Mechs in fantasy, something that sounds so good together one might be surprised to find themselves hard pressed to think of enough games to count past one hand if asked to name them all. Chained Echoes is basically the coolest piece of future technology placed in a tumultuous medieval era, but that’s not even the focal point.
With elements that might remind one of a myriad of different titles of the time while still feeling enough like its own thing to make it easy to think this may be a missed classic, one might mistake this for a PSX golden era RPG. Using vibrant colours and smooth animation, and with an exceptional soundtrack the game has one of the best modern retro aesthetics of these sorts of old school inspired games.
A roleplaying game needs solid audio and visual aspects to enhance its arguably most important part, storytelling. Chained Echoes is excellent in most of the components that make up a story, and the introductory stretch showcases all of it with well thought out execution. It is a lengthy start to the game, a few hours before you get to the phase where side quests open up along with all the other standard RPG fare like exploration, gearing up and leveling. Within this time, it starts strong, quickly introducing the event which sets things in motion, showing off a taste of mech combat before taking it away to increase anticipation for its return and beginning with solid action. Within the first few scenes it had shown most of the key heroes and antagonistic forces as well as most of their preliminary motivations that has them gather together, let you know it was going to have a story of political intrigue mixed with demonic forces, and gives a glimpse of the good times that could be before of course the world is plunged into the typical end in nigh dilemma. It manages to do a lot of necessary building while also keeping it well paced and interesting, and this is a task even far larger studios tend to struggle with.
It never really stops having intrigues either, characters each have their own personalities and relationships change over the course of the game, there are secrets and many twists some of varying levels of predictability. Some of the dialogue can be a bit weird if I were to nitpick, as there are many little side stories and scenes which have some sort of purpose or morality behind it that can at times be overly on the nose, but even these tend to only briefly stand out.
Gameplay is also quite solid in each part. The game is quite lengthy, yet it doesn’t feel like a slog because many of the aspects which slow down RPGs have been carefully dealt with. Side quests for example aren’t received by going back to villages and talking to everyone or looking for the person with the exclamation mark, so there’s fairly minimal backtracking in each portion of the game. Looking through a new area once for treasures generally is all you need, while quests resemble an MMO, but are in an easy to quickly use menu as a list for each zone, including tasks like find x number of treasures, kill x monsters or defeat a mini boss. Rather than requiring you to return to town, rewards can be acquired directly from the menu. Another example of good pacing is resources replenish each fight, so there’s no party or item management, even things like leveling is sparse as you gain a level for beating parts of the game not by grinding, basically driving you forward at all times.
There’s a bit of customization to the game, gear being the most expected and each level letting you choose what you want to take. You get occasional stats from levels, as well as one skill point which can be spent on either a stat choice, a passive, or an ability. Passives and abilities once learned can be upgraded with separate skill XP which is the one thing you can slowly grind. Gear can be upgraded as well as slotted with gems that might increase damage against birds or help resist poison. Lastly, there is a class slot for characters, each class can be earned through a special encounter scattered around the world and is like an item, able to only be equipped by one person who gains a boost in stats as well as two passives and abilities, but can be switched at any time.
Combat involves several little parts that make an overall fun experience. There are abilities that can set up another ability, such as having a chance to proc a powerful attack or one that poisons an enemy and a follow up which spreads to all others. There is an ultimate that can be charged, and each hero has something different. There are elemental strengths and weaknesses, several types of ailments, and your party of four each has a backup hero who can be swapped during battles to utilize their abilities. Everyone has their own abilities and uses, and there’s often a good reason to use everyone during a tough boss, and battles can be frequently challenging since a lack of grinding makes most of the game balanced. The most noticeable system is the overheat bar, which buffs you in the green and makes you easier to kill in the red, and comes with different ways to either increase or decrease the bar as needed, and is definitely vital for managing harder fights. At last, there are the mechs, which are able to take on tougher foes and have their own abilities, gear and version of the overheat bar.
Chained Echoes could have sat beside Xenogears and Legend of Dragoon, an impressive RPG that is likely to remain niche. With no major faults and plenty of nostalgia, it is not a genre changer but if you have a desire for something that feels two decades old but much smoother, I highly recommend this game.