Chained Echoes, an indie retro JRPG

Chained Echoes is, as the title suggests, a SNES-style JRPG that released last week on Steam and all the consoles, including GamePass for anyone for whom that’s a thing. (In as much as there’s any overlap between “retro JRPG” and GamePass, decent chance it’s on this forum?) It was developed by one guy from Germany, Matthias Linda. It has the focus that you can get in the best cases of solo indie games, where the vision behind the game is clear and unified, and it mostly hits what it’s trying to hit.

“Make a SNES-style JRPG” is not exactly a new idea from the indie gaming world (or even from bigger devs; hi, Octopath). Why is Chained Echoes worth looking at? I’m about ten hours in, and I’d say that Linda understands what’s appealing about those games better than most if not all of the similar efforts. The inspirations are obvious and shameless, from Chrono Trigger to FF6 to Suikoden and more, but they’re interpreted and incorporated in ways that feel well done and earned. The combat is tight, the pacing is frankly better than most big-budget JRPGs these days, and there’s interesting secrets around most corners.

The game is remarkably well polished given that it’s one guy, not to mention it’s a full release with no early access, beta, or anything else. I’ve seen a few things that I might call minor bugs, but on balance everything works, and quite smoothly. This is not your standard RPGMaker kludge. The writing is fine, strongest on the worldbuilding and big picture, not great literature but at least in line with what you’d expect going in, if not a bit better. It also just has a LOT of stuff (systems, characters, areas), and I keep expecting it to collapse a bit under its own weight, but it hasn’t done so thus far.

Chained Echoes feels like popping in a SNES cartridge with the latest Square RPG in 1995. It’s not a perfect game or anything, but it does that specific thing very well. If that’s appealing to you, this may be worth checking out.

I read this review and I might have to play this.

EDIT: why: not only has the reviewer played Atelier Sophie 2 (which is in my top 5 games this year), he claims this game is better than that. So yeah, I have to check this out.

Worth noting too that despite being very retro, it seemingly has enough sense to do away with the weakest aspects of the genre. From the review posted above:

The pace of the game is extraordinary, with no random encounters to worry about, a movement speed on the overworld that feels perfect and fast travel if you want to go back to old places. Even combat is lightning fast, with no lengthy animations to worry about and no need to worry about going into a menu to heal between fights. Developer Mattias Linda even thought to fill your Ultra Attack meter before every boss fight, so you don’t have to worry about saving that up or beating up weaklings to fill it if you think a big bad is lurking around the next corner.

Not sure I’m in the mood for another JRPG right now, but it does seem like something I might enjoy later.

Hmmm…Nice try, but you’re not going to trick me into playing another Atelier game that I’ll inevitably get bored with halfway through.

Although Sophie is probably the last one I finished, way back on the Vita.
And Sophie 2 seems better reviewed than Sophie.
And I hadn’t realized it was a new title released this year rather than a re-release.
And I have XC3 on my desk and haven’t even opened it yet.

But I’m definitely not going to play it. Definitely not.


I played Sophie. I liked it, but it didn’t grab me so much. Then I played Lydie and Suelle and it was much better, gameplay wise, but I didn’t care as much about the characters as I did in Sophie. Sophie 2 is basically what made Sophie good coupled with what made Lydie and Suelle good, with a few extra lessons. It’s the best atelier game I’ve played by far, but I haven’t played many of them, so keep that in mind.

In other words, I love Sophie 2. I preordered Elden Ring but I didn’t play it at release because of Sophie 2. So yeah, there’s that. ;)

I played the prologue last night and had a fine time. This isn’t really my genre but I dabble occasionally and so far this game is very appealing. These kinds of surprise gems that just show up are the best thing about Game Pass.

This wasn’t on my radar at all and I’ve mostly moved on from the genre as a whole, but the reviews have been extremely positive and now I’m eyeing it.

Look very interesting! Thanks for pointing it out.

And I bought it. The fact that it has a Linux version too was just too much for me to resist. Looking forward to playing it soon!

I’m pretty far into this. It’s very good, with a few quirks. Keep a rotating batch of saves, because I’ve had loading bork a couple of times enterting one off areas.

The story is. . . decent. It’s not uninteresting but more importantly it’s told minimally and unlike what you sometimes see in games like this, there isn’t a lot of wasted dialog. I mean it’s good enough, impressive perhaps sicne this was apparently a solo dev? Not sure about that part, but that’s what I read on the tubes somewhere.

Where the game shines is the mechanics and exploration. You can’t level via grinding here. “Boss encounters”, and some other events/“stuff” can reward grimoire shards. Each shard is a universal +1 skill point for all party members, past present and future. Skills come in 3 caregories and are also broadly tiered: Active, Passive, stat gains. You have a fixed amount of active and passive slots (but see below), stat boosts are exactly that. It seems that at fixed intervals of skill learning you pick up other minor stat boosts as well. You unlock further “tiers” simply by spending. E.g. I think you need to spend 9 points to unlock the second tier.

On top of this are class emblems, which grant additional active and passive skills (which you can permanently learn). All skills can be upgraded to level 3, with combat and quests generally granting skill points. Skills also improve over time, so the skill points are more like “oh, it’s finally gotten reasonably cheap to level up X to level 2, I’ll just go ahead and do it”). But you’ve got to find the class emblems. they also grant some bonus stats when equipped.

Combat has a few twists that work well. You have to manage an overdrive bar but it’s a pretty good system (while in overdrive all skills cost 1/2 to use; basic attacks can restore Tech Points as they are called, and there are other ways to get them). There’s an ultimate ability bar (shared by the party), the ability to hot swap with other party members that you set up in a formation to taste (and some tactical implications for this), and then in chapter 2 it all ratches up a notch because you get [fun stuff].

But the exploration is great. There’s a ton of secrets in each zone. The only thing is that soem stuff will be inaccessible off until Chapter 2 awesomeness, and you won’t always know. Outside of the first special statue the plot introduces, you’vr got to find the rest of the Legendary Statues out in the world, and also possess sacred water to sacrifice to them to win their class emblems. And that’s to say nothing to all of the gear, resources, etc you’ll get by exploring.

In addition to the main quest and side quests that pop up, there’s a special thing called a [I can’t fucking remember the name] Board, accessed with LT on the controller. This is more like achievement stuff, except that each one grants rewards. They’re laid out ion sort of a “disconnected crossword pattern”, and in addition to the individual rewards your longest chain of successes provides additional rewards (mostly grimoire shards and sacred waters). These are occasionally things like “complete X sidequest” but often things like “find 28 chests in the Rohan Fields region”, “Win a fight against X monster with certain restrictions”, “Kill X of Y monster” and the like. They sort of guide you towards the exploration and it’s a lot of fun.

The inability to grind (for all intents and purposes) has occasionally left me feeling up against the wall. But with rare exception you can always teleport out and go back to exploring/random killing. There’s a gear upgrade system (both strengthening gear with gold + mats you find out in the world, and also slotting gems into gear, although the actual gem system has promise it leaves a little bit to be desired IMO). If you explore thoroughly you’ll rarely need to buy gear.

Chapter 2 even features you recruiting people to come live at your base, with the interesting twist that some of these people provide actual benefits like bonus skill point gain or UI QoL features (e.g. telling you how many chests are unopened in a given map).

The more I hear, the better I like.

I would recommend this to people who don’t normally like JRPGs/only like a select few. And certainly to any JRPG fans. This and Crystal Project have turned out to be a real treat for me this year.

Yeah, I’m another several hours deep and into the Chapter 2 stuff that @peacedog mentioned, and I am amazed that they added two or three more systems at the chapter turning point that all reference classic JRPGs of the era, and they all both work and feel earned rather than cheap J.J. Abrams style “member-this?” references. This came out of nowhere and it’s hard to see it not ending up in my top 5 for the year, which is in itself a description of my favorite kind of indie game.

Great googly-moogly, is this wonderful!

I’m only an hour or so into it (just had many of the characters come together into a larger party) and it’s propulsive and streamlined and inventive and rich.

You got further than me on my first play sessions with this last night, but so far I do agree - this is really a delight. It looks neat, it plays very smoothly and I’m really vibing with the combat and the overdrive/overheat system (I think if I’d read about this before playing with it, it may have turned me off a bit, so I’m glad I got to play it and experience it first - it’s really interesting). I’m super, DUPER early in the game but I’m having a blast with it and will put TO:R aside now and dig into this instead. Very cool, I can’t wait to play some more tonight!

What? You can’t grind XP in this game to become stronger? That’s my favorite part in JRPGs.
That sucks, then I can’t play this game sadly :(

You aren’t even going to try and see if this mechanic works for you? That’s… just wild to me.

No because leveling up is my favorite thing to do. If I can’t powerlevel I won’t enjoy it.

I don’t even think you level up in this, I think you get SP and other rewards for combat and use those to purchase skills and stats. I have a feeling you are misunderstanding something fundamental about this based on what you read from @peacedog but I haven’t played enouigh to really know anything. I’d recommend watching a review or reading a bit more about the mechanics, or maybe someone could speak more about it here that knows better than I.

You get a very minor amount of SP from combat, but you don’t grind combats for sp to level skills usually. Enemies also drop “parts” which go into your loot tab. You sell loot always, and that can actually open up special deals with the merchant (in addition to getting more money from selling loot). I typically see say 2-[somewhere in the teens] SP for a combat (that’s with a hideout recruit who has a 50% chance to boost sp gain by 50% or something). Level q of a skill is typically 200-300 sp, level 3 costs over 600 I think. But you’ll level your skills before you do enough combats to earn the raw amount of sp needed to go from level 1 unused to max.

Skills also go up over time (that is, the amount of SP needed to level them decreases and you’ll sometimes see “skill leveled up” messages after combats); I don’t know if it’s through use specifically or just winning fights or what. I think it’s use, and I don’t know how this impacts passive skills but it seems to in some way. So you just pop in and spend skill points occasionally to hurry things along. Especially useful if you’re tryingt a new skill. Anything that drops debuffs effects, e.g., generally either gets a higher % chance to land, or larger debuff effect, or duration, or some combo, through leveling. It makes a big impact in combat. Glenn’s trusty Break skills (one for offense, one for defense, one that combines both) eventually do something like 5turns of debuff once maxxed, and I think the effect is 20% or 25% reduction. They’re superb (I run Glenn constantly).

I don’t have a problem with the lack of grinding. I’ve found the difficulty curve here mostly smooth and I have plenty of reasons to run around and fight/explore most of the time (I’m in end game so sadly there’s no much left to do). I have occasionally stopped what I was doing to step back and try to get some skills leveled (a little)/gear upgraded (a lot) and that has helped me in more difficult parts of the game (on top of deciding to try different tactics/a different character). The only flaw in the system is that if you don’t spend your Grimoire shards well, you can hinder a character’s usefulness for a time (but eventually you’ll have more shards). It’s an unusual approach and not for everyone but as I said above I recommend it.

Really, the exploration is what takes the place of the usual grinding in games like this. You’ll do plenty of fighting while doing that, so you needn’t worry about running out of money. But there is a subtle difference, because here the fighting is incidental while you look for the next chest, cave, buried treasure, secret.

The story got a bit gonzo but in a fun way. This is easily a top 10, maybe top 5 game for me. @Xanatos I know the feeling of liking to grind (I enjoyed the otherwise decent but not amazing Bravely Default 2 simply for the grinding, trust me), but I still recommend trying this game.

Also the key to real ultimate power in this game is Agility. Agility is king.