How was I supposed to know there was a 16-bit mechsuit-shaped whole in my heart?
Well now I do, thanks to the thoroughly enjoyable Chained Echoes demo – available at the time of writing on Steam. Chained Echoes, from solo developer Ark Heiral, aims to capture the joy of the 16-bit JRPG era, and from what we’ve seen so far it hits its target with marksman accuracy.
In the game you’ll have your fill of quaint villages to explore – filled with myriad people of all shapes, sizes and species – forests rife with monsters, beaches … also rife with monsters. But it’s not all Ghibli-esque hamlets and countryside. You delve into caves and dungeons, ancient temples and hidden coves. We are treated to a delicious pixel style that’s reminiscent of Dragon Quest III, Final Fantasy V, and Phantasy Star IV. I found myself at one point stood in a tavern just admiring the little details on each patron. Lovely stuff.
But what makes this game really sing is the gameplay
JRPG mechanics can turn me off. There, I’ve said it. Chained Echoes succeeds where other fail in walking the fine line between challenging complexity and enjoyable simplicity. The turn based battles you face require real thought and patience but the UI is easy to navigate, giving you full access to your parties abilities when you need them.
Key here is the games Overdrive mechanic. This isn’t anywhere near as complex as the system you’re maybe familiar with in Xenoblade Chronicles X. In Chained Echoes, this little bar at the top of the screen is vital if you’re to get out of combat in one piece. You see, attacking with your weapon or a skill moves you up the overdrive meter. More defensive actions or special skills slide the meter back down. There’s a sweet spot on there that makes your abilities half the cost and reduces incoming damage. If you continue to batter your opponent and push the meter into the red, your enemies do huge damage – something I learned the hard way when an innocuous looking fly wearing boxing gloves flattened my whole team. Including the Overdrive system adds an extra layer of tension to combat. You start trading off your uber powerful attack for a more defensive posture in fear of the resulting retribution. When you get it right and unleash a clever chain of attacks that move you up and down that slider with precision, you feel like a strategic master.
In terms of story and setting, the Chained Echoes demo kept its cards close to its chest
A disclaimer at the start stated the short story/quest we experience won’t feature in the final game. But if it’s anything close to what we’ve been shown the finished product should be excellent.
In the demo we are sent to investigate a mysterious spate of troubled sleep in a small village. The village elder has had no other option but to turn to our daring heroes as tensions begin to rise amongst the residents. So begins some investigative work that was both well written and well paced. I wanted to find the cause of these nightmares and put a stop to it. That’s testament to the good work the developer has done here in this short showcase.
The world of Chained Echoes includes everything you’d expect of a fantasy setting – picturesque countryside, monstrous creatures, big swords, and magic spells – but adds Mechs to the mix. The Mechs are called Sky Armour and our hero can jump into these suits to wreck havoc on the battlefield. You can also use them to traverse the world quickly. In the demo we only got a tiny glimpse of one suit of Sky Armour but I am very excited at the possibilities these metallic frames offer.
Overall the Chained Echoes demo succeeds in its intention – to pique interest and show players what to expect from the final release. I for one will be following the games development closely. I can’t wait to zap enemies in my shiny 16-bit mech.
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, PS4, Switch
Release Date: Q4 2021
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