Over the past week and a half, I’ve spent what limited evening video game time I’ve got playing Chained Echoes on my Switch. I only heard about the game because a podcaster I follow (Austin Walker of the wonderful Friends at the Table) tweeted about appearing on an episode of another podcast (specifically the Jan 16th, 2023 episode of Axe of the Blood God: An RPG Podcast). Since I’m really into RPGs and I trust Austin’s opinions on games, I decided to give it a listen. Wound up getting myself a new RPG to enjoy and a new podcast to check out at the same time. Unfortunately, for a while there, I was too stressed out to consider trying anything new, especially after the new thing I was most excited for wound up being incredibly underwhelming. Between that and just being generally busy, I didn’t start playing Chained Echoes until last week.
I wish I hadn’t waited. Chained Echoes is everything I want in a good RPG without all the stuff I hate. There are no random encounters and you can even skip most non-random encounters if you hug the walls of the map, so grinding is incredibly easy. You can just fight the high-value enemies and skip the annoying ones that don’t give you much. There’s no XP to level up your characters, so you don’t end up with huge party imbalances because you spent a lot of time farming in one location. Instead, you unlock all of your characters’ growth via skills and class emblems. The skills come in three flavors: active skills (to be used in combat at the cost of TP), passive skills (that apply bonuses or chance-based effects to your character), and stat boosts. Additionally, stats are frequently boosted when unlocking any type of skill, meaning your character is always getting stronger.
The class emblems provide all three types of unlockable skills to the character bearing the emblem, but you can easily swap the emblems around outside of combat. While there is frequently an overlap between the skills of a character and the skills provided by an emblem you think you should give them, there’s usually enough of a difference in the skills to make it worth hyperspecializing in the long run. For instance, one of the early characters does mostly physical damage attacks and his skills modify that by either multiplying his damage against a single target or giving his damage a slight boost while applying it to all enemies. If you put the Warrior emblem on him, the skills he gains from that map to skills he can just learn on his own, but the TP costs are lower or the damage dealt is higher or the power of the skill increases faster as it levels up. It makes him a heavy-duty bruiser who was the basis for most of my damage strategy in the early parts of the game (before I started using status conditions and Damage Over Time abilities to great effect), even though I should probably put the warrior emblem on character who needs those areas shored up.
Battle mechanics aside, the game is a delight to play. Almost all the skill unlocks are based on defeating boss (or unique) monsters that are scattered throughout the game. You can earn a few of the “grimoire shards” that grant these new skills in other ways, such as unlocking a long string of achievements on your acheivement card, but fighting big monsters is the main way to do it. This means that there’s little point to endless grinding in an area since you won’t grow strong enough to take on one of these incredibly powerful mosters just by grinding. You need to progress in the game and then return once you’ve got more skills and better gear. As someone who is frequently a chronic “must grind to complete all optional achievements/side quests before leaving the area” player, it feels nice to know that there’s no point in me doing that.
The story is superb as well. I think I know what’s going to happen, but I’m also aware that I might not know. I’m only twelve hours in at this point and I’ve got no idea how much more time I have left to play at this point. From the sounds of the review I listened to, both of the participants were further ahead than I am so I suspect I’ve got another thirty hours at least. More if I wind up hunting down all the unique monsters, optional quests, and achievements. Plenty to keep me entertained as the world comes more sharply into focus and I learn even more about the characters who are filling out my party. I look forward to every cutscene and every bit of story development I get as I play.
My favorite part of the game, though is the item descriptions for all of the loot you get. As you run around the world, you pick up these orange orbs refered to as collectibles. You can also get some of them as drops after battles. The only thing you can do with all that stuff is sell it to merchants (which can unlock deals that get you rare pieces of gear or themed sets of gear upgrade materials) so there’s never a question of whether or not you should hold onto it. As you click through the menus or the shopping window to select all your loot to sell, there’s a description, usually about the item, on the right-hand side. It usually provides some details about the item, but it frequently goes on humorous tangents or implies that what you’re selling is just a bit of junk that you’ve tricked a merchant into purchasing. This is also the only mention I’ve seen in the game that one of the characters is allergic to flowers. Poor Lenne. It adds such an expected level of depth and fun to the game while you pursue an otherwise boring chore.
The game is full of stuff like that. It is aware of that it is an RPG and that it follows a long line of RPGs. It pays homage to the past and the form while still managing to push boundaries and try something different. I reccommend giving it a try if you’re looking for a fun new RPG to try and the somewhat scattershot approach of a game like Octopath Traveller is not to your liking. I get that plenty of people like Octopath Traveller, but I honestly got bored and never finished it. There never felt like there was a narrative for me to follow over the course of the whole game, you know? I tell myself that I’ll go back to play the game again at some point, since there surely must be more to this widely-loved game, but it’s difficult to ignore the fact that I just lost my desire to continue playing it. Unlike Chained Echoes, which has me thinking about it and eagerly looking forward to each evening’s play time.