The tale of Chained Echoes’ development a story we’ve heard a few times in recent years, as a single passionate fan of an overlooked genre decides to spend nearly a decade crafting their dream game all by themselves. The most notable example of this would have to be Stardew Valley, but now Matthias Linda has done the same for the JRPG genre with his seven-year passion project Chained Echoes, and he knocks it out of the park.
The vibe and world design of Chained Echoes is so in-tune with the Western medieval fantasy flair of so many of the brightest and best SNES-era RPGs. The continent of Valandis is split in thirds and locked in a brutal war, but when a pair of mercenaries accidentally set off a devastating magical bomb and no country comes forward as the minds behind the attack, the nations form an uneasy peace treaty out of fear for further mysterious attacks. Years later, while peace continues to flourish on the surface, secretive groups and mysterious creatures begin to take action and risk setting off another huge war.
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The world-building of Chained Echoes is impressive, and complementing it is a refreshing focus on an unlikely crew of heroes. Rather than following the events from the perspective of a single hero, Chained Echoes sees you jumping around different characters in its opening hours as you see them all come together and form your party of protagonists. It’s a pleasing change of pace from the usual “chosen hero” dynamic of these games, but it’s a shame that the quality of the dialogue lets so many of these characters down – the developer of the game isn’t a native English speaker, and that’s led to dialogue being stilted and featuring grammatical errors that really detract from the experience.
What really makes Chained Echoes shine, though, is the gameplay. So much care has been put into crafting systems and mechanics that play into the best parts of the JRPG experience while fixing or evolving the most stagnant parts. Combat is your usual turn-based affair, but with an added Overdrive meter – attacking makes your Overdrive go from yellow to green, and when it’s in the green zone your party gets buffed damage and decreased skill costs. Keep attacking, though, and your Overdrive meter will go into the red zone, negating the prior buffs and severely increasing the amount of damage your team takes.
Managing your Overdrive meter requires you to pay attention to the skill or ability type highlighted by it each turn, because using an ability to match will significantly lower your Overdrive. It’s a simple system, but layering it on top of standard RPG combat gives you so much more to juggle at once, making every battle fresh.
There are some fun new ideas in Chained Echoes when it comes to character progression, too. For one thing, you never level up. Instead, each boss fight rewards you with a Grimoire Stone that lets you buy one new skill, passive ability, or stat buff for every character in your crew. Your available pool of unlockable abilities for each character is always growing, but Grimoire Stones don’t roll in regularly, so it forces you to be smart about which unlocks you go for. Equipped skills accrue SP that you can use to upgrade them as well, letting you really optimise your favourite abilities for each character. Add to that the unlockable sub-classes and gear with customisable gem slots, and you’ve got a steady and consistent sense of progression that never bogs you down with the EXP grind that’s become a staple of almost any other JRPG.
There’s an overwhelming about of love and care put into Chained Echoes, and it shows. The balance of new ideas and familiar mechanics provide a perfect blend of nostalgia for the old times and a really smart evolution of the JRPG genre as a whole. Sure, the dialogue can be rough at times – but even the overall world-building and cast of characters is a satisfying blend of new & familiar. Chained Echoes is a must play if you’re a hardcore JRPG fan itching for something new.
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