Developer: Matthias Linda
Release Date: 8 December, 2022
Platform: Windows, Switch, Playstation 4, Linux, Xbox One, MacOS
By Chris Picone, 04 January 2023
So far Chained Echoes is shaping up to be one of the best modern JRPGs I've played, although I think it's probably aimed at a slightly younger audience. It's a difficult thing to try to blend nostalgic gameplay with modern conveniences and ideas without running into the "Swiss pocket knife effect" (you know - does a hundred things but none of them properly?) but Chained Echoes mostly gets it right.
A prime example is the combat system, which is primarily the expected turn-based party battling system we all know and love, but they've solved one of the biggest issues by including an "overdrive" system. Essentially, you start normal, but as you use actions or take damage the overdrive bar fills. Keep it in a large sweet spot and your skills are all considerably cheaper and do more damage. Too low, you go back to normal. Too high, you "overheat" - skills become more expensive and the enemy does more damage to you. Since most actions nudge it up, you need to deliberately keep nudging it down by swapping party members or using specific actions that the game randomly highlights each turn. The overdrive system is bizarre from a design standpoint and also has no rational explanation in the game world but it's remarkably effective at preventing "click, repeat" gaming, encouraging you to use the whole range of party members and skills available to you.
Now I've burned more than 7 hours in Chained Echoes already but this is still a First Impression because: It's big! It's billed at 30-50 hours which isn't outrageous for a JRPG but the difference between Chained Echoes and most JRPGs is that there seems to be remarkably little grind or filler. The game immediately throws you into the action with some high-powered "Sky Armour," after which you then play through the backstories for about half a dozen characters before they all form a party and the adventure proper starts - but this all only takes a couple of hours; it moves fast. The story itself is the sort of sprawling epic expected from any JRPG, and likewise the characters fit all the usual tropes. But they're all well-written parts; fun, light-hearted, and enjoyable to play. Chained Echoes is big in other ways, too - your characters learn new skills by finding grimoire stones, upgrade those skills using experience points, find secret shrines that provide "class powers." On top of that, you're regularly purchasing new weapons and upgrading those using the game's crystal crafting system.
The verdict? Chained Echoes is a light-hearted adventure, aimed at an "all ages" audience (read: fun for everyone but probably aimed at a younger group). It's huge, well-written, and follows all the tropes and expectations of the genre while also dabbling with some new systems which keeps things fresh for us veteran players. It has room to grow but it's a terrific modern JRPG and one of the best JRPGs I've played in a long while. If you're a fan of the genre, do not miss Chained Echoes.