Chained Echoes Review - Screenshot 1 of 8
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

About seven years ago, a solo indie developer named Matthias Linda began working on an idea he had for a new RPG, itself likely the product of many years of producing fan games based on his genre favorites in RPG Maker. After a successful Kickstarter in 2019 and who knows how many hours of painstaking iteration, Linda has finally seen his vision realized with the release of Chained Echoes. Luckily, this one turned out to be well worth the seven-year wait. Chained Echoes exudes confidence and quality at every turn and quickly establishes itself as one of the finest RPGs you can buy on the Switch right now.

Set on the continent of Valandis, it follows a motley crew of nobles, thieves, and mercenaries who all find their fates chained together in pursuit of a common cause. The story begins a few years before events kick off, with two of the mercenaries who will later be in your party inadvertently setting off the in-universe equivalent of a nuke during a battle in the war between three kingdoms. In the aftermath, the three kingdoms come to an uneasy truce, but various political and supernatural forces wish to plunge the continent into war once more, which inevitably leads to your party being formed to prevent this outcome.

Chained Echoes Review - Screenshot 2 of 8
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

It can get a little dry at times, but we overall found ourselves pulled into this plot. We enjoyed how there’s not a designated main character here, instead placing emphasis on the team as a whole and the various relationships that develop between everyone. It makes each character feel equally important, rather than many games which can feel like a leading star who’s stringing along a gaggle of sidekicks, and all the different personalities and backgrounds on offer create plenty of room for interesting exchanges.

Lenne, for example, is the princess of a kingdom, but has chosen to run away from her lavish lifestyle to instead work for the city guard under disguise so she can better understand the life of the average citizen. Glenn, on the other hand, was born and raised in a prison city as a peasant and eventually rose out of that depressing life when he took on work as a mercenary favored for his keen mechanical skills. Everyone brings something worthwhile to the table in this narrative, providing some important and sometimes surprisingly personal stakes for much bigger conflicts.

On the gameplay front, environment design in Chained Echoes feels remarkably open while still not being so wide that you can get too lost. Scouring suspicious-looking routes is sure to reward you with things like treasure chests and secret boss fights, while there are myriad secret paths you can find and caves to explore that are begging to be searched. Sometimes it can almost feel overwhelming having so many things vying for your attention, but Chained Echoes does a good job of steering you towards the locations and quests that are most interesting while still not insisting that you do so.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

The Reward Board, for example, provides a wide array of objectives to chase in any order you want. It’s laid out like a game board, with each box representing an achievement like finding a certain number of treasures in a specific zone or killing a specific enemy in an unconventional way. Fulfilling any of the spots on the board will allow you to claim a small reward, and any adjacent spots that you can fulfill will begin a chain. As you make longer chains on the board, you’ll unlock more rewards for hitting certain thresholds, which encourages you to get the most out of each area you visit as you chase getting the longest chain you can.

We enjoyed the kind of pacing on offer with Chained Echoes, as it feels like it notably breaks out of the typical Town>Field>Dungeon loop that many JRPGs fall into. Sometimes things are wide open, and you’re given the freedom to choose where you’ll go next and what you’ll do when you get there. Sometimes things narrow down more and railroad you through linear plot-steered sequences. Our favorite of these was an early-ish section where the party is broken up and some of the members get caught up in a boss fight on a minecart tearing through a vast tunnel system. While fighting the boss, you also have to keep an eye on where the cart is heading and adjust the controls accordingly to keep everyone alive. The point is, Chained Echoes knows when to go hands-off and hands-on with the player, and it very rarely feels like it’s missing a step.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

Combat follows a typical turn-based setup but with some notable tweaks to help keep things feeling dynamic and interesting. For example, although you can only have four characters on the field at once, each of them can be paired with a partner who can tag in with a button press and act on the same turn. This adds a nice extra layer of strategy given that you have to consider who you’ll be switching out and how that could affect the team’s current synergy.

Another fun inclusion is the Ultra Move meter, which fills as you give and receive damage and can be used with any of your characters to trigger a powerful effect. Whether this is a screen nuke that also debuffs the enemy team or a powerful healing spell that also refills everyone’s TP (which governs things like magic and skill casting), every Ultra Move feels like it importantly shifts the balance of a battle if you choose your timing for it well.

The most important element of the combat, however, is the Overdrive meter, which boosts your entire team’s stats if you can manage it well. Every action you take will move the ticker on the Overdrive meter up a little further, and once it reaches the green gauge, your party will benefit from dishing out more damage, taking less damage themselves, and having all TP costs for their casts halved. The catch is that if the ticker goes too far, your party will overheat and be significantly depowered. To counter this, the Overdrive gauge will randomly select a certain skill or ability type—such as healing or a buff—and if you can get one of your characters to use an ability that matches the type, the ticker will move back several notches.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

We greatly appreciated this Overdrive system for how it adds an extra layer of strategy that breaks combat out of becoming too repetitive. Combat in turn-based RPGs can often stagnate once you figure out the ‘right’ flowchart of actions for your party, but Chained Echoes sidesteps this by giving you good incentive to break protocol. If, say, it’s your buffer’s turn and you want to cast another offense boost on the team, it may nonetheless be a better decision to cast one of their healing spells instead to keep the ticker on the lower end of the safe part of the gauge. Battles thus become a battle not just against your foes, but against the consequences of not smartly managing your Overdrive.

Though Overdrive is the most important feature to keeping battles interesting, there are various other quality-of-life inclusions here that are quite welcome. For example, there’s a small window at the top of the screen that showcases the exact turn order for your party and enemies over the next several turns, and while you can’t monkey around with it the same way you could in something like Star Renegades, we appreciated the ability to plan out our targets in a battle well in advance.

Another important feature is the fact that your health and TP—which governs things like magic and skill casting—are fully healed after every fight. With this, battles are naturally more interesting because you no longer have to be stingy with how you press the offensive; you’re empowered to use all the spells and abilities at your disposal because there are no consequences for doing so once the fight is over.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

Suffice it to say, there’s a lot to love about this combat system — and there's even more to it than we've explained above. You later get access to mech suits which change all of the above rules in fascinating ways and give you even more options to consider. The point is, Chained Echoes meaningfully builds on the ideas explored in the combat systems of the many JRPG classics. There’s a little bit of Shin Megami Tensei in here, a dash of Xenogears, some Final Fantasy, and while Chained Echoes borrows many of its ideas, it manages to put them together in a way that feels completely new.

For character progression, none of your party members actually gain levels. Rather, you’ll acquire a new Grimoire Stone after a big boss fight, and this allows you to buy one new skill for each character from a slowly growing list tailored to each one of them. You can either pick up new active skills for casting in combat, passive skills that can raise resistances and add other helpful buffs, or straight stat boosts. Given that there can be long-ish gaps between getting Grimoire Stones, it’s important to consider the kind of build you want to go with for each character. Most of them clearly have specific roles they’re designed for, but there are myriad secondary roles you can spec them into if you put some thought into it.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

Winning battles will also net you SP that goes towards any of the skills you’ve equipped to your characters. Each skill can be upgraded a couple of times to increase its effectiveness, and while just having it equipped will see a skill naturally accruing SP, you can also manually distribute some from a separate pool to accelerate the development of the skills central to each character’s build. Also, there are various statues placed throughout the adventure that each bestow an item granting a new sub-class to whoever it’s equipped to. If you can manage to max out the unique skills that come with it, then you can keep those skills on that character permanently and hand the class item to someone else.

Another important measure of character development is tied to the gear that they equip, which is a little more important here than in a typical JRPG. Not only do new pieces of gear offer up important stat distributions that can further lock in a given character’s build, but each can be upgraded several times and slotted with gemstones that imbue them with important passive abilities you can’t access in any character’s skill tree. These gemstones can also be fused together to improve their effects, but there are several limitations in place here to discourage you from dropping any gemstone into any piece of gear without thinking about it. What your character wears can thus have a huge impact on what they can do in a fight.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

We appreciated this multi-pronged approach to character development, as it goes a bit askew from the typical linear leveling you see in most RPGs, but without losing that sense of constant forward progress. It feels like you can hardly go more than 15 minutes without another skill gaining enough SP to level up or finding another piece of gear that can improve one of your characters. And while each step forward feels rather incremental, it helps you to view the whole party as one unit rather than as a collection of individuals at varying power levels. This tracks well with the story, which doesn’t have a singular protagonist and instead focuses on the strength of the ensemble.

Visually, Chained Echoes sticks to a faithful 32-bit art style that does an impressive job of capturing that retro aesthetic without feeling cheap. It reminded us quite a bit of CrossCode. Much like that excellent game, Chained Echoes probably won’t exactly ‘wow’ you with its visuals, but we still came across plenty of environments and boss fights that boasted an impressive level of detail. In the best kind of way, then, one could say that Chained Echoes feels like a modern remaster of a classic JRPG—one which aims not to replace all the previous art, but to sharpen it and present it in the best possible light.

The soundtrack, written by Eddie Marianukroh, compares favorably to the moody and whimsical tone present in many Yoko Shimomura soundtracks. The music can be delightfully goofy at times and of course the main battle theme amps up the energy quite a bit, but we would overall characterize this soundtrack as being relatively low-key and focused on building atmosphere. In this regard, it absolutely accomplishes what it sets out to do; though this isn’t one that’ll have us scrambling for a YouTube playlist, the music does a fine job of immersing you in whatever locale you happen to be exploring.

Conclusion

Chained Echoes is a wonderful mash-up of '90s JRPG tropes, masterfully woven together to produce an experience that feels simultaneously nostalgic and fresh. A well-paced story, unconventional progression system, tactical combat system, and expansive world all come together to make for a game that is shockingly one of the very best RPGs that we’ve played this year. Really, there’s no place where it feels like Chained Echoes drops the ball, which is all the more impressive when you consider that the vast majority of it was put together by one person. If you consider yourself a fan of JRPGs, you owe it to yourself to pick this one up as soon as possible. Even if you aren’t a fan of the genre, we’d still encourage you to snap this one up; it stands as a shining example of everything that makes RPGs great.