Over the holidays, we’re re-released some select features from the past 12 months. A mix of topics for discussion, interviews, opinions and more from NL staff and contributors, you’ll find our usual combination of thoughtfulness, expertise, light-mindedness, retro nostalgia and of course enthusiasm for all things Nintendo. Happy Holidays!
A world where dragons exist and people pilot robots? Not the most common combination – despite the fact that both elements have appeared frequently in RPGs over the years – but for the SNES and PS1-inspired JRPG Chained Echoes, it’s completely normal. Revealed back in 2019, the game went through a Kickstarter campaign and received a Switch version as part of its ambitious goals.
This turn-based RPG is set to release in 2022 – brashly, according to the Steam page. ***ber 2022. Incredibly detailed pixel art and fast-paced combat make it feel like another fantasy retro RPG that will feel right at home on Switch. And that’s exactly what the game’s sole developer, Matthias Linda, thinks.
With a list of inspirations including Xenogyrs, Chrono Trigger and Cross, Xenoblade Chronicles and Suikoden, it’s clear that Chained Echoes is a love letter to the genre – with a special nod to the classics. But the combination of mechs, dragons, and steampunk helps set it apart from the many retro RPGs on the system.
We had a chance to talk with Matthias Linda about Chained Echoes, why Switch so good for the classic RPG, and how a recent Monolith Soft game nearly caused Linda to put the game on hold because he was so engrossed…
Nintendo Life: Congratulations on approaching the release window of the game! Creating any video game by yourself is not an easy task, but a 30-40 hour role-playing game is on another level! What is it about the genre that inspired you to create your own?
Matthias Linda: I grew up with JRPGs for Nintendo and PlayStation systems. It is so simple. I’ve even made games in the style of Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger in RPG Creator how I fell in love with this genre. So it was natural to one day start working on your own RPG. And here I am, after seven years of game development. The game is basically ready, it remains only to polish the themes a little and run it on each system.
Have you always thought about Switch or Nintendo console for Chained Echoes? What do you think is so special about Switch that makes it such a great home for classic JRPGs?
I love Switch. And yes, from the very beginning I wanted the game to run on it, obviously. Perfect match, right? I’m not even sure why they’re the perfect couple, it just seems that way to me. Somehow, the indie scene has managed to turn the Switch into something truly special.
When the Switch hit the market, because you had a mixture of portable and desktop console, you already had something special. But in the end, games shape the console. And for some reason, retro-inspired JRPGs, RPGs, and action-adventure titles feel super natural on the Switch. They are the perfect couple.
… the indie scene has managed to turn the Switch into something really special.
It’s a true blend of classic SNES visuals and style with PlayStation sound and movement options. Did you have any specific games in mind while working on Chained Echoes?
Enough. Suikoden IIChrono games, early last fantasy titles, Terranigma, Xenogears and much, much more; basically, all the games that were part of my childhood. But in Chained Echoes, they influence the game more the way I remember them than the way they really were. There is such a psychological effect that you remember things differently and you will always celebrate what you experienced as a child. And whenever I created something, I did it the way I remembered, and not the way it really was.
We like the idea of a world where both mechs and dragons exist. Not many RPGs use mechs as vehicles or combat – we think of Xenogears and Xenoblade Chronicles X. Why did you want to add mechs in particular?
My inner child will always love huge robots. Who at my age did not love MechWarrior? But yes, Xenogears, definitely. And yes, Xenoblade Chronicles… Oh my God, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 recently delayed Chained Echoes by at least a week!
Joking aside, I just thought it would be great to mix fantasy with furs and steampunk elements. And it also allowed me to introduce a new variant of the combat system out of nowhere and give the player a surprise when they don’t expect it.
There is a mention of “choice” on the official website. What choices will there be in the game and will they lead to different quests, scenarios or endings?
Well, some choices are part of the story and will be made by the characters and the player will just “feel” them. But some choices during certain quests will affect what happens during the quests. But there is no ending – I wanted to tell a specific story, convey something with a certain meaning. While I’m not sure everyone will get the Chained Echoes message, I really hope this message gets players thinking about the game from time to time. With multiple endings, this would be impossible.
… whenever I created something, I did it the way I remembered, and not the way it really was.
In the trailers, we saw many different characters, such as lizard people, dogs, bird man, etc. Have you always strived for diversity in the cast?
It wasn’t so much about the diversity of the cast, but about creating a believable fantasy world in which there are not only people. Although even birdman and lizardman, as you call them, are considered human in the world of Chained Echoes. When it comes to this particular topic, the world of Chained Echoes is close to utopian. These things just don’t matter much.
The game uses a fast turn-based combat system with a visible turn order. How did you want to make your combat system stand out from other SNES-inspired RPGs today?
I wanted to create a dynamic turn-based combat system that still offered a deep tactical aspect. Sounds difficult, right? So I introduced the overdrive bar. Every action of the player and enemies affects the lane. If you reach overdrive you deal extra damage and take less, if you go too far the opposite happens. So even though the moves are quick and fast, you still need to balance your moves so you don’t ruin the fight in just two or three moves.
Can you tell us something about the skill system in the game?
Each character has a set of skills that they can learn at a higher level. After learning a passive or active skill, the character must also equip it. Each character has a variety of skills, but only a few slots are available to equip them, so you need to carefully plan how your skill deck will look before heading into battle. Over 400 skills available! The level system works a little differently than in other games. This is not done through experience points, but through shards that you find along the way.
Minigames are another classic RPG element that you bring to Chained Echoes. What view can we expect to see?
I can recommend the turtle race. There aren’t that many mini-games in Chained Echoes, very few of them. I only added them when I thought they would make sense in the context of the world. And when I add things, I want to make sure that they either affect the gameplay or make you laugh.
I bet there’s a bit of Elden Ring, The Witcher III, or even Mario somewhere inside Chained Echoes.
Do you still find time to play role-playing games? And are there any modern sources of inspiration that you get ideas from?
Hell yes. Xenoblade Chronicles 3 nearly caused a delay as I spent too much time on it. But I also really enjoyed Return to Monkey Island. I know it’s not an RPG, but I still wanted to mention it. Besides that, I [Yasumi] Matsuno fanboy. I’m waiting Final Fantasy XVI and I have high hopes for him as the team behind him seems to be a fan of Matsuno too. As far as contemporary influences go, yes. Probably. I bet there are some inside Chained Echoes somewhere ancient ring or The Witcher III or even Mario. And probably many others!
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
We want to thank Matthias Linde for taking the time to answer our questions. Chained Echoes is due out on Switch in 2022.