Chained Echoes is a charming indie JRPG from solo developer Matthias Linda. Taking inspiration from classics such as Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger and Breath of Fire, this title features a broad ensemble of colourful characters to mix, match and swap out during the adventure. Traversing a truly impressive variety of gorgeously detailed maps, you’ll recruit new friends, build a small mecha army, and encounter some of the craziest enemies I’ve seen in a while.
At A Glance
|Visuals||8 / 10|
|Sound||8 / 10|
|Gameplay||6 / 10|
|Overall||7 / 10|
|Positives||+ Amazing character, background, and battle art|
+ Great variety of characters to make a team with
+ Soundtrack is absolutely banging
|Negatives||– Story is dragged out, with poorly written dialogue|
– Some heavy topics and tonal shifts come out of nowhere and feel out of place
– Some puzzles are tedious and/or repetitive
|Price (When Reviewed)||£22.99|
|Our Playtime||35 hours|
|Available On||PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC|
On our ultimate quest to unite the Kingdoms and bring peace to war-torn lands, we lead our protagonist and pro mech –or Sky Armor– pilot, Glenn, on a winding mission of redemption and self discovery. The story’s setting is a nice mix of Medieval-European fantasy with sci-fi elements, namely magic and monsters standing side by side with skyships and gun turrets.
To say the visuals in the game are fabulous would be an understatement. Whilst the character portraits took a little while to get used to (for a JRPG they lack the typical anime style), the background design, animation and overall art direction is outstanding, and possibly the game’s greatest strength. The character sprites are charming and distinct, enemies are inventive and unusual, and some of the bosses are stunning abominations that easily rival the weirdness of any endgame Final Fantasy “ultimate form” baddie. The many locations you traverse on your journey are also lush and colourful – you can tell a lot of love and dedication went into making each area feel unique and alive. And, crucially, you can pet each and every dog and cat you encounter on your travels.
The gameplay consists of your genre-standard RPG split of turn-based battling and out-of-combat puzzles. The former is robust and engaging – the real bread and butter of the game – while the latter can be a little dull and rote. Our party initially consists of 1 – 4 characters, but as more are recruited throughout the game, the option to mix and match up to 8 active units at a time opens up and brings an added flavour to each encounter. Weapons, armour, accessories and skills can all be modified and upgraded to truly get the best out of each character’s unique stats and fans of micro-management will have a field day optimising each character, their team formation, and individual movesets.
A standout addition to the typical battle formula is the Overdrive Bar, which gives party buffs or debuffs depending on its status. If the arrow on the bar is in the green area, you get a boost to your party’s stats; if it tips into the red, the enemy is suddenly able to deal massive damage and you could be in real trouble. Actions made in battle will tip the arrow to the left or right, and this forces you to consider your moves carefully. The difficulty of this feature can be tweaked to your liking, and though I found it made fights far more tense, for the purpose of this review I turned the Overdrive bar to ‘easy’ mode for the duration, as some fights were just too difficult otherwise.
Chained Echoes includes a lot of mechanical flourishes like this that won’t be found in other games of the genre, and though they add a lot of variety to the gameplay they sometimes overwhelm the overall experience. There’s definitely fun and depth to the game, but when new gameplay elements are still being introduced two-thirds into the adventure, it definitely feels like the developer kept inventing new things and had to make room to feature them.
“Too much of a good thing” is a bit of a theme with Chained Echoes, and sadly this applies to the story as well, which is definitely the weakest part of the experience. It’s a long one –possibly too long– and feels like it’s been stretched to accommodate the game’s mechanics, not vice versa. Similarly, there are many twists and turns, lore and info dumps and a large amount of pointless flashbacks, plus pages upon pages of intricate ‘flavour’ text that make for unnecessary padding.
It’s worth stating that this title is from a very small team, headed by a single developer, but a few hours into the game I began to get those ‘oh, he’s written this dialogue himself, hasn’t he…’ vibes. If you took away each character’s portrait next to the text box, you would have a hard time knowing who’s speaking as the characters all sound exactly the same. It’s very apparent that the dialogue is written from a single perspective, or at least poorly translated, as to sound so monotonous (I’m unsure if the original game script is in German or English).
In a game of this length it’s usually the characters and their antics that keep things interesting, and sadly after the first few hours I became a bit weary of how bland and pointless each cutscene was becoming. As the last of the 12 playable characters were introduced, I had simply stopped caring, with each dive into an anime-esque flashback meaning a lengthy deviation from the main story (and make no mistake, that isn’t anything to write home about either). Single-handedly creating a game of this size and complexity is no easy feat, but it’s clear that the Chained Echoes team desperately needed a dedicated writer who could take the raw ideas and turn them into a coherent and impactful story experience.
Ultimately the wishy-washy, drawn-out story can be forgiven, especially since a lot of JRPGs suffer from the same problem. Chained Echoes is otherwise fun to play, but for a game so solidly and lovingly built, it’s a shame the same care didn’t go into the characters and story.
(Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault)
There were, however, a few instances where I physically winced at some creative decisions. In a game like this, with colourful characters and fun giant-robo fights, it’s fine for dark events to occur… but there’s also a surprising amount of implied rape and gang-rape in this game, which is completely unnecessary and more than a little distasteful. A decent script writer could frankly have garnered the same sympathy for the characters involved without resorting to these scenes and the manufactured shock factor attached to them.
When a male character started rambling about how ‘not to be creepy’ to women I literally felt my soul leave my body. Whilst this dialogue was obviously well-meaning, it’s also somewhat tone-deaf and more than a little cringe. It’s worth noting that one of the primary protagonists is a stereotypical ‘sexy lady’ who constantly gets gross comments and attention from men throughout the entire story – it’s supposed to be humorous but it’s really not funny, and leaves a sour taste in the mouth.
Speaking of sour taste, there’s an attempt at LGBT+ representation with a few of the characters, but they’re fleeting at best and feel like an afterthought. I was disappointed to find one character’s sexuality was used as a shock-horror ‘plot twist’ towards the end of the game, despite no mention of this relationship being made in the 20 hours prior – and it turned out to be inconsequential to anything anyway, despite the 5 seconds of drama.
Putting aside the distaste from some character depictions and general moments of cringe in the storyline, I enjoyed the majority of Chained Echoes. There’s enough mechanical creativity and visual splendour to keep you entertained for the duration, and if you have a hankering for the good old JRPGS of the SNES and PS1 era, this title will be a welcome addition to your collection. Though the game has a very familiar voice, it manages to be much more than just an echo of its inspirations.
In the interest of full disclosure, VGamingNews was provided with a copy of the game in order to conduct this review.