Chained Echoes is an end-of-year surprise RPG hit

Chained Echoes

This RPG crosses time and space to end the year with a bang

Every now and then, a game arrives late in the year to surprise us, right as the calendar is coming to a close. We’ve seen it with games like OmoriGris, and Gorogoa. And this year, it really feels like Chained Echoes is surprising folks.

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 back in 2016. The project went on Kickstarter in 2019, and launched on December 8, 2022 for Xbox, PlayStation, Switch, and PC via Steam.

It would be fairly easy to call Chained Echoes a love letter to the SNES’ golden age. It wears its inspirations so prominently on its sleeve, it opens with a direct reference to the start of Chrono Trigger. There’s no denying this RPG is a passion project from a fan of the genre.

But where Chained Echoes has stood out for me, in the roughly 12 hours I’ve played so far, is where it’s forged a new path from the games that came before it. Chained Echoes isn’t just a solid love letter, but an altogether smart, charming, engrossing RPG in its own right.

Acting out

From the beginning, Chained Echoes establishes a varied cast of characters that form your eventual party. Each has their own motivations and drives, with the story’s chaos bringing them together and sometimes forcing them apart.

Glenn and Kylian are the last remnants of their mercenary band; Lenne is a princess in hiding, attended by Robb; Victor is a legendary artist and bard with an enigmatic past; and Sienna steals the show as the clever rogue on the run, like if Faye Valentine wielded a katana.

These six make up the core party early on, banding together when a fragile peace between nations is broken. Chained Echoes doesn’t take long to really drive home how dark it’s going to get. Schemes are set in motion, plots unfurl, and bodies belie more bodies as the war kicks back into motion, with our party as the one force who might be able to put a stop to it.

It surprised me how fast Chained Echoes gets underway, actually. RPGs can often have a reputation, earned or not, for having long, drawn-out introductions. And while Chained Echoes certainly builds up with each narrative beat, it doesn’t waste time in getting to the good stuff, either.

You see the seeds of an evil scheme in the works? You’ll see it come to a head sooner rather than later. Dialogue isn’t just snappy, but well-written too. Each character slides comfortably into their roles, and there’s a good job done of introducing the player to each “pod” of characters that make up the collective party. This gets even more effective when the story splits them up, pairing those who might butt heads together for some interesting moments.

Kick it into overdrive

Where Chained Echoes stands out the most for me, though, is its battle system. This is a turn-based RPG, with a turn order and list of commands you can pick from a menu as parties idle on either side of the field. It might seem a bit straightforward at first blush, but that’s because systems will start to creep up underneath.

In the top-left corner resides the Overdrive meter, both a key to your success and a tool for your destruction, depending on how you play it out. Every character can either Attack, Defend, use Items, or activate a Skill for their turn. Skills are the most potent option, and they’re what you want to be using whenever possible.

Skills also build up Overdrive, which pushes your arrow up the meter. When the party’s in the yellow, they’re neutral and everything’s normal. Get into the green zone and you’re in Overdrive, doing extra damage, taking less damage, and spending less TP (the resource spent on using Skills). But push it too far and you Overheat, now making you receive more damage from enemies.

This is carefully balanced by the indicator icon, letting you use abilities of a certain type to reduce Overdrive rather than increase it. Battles turn into strategic management of this gauge. I’d piece out the turn order, thinking about what options I had not just now, but four or five turns from now. Could I risk an Overheat and recover the next turn? Do I want to use a move that will take me back into neutral, or hold off on one big hit to stay in the green?

Building a party

Chained Echoes‘ systems get even more interesting as you start to build the party up and learn all their skills. See, there’s no proper levelling system in Chained Echoes. There’s gear, which can give you some helpful stats and can be outfitted with crystals for bonus effects. Then there are Skills, which you can learn from a board with special stones slowly doled out through the story, and SP, which lets you level up Skills you’ve learned.

It might seem a bit strange at first, but the idea is that there is no base level driving anything. Instead, everything you do cycles back into some amount of progression. Hunt a specific type of enemy, and you might clear off its ransom board entry, netting you some progression points to put back into strengthening the party. Maybe that monster drops some good loot that you can sell to the merchant; then the merchant unlocks a new deal, netting you some nice consumables or new equipment for a discount.

Add in fast travel and a surprisingly brisk run speed on the overworld, and Chained Echoes feels streamlined in a manner I don’t always expect from a classically minded RPG. Nothing feels too shorn down, either. You just get to the good parts faster. I’m spending more time in careful, strategic bouts and good bits of story than I am wandering around a field, looking for the next town.

Echoes of the past

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

I’ve been picking away at Chained Echoes every night on my Steam Deck and just loving it. This RPG certainly has some rosy, nostalgic tint to it, but it uses those inspirations to rearrange and reorder it all into something new. I’ve delighted over campfire scenes, banged my head against some bosses that pushed me to reorganize my team and game plan, and been drawn in by all the teases it drops.

Safe to say, if you’re an enjoyer of old-school RPGs and want something to while away the holidays with, you could do much worse than Chained Echoes. And with it being on Game Pass, there’s not much reason to not at least give this passion project a try.

Eric Van Allen
Senior News Reporter