You Need to Play the Most Nostalgic RPG of the Decade on Xbox Game Pass ASAP
A modern upgrade to a retro genre.
The tricky thing about paying homage to one of the greatest games of all time is that, by definition, it’s hard to live up to the original. Any game that makes its debt to Chrono Trigger apparent is doomed to be compared unfavorably, no matter its own merits. While clearly inspired by giants of the 16-bit RPG era, Chained Echoes avoids feeling derivative by adding plenty of its own inventive ideas to the mix. And it’s leaving Xbox Game Pass on December 15.
Chained Echoes wears its inspirations on its sleeve most in its visuals. It manages to feel like the classics with its gorgeous pixel art while capturing a style all its own. Especially in the giant sprites of its bosses and mechs (we’ll get to that later), Chained Echoes evokes the look of the great SNES RPGs while surpassing what was possible for the technology of the time.
Chained Echoes’ turn-based battles further feel like a throwback to old-school RPGs with plenty of modern improvements. The basics that you’d expect from a turn-based system are all there. You can attack for no cost, spend resources or items for more powerful benefits, or defend to resist damage. But on top of that is the Overdrive mechanic, which elevates every battle in Chained Echoes to something far more engaging than the rote button-pushing exercise that weaker turn-based battle systems can become.
In combat, the party is affected by the Overdrive meter, which appears on screen as a gauge segmented into yellow, green, and red sections. Some skills push the meter forward, while others move it back. Stay in the yellow and everything is normal, but when the party pushes into green, Overdrive kicks in, making their attacks more powerful, reducing the damage they take and decreasing the cost for skills. Keep going into the red and characters enter Overheat, which removes Overdrive’s bonuses while causing them to take more damage.
Managing Overdrive becomes an integral part of every battle as the bonuses from staying in the green are invaluable, but Overheat debuffs can be devastating. Combat isn’t just about picking the most powerful abilities every turn — it’s a strategic dance that forces you to choose when to play it safe and balance your Overdrive and when to break out the move you really want and risk entering Overheat. Combined with the sheer difficulty of combat, there are practically no guaranteed wins in Chained Echoes. If you’re not paying attention, you’re always at risk of getting wiped out, even when fighting normal enemies.
Learning the basics of Chained Echoes’ combat can feel overwhelming, and the same is true for coming to grips with its story. The game picks up after a mysterious weapon is detonated amid three warring kingdoms, and no one takes responsibility for it. Fearing another tragedy, the three kingdoms agree to peace until another unprecedented attack shatters the fragile treaty. It may not be the most original RPG story ever, but it’s still a captivating, mature tale with enough intrigue to keep it interesting.
One touch I love about Chained Echoes is how it introduces characters. After the first few hours, you’ll have a rather large cast to follow, but the game takes its time introducing them. Much like the origin stories in Octopath Traveler, each party member in Chained Echoes gets a backstory, which you play through before meeting up. And rather than the disconnected stories of Octopath Traveler, Chained Echoes even has the clever conceit that these soon-to-be allies cross paths before coming together, which is also when your perspective shifts between them.
A big part of Chained Echoes’ story involves the use of those mechs I mentioned earlier. These incredibly destructive machines are part of what makes the conflict between the three nations so dangerous. Eventually, the party even gets to control mechs of their own — though it takes a long time to get there.
Once you do unlock mechs, you’re treated to a whole new twist on battle. At this point, you’ve hopefully mastered the Overdrive system, because mech combat introduces a more punishing version of it that requires more careful balancing of the gauge with greater consequences for going too far.
Chained Echoes’ complexity can make it somewhat hard to pick up for players who aren’t already well-versed in turn-based RPGs. But for anyone who’s yearning for a throwback to the SNES days or wants a combat system that truly tests your skills, Chained Echoes is well worth checking out.