At first glance, Chained Echoes is deceiving, making you question whether you’d miss it when its contemporaries, like Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger, are making a splash. The fact that this sumptuous and imaginative RPG is all-new, of course, is primarily created by a single developer both to pay homage to and to pay tribute to those old games. even when introducing a large number of new concepts. The resulting adventure may look like something from 30 years ago, but it plays out with a flair worthy of any fan of the genre.
Developers love to play with your preconceived ideas. Sometimes it meets those expectations at the speed and timing you’re most ready for them, in both story and gameplay, and sometimes, it breaks them down. Ready for a new twist in combat? This is a new add-on system where you control the mech in an engaging alternative combat style that is reminiscent of classics like Xenogears. Think you understand the arc of the destined hero plot? Maybe things are more complicated than you initially guessed.
Along the way, key elements of the classic JRPG-style adventure emerge in a balanced and rewarding loop. Thoughtfully designed combat system based on intense, repetitive battles. Instead, every fight requires your full attention, taking advantage of enemy weaknesses, character abilities, quick team roster changes, and a unique acceleration mechanic to keep the game going. Your team is always in a good position to deal damage. The party fully recovers mid-battle, so it’s always a matter of throwing everything you have at the enemy. Even regular battles sometimes only have one hero standing to deliver the final blow. I find the high challenge very enjoyable, especially when the wrong decisions and game end result in the option to replay the battle immediately, so the penalty for failure is negligible.
The upgrade systems, equipment, and leveling up are all engaging and filled with intriguing decisions. Wearing class emblems can enrich the skills you’ve chosen for each character, allowing you to specialize each hero in powerful ways. Weapons and armor can be improved and tweaked with gems applying new rewards, encouraging players to spend time in the menu for optimized gameplay. There’s even a cool “Reward Table” that offers precious materials and leveling options for completing specific quests around the world, encouraging extensive exploration and discovery.
While playing within the established constraints of the genre, Chained Echoes also tells a mature and nuanced story, dealing with themes of fate and free will, post-recovery process trauma and the weight of guilt. Those and other tropical games have plenty of room to explore through the dozens of hours of stories and side quests available. Thankfully, it’s a fun fantasy world, filled with unusual species and monsters, fascinating biomes, and intricate geopolitical structures. At times, the last part of the political elements can become overwhelming and difficult to follow and distract from the film’s more compelling characters. But give Chained Echoes enough time, and things start to make sense.
A beautiful flashback soundtrack accompanied by pixel-style visuals conveys nostalgia that isn’t a game you’ve played before. Even so, the scope of the narrative and the maturity of the characters’ interactions at times feel at odds with the classical aesthetic. That absurdity can be a plus, emphasizing moments of horror, war crimes or betrayals. But at certain dramatic moments, visual constraints hold back the story.
While Chained Echoes has the advantage of a decades-long distance from the games it looks to for inspiration, it’s in many cases a better experience than the lauded games it Has arisen. I like this fighting, storytelling, and approach to progression and exploration more than many of the JRPGs I grew up so passionate about. That is the highest praise I can give a game that has been promptly removed from the games to which it can be compared. Whether you currently consider yourself a connoisseur of JRPGs or prefer to recall the genre’s ’90s heyday, Chained Echoes is well worth your time.