A world where dragons exist and people pilot mechs? Not the most common of combinations — despite both elements often appearing in RPGs frequently over the years — but for SNES and PS1-inspired JRPG Chained Echoes, this is completely the norm. Revealed back in 2019, the game blasted through its Kickstarter campaign and secured a Switch version as part of its stretch goals.
This turn-based RPG is due to release in 2022 — cheekily, the Steam page lists ***ber 2022. And from its incredibly detailed pixel art to its snappy combat, it's looking like another fantastic retro-inspired RPG that will feel right at home on the Switch. And that's exactly what the game's lone developer, Matthias Linda, thinks, too.
With a list of inspirations including Xenogears, Chrono Trigger and Cross, Xenoblade Chronicles, and Suikoden, it's clear that Chained Echoes is a love letter to the genre — with a particular nod to the classics. But the combination of mechs, dragons, and steampunk help to set it apart from the plethora of retro RPGs on the system.
We had a chance to speak to Matthias Linda about Chained Echoes, why the Switch is so good for the classically-inspired RPG, and how a recent Monolith Soft game almost caused Linda to delay the game because he was so engrossed...
Nintendo Life: Congratulations on nearing the release window for the game! Making any kind of video game largely on your own is a daunting task, but a 30-40 hour RPG is on another level! What is it about the genre that inspired you to make your own?
Matthias Linda: I grew up with JRPGs on the Nintendo and PlayStation systems. It’s as simple as that. I even created Final Fantasy VI-likes and Chrono Trigger-inspired games in RPG Maker as I fell in love with the genre. So it was natural to one day start working on my own RPG. And, here I am, after seven years of game dev. The game is mostly done, just a few polishing topics and getting it run on each and every system.
Did you always have the Switch, or a Nintendo console, in mind for Chained Echoes? What do you think it is about the Switch that makes it such a great home for classically-inspired JRPGs?
I love the Switch. And yeah, from the very beginning I wanted to have the game running on it, obviously. It’s a perfect match, isn’t it? I’m not even sure why it is the perfect match, it just feels like that. Somehow the indie scene managed to make the Switch into something really, really special.
When the Switch appeared on the market, due to the fact that you had a blend of a portable and stationary console, you already had something special. But in the end, games shape a console. And, for some reason, the retro-inspired JRPGs and RPGs and action-adventures feel super natural on the Switch. They're a perfect match.
...the indie scene managed to make the Switch into something really, really special.
There’s a real blend of classic SNES visuals and style with PlayStation sound and traversal options. Did you have any particular games in mind while working on Chained Echoes?
Quite a lot. Suikoden II, the Chrono games, the early Final Fantasy titles, Terranigma, Xenogears and so many, many more; basically, all of the games that were part of my childhood. But, in Chained Echoes, they influence the game more in how I remember them, not so much in the way they actually were. There is that psychological effect that you remember things differently and you will always glorify things you experienced as a child. And whenever I created something, I did it how I remembered it, not how it actually was.
We’re in love with the idea of a world where mechs and dragons both exist. Not many RPGs use mechs as transportation or combat – we’re thinking Xenogears and Xenoblade Chronicles X. Why did you want to bring mechs in particular?
My inner child will always love huge robots. Who, at my age, didn’t love Mechwarrior? But yeah, Xenogears, definitely. And yes, Xenoblade Chronicles… my god, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 recently delayed Chained Echoes by at least a week!
Jokes aside, I just thought it’d be cool to blend fantasy with mechs and steampunk elements. And it also allowed me to introduce a new variant of the combat system out of nowhere and to throw a surprise at the player when the player doesn’t expect it.
There is mention of “choice” on the official website. What in-game choices will there be and will they lead to different quests, scenarios, or endings?
Well, some choices are part of the story and will be made by the characters and the player will just “feel” them. But some choices during certain quests will influence what happens during the quests. But for the endings, no — I wanted to tell a specific story, to deliver something with a specific meaning. While I’m not sure if everyone will understand the message of Chained Echoes, I sure hope this message will make players think about the game once in a while. With multiple endings, this wouldn’t have been possible.
...whenever I created something, I did it how I remembered it, not how it actually was.
We’ve seen a lot of different species of characters in the trailers, such as lizard people, dogs, a bird man, etc. Was a diverse cast always something you were aiming for?
It wasn’t so much about the diversity of the cast but about creating a believable fantasy world where more than just humans exist. Although even the bird man and lizard people as you call them are considered to be human in the world of Chained Echoes. When it comes to that specific topic, the world of Chained Echoes is close to a utopia. These things just don’t matter that much.
The game uses a snappy turn-based combat system with a visible turn order. How did you want to set your combat system apart from other SNES-inspired RPGs of today?
I wanted to create a fast-paced turn-based combat system which still offers a deep tactical aspect. Sounds difficult, right? So I introduced the overdrive bar. Every action by the player and the enemies influences the bar. If you reach the overdrive, you do additional damage and you receive less, if you go too far, the opposite happens. So while the turns are quick and snappy, you still have to balance your actions to not ruin your battle within just two or three turns.
Can you tell us anything about the skill system in-game?
Every character has a set of skills they can learn on a level up. After learning a passive or active skill the character also needs to equip it. There are a lot of skills per character but only a few slots are available to equip them, so you have to carefully plan how your deck of skills will look before heading into battle. There are over 400 skills available! The levelling system works a bit differently than in other games. It is not handled via experience points but shards you will find on your way.
Minigames are another classic RPG element you’re bringing into Chained Echoes. What kind can we expect to see?
I can recommend the turtle race. There aren’t too many minigames in Chained Echoes, just a very few. I only added them when I thought they’d make sense within the context of the world. And when I add things, I want to make sure they either have an influence on the gameplay or that they’ll make you laugh.
I bet somewhere inside Chained Echoes there is a bit of Elden Ring or The Witcher III or even Mario.
Do you still make time to play RPGs? And are there any modern-day influences that you’ve taken ideas from?
Hell yes. Xenoblade Chronicles 3 nearly caused a delay as I sunk way too much time into it. But I also enjoyed Return to Monkey Island a lot. I know, that’s not an RPG, but I still wanted to mention it. Also, I’m a [Yasumi] Matsuno fanboy. I'm waiting for Final Fantasy XVI and I have high hopes for it as the team behind it seems to be fans of Matsuno as well. As for modern-day influences, well yeah. Probably. I bet somewhere inside Chained Echoes there is a bit of Elden Ring or The Witcher III or even Mario. And probably a lot of others!
This interview has been edited lightly for clarity.
We want to extend our thanks to Matthias Linda for taking the time to answer our questions. Chained Echoes is due to release on the Switch in 2022.