JRPGs have been a powerhouse in the industry for ages, with many big-name games like Tales of Arise and the much-anticipated Final Fantasy 16. However, a massive wave of nostalgic-style turn-based games has taken us back to that golden era of classic JRPGs. And the newest kid on the block, coming from a solo dev nonetheless, is Chained Echoes. We are able to provide a Chained Echoes review of the game thanks to Deck13.
There will be some explanation of the early parts of the story. So read ahead at your own warning.
The game starts out with a jump, putting you straight into the middle of the action. You start off as Glenn an ace pilot for a mercenary group known as the Band of the Iron Bull. Sent on a Suicide mission out of pride, the group has one task. To attack the coast of a stronghold and break an orb powering their cannons. By crippling their defense the other ships and soldiers will be able to storm the castle and take it.
However, due to some false information, the orb turns out to be something else entirely. Upon its destruction, it creates a magical explosion destroying an entire region and leaving thousands dead. A year later the warring countries entered into a peace treaty after 150 years of war. Ushering in a new era of peace, or so it would be. Many within the kingdoms do not wish for peace and want a new war to continue.
After an assassination plot is revealed by two of the City Guard, the princess of Taryn, Lenne, and her assistant Robb. They meet with a ragtag group to try and prevent a new war. Glenn, having survived the tragedy a year prior, along with his fellow Iron Bull, Kylian. They also are joined by Ser Victor, an Aard, a humanoid of ancient age; and Sienna a thief and con artist known as the Red Succubus.
They follow a journey exploring the horrors of war and how it affects not just kingdoms, but the people within. The game really dives into its mature rating with many dark themes, the game tells a genuinely fantastic story, with its ability to jump between multiple groups of protagonists through. Not shying away from the subject only lends to make this game shine among its many contemporaries.
Chained Echoes really leans into its nostalgia factor with its 16-bit era pixelation aesthetic. This only further pushes the games, style, and visuals as the effects from the background, art, and attacks really take you to a simpler time.
But that doesn’t mean that the game lacks style. The design of the sky armors alone is simply magnificent leaning into their very mecha-style inspiration. To the look of many of the monsters, one that stands out is the demon you fight early on that attacks the castle. It has this old-school Final Fantasy 6 monster level of detail, but with an extra grotesque factor mixed in.
Everything in the game is simply so well done that it’s hard to find any fault with it. The character’s designs themselves are special and very individualistic matching their personalities. To the look of the world, the mix of both fantasy and technology is simply spectacular. Not to mention that the visuals for each of the party’s ultimate moves are both awesome and powerful.
When it comes to sound, it can be a large impact on one’s experience. However, Chained Echoes doesn’t disappoint at all. From combat to the background music, everything has a spectacular feel to it. But more than that it is filled with epic moments and jokes.
One Particular moment that comes to mind was when enjoying the festival there was a moment where you can bet on a turtle race. And the music is all calm and cheerful, but as soon as that race starts; it was an entirely different feeling. Seeing these turtles charge up for their race, to a heavy metal song, but moving at an expected turtles pace was simply hilarious.
All the sounds in the game give off this air of whimsy. Yet, never forgetting the pain, the horrors, and the dangers of war and the land. Not to mention that in combat the sounds of the fighting have a feel of impact and weightiness. Along with this is the fact that many of the attacks having a unique sound help to make each spell and ability feel special.
As for the gameplay, this is where Chained Echoes really shines. While using a lot of the mechanics of classic JRPGs established in series like Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest; it does a lot to make itself stand out on its own.
First, the things that we know. The game is an obvious turn-based JRPG, and if you’ve ever played one before this will feel natural. From the items you use to your standard attack and defense, Chained Echoes really loves its nostalgia. But some of the things it takes into account for are some of its elements from other franchises. Like the turn order, you can see who is coming up next in the turn order; similar to the turn order display in Final Fantasy 10. This helps you to gauge who is coming up and what skills you want to use or if you will need to possibly prep for a defense.
Now some of the things done differently are leveling up. Chained Echoes abandon the typical level-up system instead opting for a different style. Instead of levels from experience from killing monsters over and over, you instead will get items from certain boss battles or events called Grimoire shards. These shards act like your level up allowing you to unlock new skills, passive, and stat boosts.
As well as instead of experience you gain skill points, similar to job points in Octopath Traveler. You level up your skills with these points, however all equipped skills currently also gain skill points through combat. Allowing you to master skills over time or faster by dumping all your points into them.
So this sets up a different level of grind as it is not the typical grind one is used to. But this allows for a more direct path of how you want to build your characters. And classes are not a thing that’s unlocked immediately. Instead, you will find statues throughout the world of ancient heroes. You actually have to find sacred water and pray at them. This is how you will unlock your classes with special emblems. This is how you can earn new skills that when maxed, can be used by any party member without the emblem.
I can fly:
Next up is the Sky Armor, which while you use it in the beginning, while it is limited at first. However, after a certain point, you can earn your own permanent sky armor. Which you can then use to travel anywhere faster than by running. This is in tandem with your airship, which adds new ways to travel, while also adding another combat method and adds another level of complexity to the game.
Last, the key point that helps to set Chained Echoes apart is its overdrive system. What this system does is that after a set number of actions in combat your party gets into the groove called overdrive. During this time your party deals more damage while taking less damage. However, every action you take can keep increasing the bar until you overheat. Acting as the opposite, where you deal less damage and take more. But, during overdrive, you will see a symbol for certain types of abilities. When you use these abilities it will actually lower your bar. Allowing you to maintain overdrive by the careful balance of using certain skills. While also being able to lower it by defending, or swapping out party members mid-combat.
So many party members:
Speaking of swapping, each party member will have an assigned party member acting like a tag partner. Able to freely switch out during combat and allow for more skill usage. You are effectively able to have 8 party members at any time.
This is another way to allow freedom of play styles, while also allowing a level of strategy, and depth not seen. Add in the fact this also allows you to help protect party members that may be staggered and unable to move; or to protect them if close to death till you are able to potentially heal them with another teammate.
Overall my time with Chained Echoes was an absolute blast. Never has a game truly captured that old-school look and feel, while also embracing something new and different the way this game does. It has the right levels of nostalgia to make you think of the classics of yesteryear; while utilizing mechanics that are now seen in more modern takes.
If this is the scope of what a solo dev can do, I hope we see more like this from them going forward. But whatever the next steps are. Chained Echoes is an absolute must-play for any fans of this subgenre, as well as those looking to dip their toes into it as well.
I hope you enjoyed my Chained Echoes review, and I want to again thank Deck 13 for providing a code for the game. Will you all be checking out the game, or have you already played it? Let us know about it down below, and if you haven’t seen our most recent review you can check it out here.