Coming straight off the back of a year of top RPGs (Midlife Gamer GOTY) The Witcher 3, Fallout 4, Dragon Age Inquisition, Lords of the Fallen… it’s safe to say that the genre is enjoying somewhat of a renaissance. It’s good to see that in recent indie release Echoes of Aetheria that the roots of this juggernaut genre are not being forgotten. Suffice to say if you’re a fan of RPGs past then you’ll like this simple but effective trip down memory lane.
Going into this (very) traditional JRPG romp you should know exactly what to expect. Coming from Dancing Dragon Games, the small studio behind indie RPG hit Skyborn, we are in familiar territory with this grid turn-based fantasy, set in an ancient and mysterious land. Don’t let the by-the-numbers feel of the trailer and the fact that it’s from a well-worn dev-kit RPG-Maker fool you though, there is plenty of added value in the steam release to be of interest.
The combat is something that RPG fans will take to very easily. In fact, it’s very accessible for any new gamer and would make for a great introduction for young gamers. There are multiple buffs and elemental attacks that can amount to fun combos for the well versed player, but on normal difficulty you’ll rarely have to plumb the depths of the intricate systems in order to progress – they only reward the best players with quicker combat sequences so you can get through the admittedly engaging plot quicker.
Kicking off with a royal wedding Echoes of Aetheria wastes no time in introducing its’ core cast of characters. Players of almost any final fantasy game (especially the earlier titles) will notice the cues here: a conspiracy involving a royal kidnap interrupts a seemingly pleasant land with a militaristic background. There are plenty of twists but nothing that will truly surprise anyone who pays attention to the (copious) text dialogue.
If the plot is familiar, the characters are pretty RPG-typical too; the paladin high in hp, mage with strong magic, thief with the ability to hack robots, cat-like creature with stealthy attributes etc. The lack of surprises in this department does make it more of a fun nostalgia trip however. Knowing or recognising the tropes at stake does not lessen each character’s appeal and with some snappily written dialogue and clear personalities, it’s a slight shame that the game overburdens the dialogue sections at times to leave you clicking urgently to get to the next significant revelation.
Each story chapter usually stops at a hub world that required the solving of a navigational puzzle in order to progress. These are difficult on occasion but never punishing – providing enough of a challenge to merit a bit of relief when you find the door or key to progress. The hub worlds are richly designed showing good variation between the various nations and regions within the world. The only thing that really becomes repetitive to the point of annoyance is the music, which feeds into the nostalgia both in the way it sounds, but also how limited and repetitive it is.
Echoes of Aetheria includes a crafting and items system that encourages completionism and revisiting locations that you didn’t mine for all the gems and scrolls. I found myself spending quite a bit of my playthrough experimenting with the different materials showing that however simple your crafting, it can add good complexity to any game. You can enhance your party’s equipment as well as their abilities load-out which you can employ with expenditure of your special (TP) meter that builds through the course of the battle. Some of these abilities are overpowered, but bosses turn up infrequently to throw you out of your comfort zone and providing welcome difficulty spikes. That said, I only failed a couple of battles on normal mode – so perhaps hard mode is the better option for hard-core players.
Overall Echoes of Aetheria is a fantastic trip down memory lane. If you’re a fan of RPGs you could spend your money in worse ways. The flaws are few and the charming side of the game and its’ presentation always paper over the cracks on display. It’s only a shame that it isn’t available on handheld devices as its’ a perfect game for whiling away long trips. That’s just the way I play though. Echoes of Aetheria does nothing to revolutionise the genre, but if you want to hark back to simpler times before Square Enix got bitten by the real-time combat bug that is infecting the FFVII remake, or you want to experience an old school RPG without the tedium of playing a vastly aged game on an emulator – I would thoroughly recommend this title.
Midlife Gamer Rating: 8/10 Format: PC Release Date: Out Now
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided with a copy of Echoes of Aetheria for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of two weeks. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.