Checking the Score: Chained Echoes Pays Homage to Classic JRPGs

While many point to how lifelike the next blockbuster action title is or how gorgeous an artistic indie darling is when it comes to evaluating a game, these visuals would lose their impact without a stirring soundtrack to score them. From the chip-tunes of Super Mario Bros to the Gregorian chants of Halo, video game music brings players closer to immersion and fantasy. Much like how a movie’s soundtrack sets the tone for dramatic scenes, game music also helps players connect emotionally with the story.

Checking the Score is a monthly feature devoted to these crucial compositions which are literally the soundtrack to our gaming lives. Delving into what makes them impactful, the process of composing them and the intricacies of each score, our aim is to put a spotlight on the aural backbone of gaming.

What makes a JRPG? Chained Echoes reminds us that it’s not just fantastic stories and dramatic action that make the genre — a powerfully dynamic soundtrack is needed as well. From inquisitive melodies to soaring themes, Chained Echoes’ OST pays homage to the masters responsible for some of gaming’s most notable soundtracks. Composer Eddie Marianukroh exhibits thoughtful construction with sweeping themes, inquisitive melodies and action-oriented pieces that add to storytelling. Marianukroh understands that an epic JRPG requires correct themes in appropriate moments like action sequences, royal parties and intrepid investigations. The OST follows the game’s goal of retro-style to pay homage while still keeping its own originality. We can hear the influences of titles like Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger and the Xeno series while Marianukroh deftly provides personal touches through fusions of different styles — this fits beautifully in a world where dragons and piloted mech suits roam the skies together. Throughout the title, Chained Echoes exhibits great music while still having fun by setting tone and creating emotion. The OST reminds us that just because we’re beyond the pixelated JRPGs of the past doesn’t mean that we need to forget them. Paired with its gameplay, important moments in the title will keep players on the edge of their seats as the orchestra transports us to the war-torn, politically-charged world of Valandis.

Chained Echoes immediately hits us with a strong opening title theme that points directly to many of its influences. Gentle woodwinds and strings build into a full orchestra that crescendos to indicate that action is about to occur. The first impression from the title screen takes us through the varying stages of adventuring: humble origins, desperate plans and heroes that will save the world. An ethereal melody featuring choral components transitions into a sweeping melody with the addition of brass, percussion and a staccato piano. The crispness of notes elicits excitement and joy while reminding us of the risks of questing. As softly as the theme begins, it fades out with the same softness with which it began to thematically close out the song. While the title theme isn’t incredibly long, it’s dynamic enough to introduce the game while relaying a point and setting the tone for the rest of the game. Listen to energetic opener below, starting at 0:00.

Chained Echoes is a title high in drama and this is felt immediately in the opening sequence. One of our main protagonists, Glenn, is abruptly woken from a dream about his life back home: a cozy cottage, his mother’s gentle prodding and light filtering through the window make for an idyllic scene. Yet suddenly, Glenn’s dream turns sour as his mother tells him to wake up. Her slap to his face rouses the hero, and as if using the slap as a conductor’s wand, the orchestra takes off in a frenzy of staccato notes and wild strings in “Prologue-Rising.” An energetic violin hits staccato notes that emphasize action, while a ticking percussion reminds that time is of the essence. We’re right in the middle of the action as Glenn awakes to the hectic scrambling of his mercenary unit as they prepare for a suicide mission to destroy the Opus Stone and put a stop to a centuries-long war. A fleet of air-ships and sky armors pepper the scenery as Glenn prepares for battle. The industrial noises in the background add to the ambiance of the mercenary ship to sound like the busy work-shop it is. NPCs busy themselves with last minute repairs as Glenn makes his way to the main deck. The urgency in the melody helps to elevate this important moment, as mercenaries say their goodbyes and prepare to possibly lay down their lives. The energy can be felt starting at 2:35.

Yet, as serious as Chained Echoes can be, it’s a title that prides itself on taking after beloved JRPGs, which includes its use of humor. The title knows how to have fun with its gameplay and the music is here to elevate entertaining moments. A year after the the battle that stopped a centuries-long war, the three countries vying for power have found an uneasy truce. A scene change takes us to the Dancing City of Farnsport in the midst of their peace celebration. Players are introduced to the various characters that make up the cast through classic relay system — playing as one character, then another. We’re treated to the sights and sounds of the well-known party city as they celebrate like never before. The title’s ambient music here fills the city and gives off festive feelings (with some energetic “snaps” in there too) — the city theme gives obvious homage to European style music with the use of accordions, woodwinds and tambourines. In the center of town, a series of mini-games is found that can be enjoyed before furthering the story. It’s a classic homage to titles like Chrono Trigger, where we can enjoy ourselves before everything hits the fan. Yet, within these mini-games is one of the most entertaining melding of gameplay and music that shows Chained Echoes doesn’t take itself too seriously. Walking up to a vendor, a short race track with turtles is seen. The goal: pick the turtle that will win. It seems simple enough, but nothing can prepare for the hilarity of screamo rock ushering our turtles along as they take off. It’s a short unorthodox fan-fare, but moments like this show off the soundtrack’s commitment to detail. It’s easy to forget that music can titillate and add humor to situations — in this regard Chained Echoes hits the mark. Full speed ahead, as our turtles rock out with their shells out.

As we progress through the title, it’s easy to see just how much inspiration comes from previous JRPGs as we battle our way through challenges. “Fractured Echoes,” one of the boss themes, is a prime example of reminiscent storytelling. It’s a theme that opens proudly with brass instruments to signal battle and effortlessly tone changes with the use of staccato xylophone to indicate frantic battle. Engagement with a boss means our lives are on the line — the theme’s tempo with use of swelling orchestra lends itself to our heroes’ desperate attempts at victory. The primary instrument that holds it all together is the outstanding use of French Horn. Signaling a call to battle, horns can help elevate a track from “general battle” to “boss” music in a single musical measure. A tinkle of chimes, triumphant strings and the beat of tambourines elevate the pace of gameplay as well. Chained Echoes is a turn-based battle system that doesn’t feel stagnant at all because of these thoughtful melodies. A crescendo of the orchestra in the latter half of the theme gives hope as our heroes take on everything from the smallest of creatures to the largest dragons. Take a listen at 25:07.

Chained Echoes features an OST that dives into the deep roots of JRPGs. Each theme is lovingly composed to feel reminiscent of past scores that made classic games beloved. From tempting fanfare to imperial themes, Eddie Marianukroh makes fantastic use of a blend of orchestral components with more independent instruments, like accordions and electric guitars. Many tracks within the OST feel directly influenced by some of the great classics like Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger and many of the Xeno-series games. Thoughtful themes help develop the story and often add emotional elements to the experience. There are so many tracks we didn’t get around to, but they’re all worth a listen. With each one, composer Eddie Marianukroh breathes life into the storytelling. Gentle themes like “Echoes” take the main overture and transform it into a melancholy melody for important moments. The hair-raising melody of “Blood Dripping from the Tip of Your Blade” drives home heart-breaking plot points. Chained Echoes is a fantastic title on its own, but the soundtrack does a lot of heavy lifting to create a complete, nostalgic package.