Also On: PS5, Xbox Series X|S, PC, PS4, Xbox One
Publisher: Deck 13
Developer: Matthias Linda
Last month saw the release of a new RPG by solo developer Matthias Linda on multiple platforms, and you?ve likely seen it heralded as an amazing retro throwback to RPG classics like Chrono Trigger and the SNES Final Fantasy games. It?s hard not to expect a little hyperbole when people start throwing around comparisons to beloved hits, but boy does Chained Echoes really deliver. Having played through the game on Switch over the course of the holiday season, I was amazed at how well it plays, and while it certainly wears its inspirations on its sleeve, it also does a fantastic job of carving out its own unique mix of mechanics to make for a pretty memorable experience.
The overall look of Chained Echoes will likely be your first positive takeaway, the retro styled pixel graphics really shine here, with lots of detail, animation, and some amazing enemy and boss designs throughout the lengthy adventure. The bosses really stood out to me, they are generally just huge and monstrous, very unique, and feel like legitimate threats on their looks alone. Along with the excellent visuals, the soundtrack of Chained Echoes composed by Eddie Marianukroh is a fantastic companion to the look and feel of the world. It doesn?t attempt to copy popular composers like Mitsuda or Uematsu, and instead crafts a unique audio feast for your adventure that feels classic right out of the gate.
Likewise, Chained Echoes gameplay looks and feels reminiscent of the past, but the battle system and upgrade mechanics are all unique. Moving around the world of Chained Echoes is quick and snappy, characters you control move quickly, certainly more so than the sluggish 2D sprites of 16-bit history. Combat is turn-based, but employs an Overdrive bar, which builds with each attack. The Overdrive bar has three segments, yellow, green and red, and your goal is to keep your pointer on the bar in the green because it?ll improve both attack and defense throughout the battle. In order to maintain this ideal state, there will be certain abilities highlighted throughout the battle that fall into different categories, like buff, attack, heal and so on. The Overdrive bar will signal a particular category to use, and doing so will bring your pointer on the bar down, so you can prevent the bar from overheating, which will result in you taking more damage from enemy attacks. It?s a neat push and pull mechanic that makes each battle feel important, even against standard enemies. It also never feels tiring or cumbersome, in part due to the lack of random encounters, so you?re not constantly fighting and needing to babysit this particular mechanic.
Lastly, the story of Chained Echoes is really well done, featuring some adult themes and language that?s actually well written and engaging throughout. It certainly seems to take some inspiration from modern dark fantasy novels, while employing a lot of neat fantastical elements mixed in with a bit of steampunk as well. The world-building lore is interesting enough that you?ll not find yourself skipping through the narration, and the multitude of characters that join your party all have believable, and oftentimes flawed reasons for doing what they?re doing. I loved the character interactions, and the little bits of dialogue that would randomly pop up and cycle through when you?re out exploring the world, and I also found interacting with NPCs to be worthwhile outside of the random side quest those interactions might trigger.
If I had more time to play through Chained Echoes before the holidays hit, it most definitely would have made my top 10 list for the year of 2022. It?s every bit as stellar as you?ve likely heard so far, and something that is certainly worth checking out regardless of your platform preference. I?ve found it to be a perfect Switch experience, but I?d imagine that it runs extremely well on any console you might choose, and right now it?s freely available to play on Xbox via Game Pass. So definitely check out Chained Echoes, you will not be disappointed.
Note: Deck 13 provided us with a Chained Echoes Switch code for review purposes.