Chained Echoes

    Chained Echoes by developer Matthias Linda and publisher Deck 13 SpotlightPC (Steam) review written by Pierre-Yves with a copy provided by the publisher.

    Estimated reading time: 15 minutes

    Designed by Matthias Linda and published by Deck13, Chained Echoes is an incredible fast paced 16-bit retro inspired RPG. Potentially rivaling my current Game of the Year nomination, this adventure is just as solid and riveting in the first hour than it is dozens of hours down the line. Starting up at the end of a war that has lasted generations, our heroes will all come together with different reasons but end up having the same goal. Putting an end to the new war that has just sparked a year later…

    Having released last week, I had wanted to make sure that I saw the credits before putting anything down on "paper". Sadly, while that hasn't happened yet because of a pretty nasty "soft lock" that prevented me from moving the story along, it didn't stop me from restarting all over again. Basically, as a person who keeps multiple save files, I somehow found myself saving over the most important one to backtrack to which is what locked me out of the rest of the story. I could prompt certain cutscenes, but without the particular main story event? There was no way to move forwards. This said, Chained Echoes is that good and even if I was a dozens of hours into the main story, side quests and exploration? The experience never misses a beat from the characters and their dialog to the gameplay and music the first, or even in this case, the second time around!

    Other than the big inspirations behind it, such as Xenogears and Chrono Trigger, Chained Echoes does a good job at standing on its own. The core design of the experience is to keep you “in it” and there are no real lulls. Starting with one character in a dream-like sequence that made me think of Chrono Trigger’s opening, you’re then thrust into battle with a mech suit (YAY MECHS!) and then proceed on foot from there. The best part is that there are no flashy transition screens or wait times. Everything is done on the spot like Chrono Trigger and one of my favorite JRPGs of all time, Breath of Fire III, where you’re given your menu, you play out the combat, and then you move on.

    This helps keep the pace of the adventure up in a good way as there will be plenty of environments to explore over the course of the journey and multiple transitions would really slow it all down. Running through the fields, towns, caves or massive cities is all smooth as you either push the story forward or search for treasure chests and other secrets. Another element that I highly enjoyed is that Chained Echoes is an RPG without an experience based system. While enemies can be found on the field and engaged with at your own leisure, you don’t “need” to per say as they won’t yield any experience points.

    No experience points? Nope! But I was actually pretty happy about this as it meant that you didn’t need to grind in order to be at level, or, potentially over grind and ruin the intended flow. Instead, as you fight enemies each character will gain skill points (SP) in order to level abilities as well as gain SP to hold in their personal reserve for later use. You get both! This means that as you keep on fighting and leveling up current abilities, once you begin to unlock new ones you can easily level those up as long as you have the required amount. It doesn’t feel like much in the beginning but once your later party members start to come into the fold? They are given an equivalence and it’s an amazing feature to have in order to get them up and running to match the rest.

    Now here’s the tricky part. Characters don’t level up in the traditional sense as there’s no experience. Instead, as the adventure moves on and you complete chapters and boss fights, you’ll receive Grimoire Shards. These shards act as catalysts to unlock new abilities under every character. New combat skills that can be offensive, defensive or support, passive abilities such as extra damage or health, and finally, stat boosts such as permanent increases to a specific attribute. Since these won’t be unlocked often, you’ll really have to weigh your options, however, there is always a way to give yourself another boost forward.

    As you explore the world, you are given a rewards board. On this board, you’ll have items that are either story, side quest, combat or exploration related. As you complete these tasks, you’ll receive small individual rewards, but as you chain these nodes together over time, you’ll get bigger rewards such as extra Grimoire Shards, and more importantly? Sacred water. Sacred water is the other boost in which you can use on specific statues to obtain classes that can be equipped for stat boosts and to learn new skills. The only catch to these is that you have to win a combat trial first, no biggie. 

    Again a really nice touch is how well everything comes together over time. Starting off with a mech battle, you won’t actually see these until your first dozen hours in but they aren’t just there for flashy battle. While maybe now is a good time to state that Xenogears is still sitting on my shelf waiting for me to finally play it, I’ve played the Xenosaga trilogy and most of the Xenoblade Chronicles shy of the latest one. The reason for that is that the Xeno series is both very story heavy with plot twists, and, has mechs that can be used for certain combat situations.

    So these mechs that you receive, which are called Sky Armors, are far beyond anything that your party can do while on foot but they follow the same principles. Skills can be upgraded with SP, parts and Sky Armor types can be changed between characters, and you can even give them different paint jobs to help keep track of who is who. When it comes to exploration though, there are multiple perks.

    Sky Armors move much faster than you would otherwise on foot. They can also hover over the ground allowing you to reach places that you just couldn’t seem to figure out before. And finally, they can fly as long as there are no anti-air defenses in the area allowing you to really explore an area as you are now above all obstacles. You just need to find a good place to come back down though as you can only land on a solid space where there are no enemies.

    Now to dive into perhaps my favorite part of Chained Echoes, the combat itself. Performed on the spot, there are no wait times, cooldowns or ATBs. You have your abilities, the enemy has theirs, you either win or see a Game Over screen. Each character can perform a normal attack or one of their special attacks. Right here is where I absolutely LOVED the menu design. Fight, Skills, Items, Defend. Fight is just that, but the skills and the items? These aren’t extra windows, they are simply tabs that can be switched for which is showing so you never have to waste time on every turn to go into another window which keeps up the pace.

    Skills are where all the fun is to be had. Single target, multi-target, elemental or status effects, each has their use and can even be combined with another’s abilities for more damage. Covering an enemy in oil will cause an increase to fire damage. Poisoning one enemy will allow for a skill to spread it to the rest of the enemies. If your character may not have the right skills? You can have up to a party of eight in which anyone on the front line can without penalty, and actually with bonus, be swapped with the member from the back row which again keeps up the pace.

    Now for la piece de resistance to Chained Echo’s combat, is the overdrive bar. Starting off on the left, all characters will give and take a normal amount of damage and use a normal amount of technical points (TP) to use their skills. Once that bar moves into overdrive though, your party becomes more powerful and uses less TP. This part of the equation keeps the pace up and even speeds it up further as enemies stand less of a chance against your party. Where things get a bit tricky is against tougher foes and bosses where the overdrive meter, which also increases as your party takes hits, goes into the overheated zone.

    Once the bar has moved from basically green to red, your best friend can become your worst nightmare. Your party will deal less damage and start taking more damage easily turning the tide of the battle in your enemy’s favor. So to prevent this, the gauge can be dropped back down by swapping front and back line members, defending, or, the element which continues to keep the pace up, use specific ability types on that turn in order to drop the gauge back into overdrive.

    Working rather similarly, Sky Armors, while because of their power don’t have an overdrive, they do have overheats on both left and right sides to worry about. Adding in another layer to combat, Sky Armors have gears to switch between. Gear 1, you deal and take a normal amount of damage and move the gauge to the right. Gear 2, you deal a lot more damage, take more damage but move the gauge to the left. Gear 0, you can use to recover TP, do normal attacks but skills are locked until you shift back into Gear 1. The shifting of gears is what replaces being able to switch front and back line members.

    Finally, adding a bit of Suikoden into the mix, you’ll get to build a clan of sorts. This clan, while it fits into the story, also has other benefits to your exploration. Certain members that you can recruit will give you on screen indicators to how many treasure chests may be left to find, how many secret caves are yet to be discovered or if there is still buried treasure to be dug up. Others can provide materials over time, you just need to make sure to return and see them to collect them.

    Technical performance

    On perhaps a final note, Chained Echoes worked amazingly regardless of the system that I played it on. Playing on my PC itself, playing it on my Steam Deck, playing it on my Steam Deck while streaming from my PC as there’s sadly no current cloud save functionality, and playing it on my Xbox Series X|S through the GamePass. It ran smoothly, it was gorgeous to look at, the sound was incredible and it was really hard to put down. So even after losing dozens of hours, it was an easy call to restart it on my Xbox and get some achievements to maybe poke at Nick’s leaderboard score for the month.


    I couldn’t have been happier with my time with Matthias Linda and Deck13’s Chained Echos. It does everything right. Taking retro inspired designs and making it an RPG worthy of today’s standards, the characters, the environments, the music, the gameplay, essentially the works, you have it here.

    Thank you for this early holiday present!

    Score: 9 / 10



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