Chained Echoes is a surprise year-end RPG hit

Chained Echoes is a surprise year-end RPG hit

This RPG crosses time and space to end the year in style

Every now and then a game comes late in the year to surprise us, just as the calendar is coming to an end. We’ve seen it with games like Kill, Greyand Gorogoa. And this year, it really feels like Chained echoes is surprising people.

Chained echoes is a new RPG from developer Matthias Linda, a communication designer who started working on the game in his spare time after work in 2016. The project was kickstarted on Kickstarter in 2019 and launched on December 8, 2022 for Xbox, PlayStation , Switch, and PC through Steam.

It would be easy enough to call Chained echoes a love letter to the golden age of the SNES. It wears its inspirations so prominently on its sleeve that it opens with a direct reference to the beginning of the trigger of a stopwatch. There’s no denying that this RPG is a passion project of a fan of the genre.

But where Chained echoes stood out for me, in the roughly 12 hours I’ve played so far, that’s where it charted a new course compared to the games that came before it. Chained echoes is not just a solid love letter, but an utterly clever, charming, and engrossing RPG in its own right.

To act

From the beginning, Chained echoes establishes a diverse cast of characters that will make up your eventual party. Each has their own motives and motivations, with the chaos of the story bringing them together and sometimes pulling them apart.

Glenn and Kylian are the last remnants of their band of mercenaries; Lenne is a hidden princess, assisted by Robb; Victor is a legendary artist and bard with an enigmatic past. and Sienna steals the show as a smart thief on the run, as if Faye Valentine wields a katana.

These six people constitute the hard core of the party from the beginning, regrouping when a fragile peace between the nations is broken. Chained echoes doesn’t take long to really figure out how dark it’s going to be. Schemes are set in motion, plots unfold and bodies belie other bodies as the war resumes, with our party as the only force that might be able to end it.

It surprised me how fast Chained echoes starts, in fact. RPGs can often have a reputation, deserved or not, for having long, drawn-out intros. And while Chained echoes certainly builds with each narrative beat, it also wastes no time getting to the good stuff.

Do you see the seeds of an evil plan in the works? You’ll see it come to your head sooner rather than later. The dialogue is not only lively, but also well written. Each character fits comfortably into their roles, and there’s a good job of introducing the player to each “group” of characters that make up the collective party. It becomes even more effective when the story pulls them apart, pairing those who might come together for some interesting moments.

Put it in overdrive

Where Chained echoes stands out the most for me, however, is its combat system. It’s a turn-based RPG, with a turn order and a list of commands you can choose from a menu when games are idle on either side of the field. This may seem a little simple at first glance, but that’s because the systems will start to slip under.

In the upper left corner is the Overdrive meter, both a key to your success and a tool to your destruction, depending on how you play it. Each character can attack, defend, use items or activate a skill for their turn. Skills are the most powerful option, and that’s what you want to use as much as possible.

Skills also stack Overdrive, which pushes your arrow up the meter. When the party is in the yellow, they are neutral and everything is normal. Enter the green zone and you’re in Overdrive, doing extra damage, taking less damage, and spending less TP (the resource spent to use skills). But push it too far and you overheat, now causing you to take more damage from enemies.

This is carefully balanced by the indicator icon, allowing you to use abilities of a certain type to lower Overdrive rather than increase it. Battles turn into strategic management of this gauge. I cut out the turn order, thinking about the options I had not now, but four or five turns from now. Could I risk overheating and recover the next round? Do I want to use a move that will bring me back to neutral, or wait for a big shot to stay on the green?

Build a Party

Chained echoesThe systems get even more interesting as you start building the party and learning all of their skills. You see, there is no proper leveling system in Chained echoes. There is gear, which can give you useful stats and can be equipped with crystals for bonus effects. Then there are Skills, which you can learn from a board with special stones distributed slowly throughout the story, and SP, which allows you to upgrade the skills you’ve learned.

It might seem a little strange at first, but the idea is that there is no base level to ride anything. Instead, everything you do comes down to some progression. Hunt a specific type of enemy and you can clear its entry from the ransom chart, earning you progress points to reinvest in strengthening the party. Maybe this monster drops some good loot that you can sell to the merchant; Then the merchant unlocks a new deal, giving you some nice consumables or new gear at a discount.

Add fast travel and surprisingly fast running speed on the outside world, and Chained echoes feels streamlined in a way I don’t always expect from a classic-minded RPG. Nothing looks too shaved either. You get to the right parts faster. I spend more time in careful, strategic combat and good story bits than I wander through a field, looking for the next town.

Echoes of the past

All this combines to make Chained echoes a huge surprise for me. I was already intrigued by the appeal of giant celestial robots in a fantasy setting. But Linda’s RPG has a lot of heart behind its overt influences. The art is carefully crafted with intense boss designs and backdrops. And all the drama is heightened by Eddie Marianukroh’s soundtrack, which contains some fantastic hits.

I got caught up in Chained echoes every night on my Steam Deck and I love it. This RPG certainly has a rosy, nostalgic tinge to it, but it uses those inspirations to revamp and revamp everything into something new. I feasted on the campfire scenes, banged my head against some bosses that pushed me to revamp my team and game plan, and was drawn in by all the teasing it drops.

Safe to say that if you like old school RPGs and want something to pass the holidays, you could do a lot worse than Chained echoes. And since it’s on Game Pass, there’s not much reason not to at least give this hobby project a try.

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