When it comes to JRPG-inspired games, those that call back to the era of the SNES are everywhere. It’s a genre in which getting lost in the crowd is easy, yet Chained Echoes rises above it all. The 16-bit art feels right for the style of the game, everyone in the large cast of characters feels distinct, the story is engaging, and the battle system feels familiar and unique at the same time. It has a ton of very well-implemented parts that fit together seamlessly.
Chained Echoes leans into the successes of its predecessors. It’s anything but afraid to call back to the games of the era it’s emulating. Instead of pulling those elements as they are, it builds on them to create its own unique style. It finds a beautiful balance between paying homage to its inspirations and adding elements of its own to help it stand out, with great art and a phenomenal soundtrack rounding everything out.
At its core, combat in Chained Echoes follows a tried and true formula. Battles are turn-based, and each character has a standard attack, numerous TP-costing skills of varying types, items to use, and the option to take up a defensive stance. Characters can also be switched out during battles, and each character has a special Ultra Move they can use.
What makes combat in Chained Echoes stand out is its Overdrive feature. Overdrive is a gauge with three parts: a yellow neutral section on the left, a green Overdrive section in the middle, and a red Overheat section on the right. The Overdrive gauge starts toward the left side, in the neutral section, and moves to the right as characters and enemies take their turns. It eventually moves into the Overdrive section, which halves the TP cost of skills, decreases damage taken, and increases damage dealt. If the gauge goes into the Overheat section, however, TP costs and damage dealt return to normal, and your part will take more damage.
Of course, the gauge doesn’t always move to the right. While in Overdrive and Overheat, the gauge will display a symbol that represents one of the six skill types. By using a skill of the type shown, the gauge moves back to the left. Switching characters, defending, and using Ultra Moves also moves the gauge to the left.
Admittedly, the system felt a bit frustrating to get the hang of, especially earlier on when the number of available skills is limited. The more I used it and the more characters and skills I unlocked, the more I began to enjoy it. Finding the right balance between keeping the Overdrive gauge in the green and letting it shift toward red in favor of using a skill that will benefit your party better (like, say, a healing skill) is tough to get right, but it’s absolutely vital for longer fights.
Overall, combat in Chained Echoes is very enjoyable. Everything moves quickly, there’s a wide variety of different skill types to use, and each character has their own battle style and niche, which helps keep things interesting and gives tons of different strategy options. And though I wasn’t particularly a fan at first, once I was able to really get the hang of the Overdrive feature, it became relatively easy to work with. It provides enough of a benefit to warrant keeping track of without seeming overly intrusive, making it a clever way to add another element of strategy to combat, especially boss battles.
Chained Echoes sees players on the continent of Valandis, throwing you into the middle of a decades-old war between its three kingdoms. When a terrible superweapon that none claim to possess is activated, tens of thousands are killed, and a peace treaty is signed out of fear of it being used again. Not everyone cares for peace, though. Evil still works in the shadows, with the war threatening to begin anew. It’s up to Glenn and his companions to the peace. In the process, they learn the origins of the superweapon, uncover sinister plots, and fight to prevent disaster on an unprecedented scale. And of course, it’s not without its (sometimes raunchy) comedic elements.
Right away, players cycle through playing as each member of the main cast, learning about them and how they got to where they are. After a brief stint getting to know each one and how they fight, their stories culminate in them meeting up and joining forces. After that, there’s lots of lore that gets uncovered, but everything teaches you about Valandis and feels important for understanding the situation. For those who want a little extra information, additional bits of lore are scattered throughout the continent in the form of readable books. These help make the world feel even more complete. To be honest, I almost wish there were more lore books to read through since I’m a sucker for good worldbuilding.
While many of the story beats have been done before, Chained Echoes is, for the most part, able to keep them from feeling overused. There are plenty of tropes to be found, but many of them are taken in unexpected directions or given additional depth. The story and the characters feel connected, with each driving the other in a way that feels natural. Some parts do feel a bit old and tired, but there’s enough added to make it all compelling. There was one big question I had that I never got an answer to, though.
Unlike most games of this style, characters in Chained Echoes don’t have levels. Experience is not gained, which helps keep players from needing to grind before moving on to new areas. The only levels in the game involve skills and items, and even then, there’s no need to spend hours fighting enemies. Winning battles rewards players with skill points. These are used to complete a skill level-up, while also directly adding points toward a skill’s level. In other words, skills will get stronger just by beating enemies; skill points speed up the process. Skills also max out at level three, so while leveling them up certainly helps, it’s far from the be-all and end-all.
Equipment operates on a star system, with a crafting system available to give weapons and armor stat boosts. The star system goes from one up to ten stars, increasing based on the location the player is in. Since equipment can be purchased at shops and is easily found scattered throughout the world, keeping up doesn’t feel like a chore. The crafting system uses items to upgrade equipment, which, like skills, can only be upgraded a maximum of twice.
The crafting system lets players place crystals in their equipment, which have two slots each. Each one offers numerous types of benefits. Crystals that provide the same benefit can be fused together to strengthen their effects, but doing so increases its size. This causes it to take up more slots. For crystals that are larger, players need to upgrade their equipment, as each upgrade adds one more crystal slot.
Each character also possesses an accessory slot. There are a ton of different accessories, and each one does something different. Some give stat boosts, some grant effects in much the same vein as crystals, and a handful do both. Accessories are pretty plentiful, which makes sense given the wide array of advantages they can provide.
The last major element of the equipment system is the class emblem. These are special pieces of equipment that, while few and far between, give big stat buffs and provide unique skills to the character who equips them. Class emblems are small in number and can be difficult to find, let alone earn, but each one provides a laundry list of different benefits. They shouldn’t be ignored.
Having the right equipment and utilizing the crafting system are the biggest factors in the game’s power creep. Equipment and crystals are easy to find scattered throughout the world though, and there’s a good number of weapon and armor shops. So battles mostly seem difficult as a result of needing to take a different approach (or maybe just land a lucky crit or two). For some of the trickier fights, upgrading my gear and reworking my equipped crystals, accessories, and class emblems tended to make a major difference.
At the end of the day, Chained Echoes looks, sounds, and feels good. The 16-bit art looks great and lends itself to a game of this style, the soundtrack is absolutely beautiful, and the game’s exploration and combat systems flow very smoothly. I had a hard time putting it down, and when I wasn’t playing it, I kept wanting to go back. Naturally, Chained Echoes is not without its flaws—there’s no way to review tutorial screens or lore and battles feel more reliant on luck than skill—but I had a great experience. It wears its SNES-era JRPG influences like badges of honor, while also forging an identity all its own.
Chained Echoes is available now on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC.