantage or disadvantage as the yellow area is the starter range with no buffs or debuffs while getting into the green area can give you attack and defensive buffs and additional chances at critical attacks while going into the red area opens you up to taking more damage and being susceptible to critical hits. This system, while on the surface simple, is in place to make each battle play out differently and prevents you from spamming skills, thus forcing you to play strategically.
There are numerous side quests to partake in that are all well integrated into the games plot and world that beg for you to explore and seek them out as the offer valuable rewards for completing them. There is the reward board which reminded me of the license boards found in Final Fantasy XII and upon completing various objectives, you’ll be rewarded with items and equipment.
Graphically, Chained Echoes is one of the most beautiful pixel-art styled games I’ve seen in years that goes above and beyond to look like a game that could’ve come out in the 16 and 32-bit eras. The environments range from lively villages and kingdoms to war torn battlefields and more with a level of detail that you don’t see in games like this as you’ll have battles going on in the background and lively markets and more in towns. The character models are not only refreshingly detailed but skillfully animated. The character portraits all look like a modernized take on the character portraits that you would see in games like Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre albeit with a simpler design.
The game’s OST is composed so well that I often wonder if the developers were able to get Yasunori Mitsuda on board to compose for them. Every track you hear from the hard rocking battle theme to the serene tranquility of the towns and fields is all masterfully crafted.
Performance wise, Chained Echoes runs buttery smooth on the Nintendo Switch with no framerate or performance issues. Regardless of whether you are playing this game portably or docked it is simply stunning but even more so on that OLED screen if you happen to have that version of the Nintendo Switch. On the Steam Deck, I did run into some issues with the games controls not working after I accidentally touched the screen and then there was a point where the game froze and crashed. This only happened to me twice at the time of this review and hasn’t occurred since then.
When it comes to the downsides, for me it’s mainly two things that hinder this game from perfection and that the overbearing amount of tutorials in the beginning which felt a bit heavy handed and unnecessary leading to moments from me of “Yeah I get it, now let me just play the game and figure things out on my own.”. The other issue is the fact that for all the tutorials the game gives, there is no glossary or resource section to be able to recall aspects of the games story, gameplay mechanics, or characters. It’s an incredibly odd omission that I hope is patched in with updates.
Chained Echoes is honestly one of the most insanely ambitious RPGs that I’ve played in decades that’s not afraid of telling a decided adult story and experimenting with presentation and gameplay mechanics. It has masterful worldbuilding, a superbly written cast of characters, exceptionally balanced challenge, and is one of the absolute best games of 2022 and because you can pet animals in the game, this makes this a strong contender in the running for game of the year! This is a MUST PLAY game!