Chained Echoes Has My RPG Enthusiasm in Overdrive

One of my main methods for keeping up with other bloggers and streamers I follow is Twitter, and sometimes I’ll have conversations with online friends through DM about how we’re doing, what games we’re playing, and all that. One day one such conversation led me to learn about a game called Chained Echoes. “I haven’t really heard of that,” I said, “what’s up with that game?” My pal told me how Chained Echoes was a new indie RPG in the style of the classic SNES-era games like Final Fantasy VI, right down to the giant mech battles. It wouldn’t be long before I started hearing about Chained Echoes everywhere – many of the journalists and streamers I follow were playing it and it was covered on most of the gaming podcasts I listen to. The more I heard about it the more it seemed like a game that needed to be on my radar, so once I wrapped up some other games I’d been working through, I decided to pick up Chained Echoes and give it a try.

Chained Echoes, like many RPGs of this flavor, begins with your mother waking you up the morning of a big day. She throws open the curtains on your window and urges you to wake up and get moving, then slaps the shit out of you. Isn’t that sweet? Your mother is not your mother but is in fact some kind of lizard man on an airship, who is awakening your character Glenn from sleep just before a suicide mission in a giant robot. As Glenn and his fellow members of the mercenary crew the Band of the Lion, you’ll learn the basics of combat and experience the inciting event of the broader story before then jumping around between other cast members to learn about the world of Chained Echoes. It’s a compelling introduction that is informative without being expository and quickly gets you invested in the majority of the playable characters.

While the game certainly has a lofty, political tone, it takes time to give you funny moments like this one too

Tonally, Chained Echoes is a game focused on war and political intrigue, ancient magic and modern weapons of war. The world has been embroiled in war for 150 years and while the first major event of the game seems to bring that war to an end, it is clear that many are scheming in the shadows to begin it again. The early hours will have you encountering rebellious peasants, bandits and assassins hired by more powerful political actors to manipulate the sentiments of people and other nations, and royals or soldiers striving to maintain the precarious peace that hangs over the continent. Even the characters in your party have divergent interests, working together primarily out of convenience than by any unity of purpose. It immediately makes the world feel rich and compelling.

Now I could spend time in this article talking about the pixel art (which is fine), the music (which is quite solid), or even the Chrono Trigger style sequence where you compete for prizes in a series of carnival games (which was hilarious). But there’s a particular aspect of Chained Echoes that has grabbed me tight and won’t let go, and it’s the main thing I’m here to talk about: the combat system. Chained Echoes takes turn-based combat and adds some very interesting twists that make the system feel strategically intriguing. Some aspects are just quality of life touches or design decisions that enable a certain type of combat encounter. All encounters are scripted – you don’t have random encounters nor are there endless enemy encounters spawning in the overworld. There are missable encounters if you don’t fully explore an area, but the battles in Chained Echoes are all in set locations where you can see signs of an impending attack. Additionally, you heal fully between encounters, meaning that each battle can be more challenging because attrition isn’t a factor. This incentivizes you to use your resources, which is important because of the game’s overdrive system.

You can see the overdrive meter at the top left of the screen, currently in the neutral segment

During battle an overdrive meter is displayed on the screen. The meter has three segments from left to right: a neutral yellow segment, a positive green segment, and a negative red segment. You begin battle on the left side of the meter and every action, allied or enemy, pushes your status more and more to the right. In the green zone your characters have overdrive which makes them slightly more powerful but, more importantly, halves the cost of all of their skills. Make it to the red zone though and you have a problem – not only do you lose the benefits of overdrive, but you also take increased damage from enemy attacks. Your goal during any given battle is to live in the green segment of the overdrive bar, making your actions cheaper and more effective while avoiding the increased damage that comes if your overdrive goes too far.

So how does overdrive go down? Certain types of actions slightly decrease the meter, namely defending or switching out party members. Switching is particularly useful because it has some other beneficial effects. Not only does it not cost a turn so the new character can act immediately, but it also hits pause on any turn by turn effects on the character now on the bench as well as clearing the stagger status ailment. However, the most effective way to reduce the overdrive meter is to use a skill of a particular type. All of the skills in the game fall into categories like buffing skills, debuffing skills, damage skills, healing skills, and utility skills. When in overdrive, the meter will display a skill type and the number of turns for which that skill type will remain the overdrive skill. When you use skills that match the type displayed by the overdrive meter, you push the meter significantly to the left, moving away from the dreaded red zone and increased damage to your party. This mechanic encourages you to prioritize specific types of skills when the meter is close to red, and to ignore those skills when the meter is close to yellow, all so you can stay in overdrive and reap the benefits.

Other things that might factor into your move choice on a given turn are elemental weaknesses, inflicting or counteracting status problems, or stealing items

There are a couple of different problems RPGs can fall into when it comes to combat. If resources are too hard to replenish, it encourages players to hoard everything for boss battles, simply hitting the basic attack button over and over again. If resources are too plentiful with no drawbacks to using your strongest skills, all you have to do is spam the most powerful attack every encounter and you’ll never meet any friction. The overdrive system is an effective tool for balancing this problem. You need to use your skills to reach and stay in overdrive, and your points come back after every battle so saving them is meaningless. But if you only use your strongest attacks, you’ll surpass overdrive and push yourself into the red, making your party sitting ducks for the enemy attacks. The game incentivizes varying your skills and switching around party members so that you are always keeping the meter in just the right range.

Speaking of party members, the game spends its early hours introducing you to the cast members one or two at a time and letting you experience their abilities before then teaching you how to switch between them effectively. Glenn, the character you begin the game as, is your typical heavy hitter with strong single-target attacks as well as useful debuffs. Ser Victor, a Shakespeare-like figure more ancient than the other characters, can use magic to damage enemies with elemental attacks or to heal or buff allies. If Victor is in the back row behind Glenn, then on Glenn’s turn you can switch to Victor in order to bring out a magical powerhouse to replace your physical one, and it also gives you access to magic and buff skills types instead of physical and debuff skill types. In this way when you have a full party, you have eight pairs of characters who you can switch between in order to maximize your available skill types and to serve their practical functions for the party.

My favorite character so far is unsurprisingly, the redheaded thief

Because of the way encounters work, leveling up in this game works a bit differently too. Your characters only get improvements to stats or new skills when they defeat a boss, which drops what’s called a grimoire shard. With each shard you can choose (per character) one improvement, such as a new active skill, a new passive skill, or a flat boost to one stat. Your non-boss encounters are focused more on getting resources to sell or to upgrade weapons as well as on giving you skill points, which cause a character’s equipped skills to get better over time. This means that if you miss or avoid an encounter somewhere, the ultimate impact on your team is negligible because the bosses are where the meat of your character improvement comes from. It’s a nice way to allow folks who don’t care about maximizing their points skip some non-essential combat while sickos like me who want all the skill points possible will search every nook and cranny for something to beat up.

I’m just getting started on my Chained Echoes journey and there are entire systems I have barely scratched the surface of. I’m excited to see how things like the class system or the ability to battle in mechs known as sky armor will further expand what’s possible with combat. And I’m looking forward to meeting new characters and seeing what combat options they bring to the forefront for my party. RPGs are one of my favorite game genres, but they’re also the easiest one to fall in the trap of revisiting the same concepts and falling into the same pitfalls. Chained Echoes promises an experience that does something new, and that has my enthusiasm for the game well into overdrive.

2 thoughts on “Chained Echoes Has My RPG Enthusiasm in Overdrive

Add yours

  1. More people need to mention when an RPG doesn’t have poop tier combat. I understand that’s not why 99.9% of people play these games, but I’d heard about Chained Echoes months ago and wrote it off as just another nostalgia bait RPG. Can’t totally be blamed for that when none of what I read talked about the combat in more than passing.

    That said, looks like I’ll have to give this one another look.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I understand why people talk about this in nostalgia terms, because it absolutely is like “hey remember Final Fantasy VI? What a great game, right?” And similar to what you just described that premise was not particularly exciting for me, but once I heard about the mechanics I knew I wanted to try it. So far, I’m really enjoying the uniqueness of the combat system. It addresses a lot of complaints you and I have discussed before (always hammering “attack” or always using your strongest move, being too grindy, not having to think about your decisions, etc.).

      Liked by 1 person

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