Release Date: 21/10/21
Platform: Reviewed on Xbox Series X (also available on Xbox One, Xbox Series S, and PC)
I remember watching the reveal trailer for Echo Generation last year quite vividly. Out of all the games shown at the 2020 Xbox Showcase, it was the intriguing turn-based adventure which was one of the games that captured my attention the most. Since then, I’ve been eagerly anticipating its release.
However, while Echo Generation is a surprisingly charming game on the surface, do the frustrating and sometimes severe design flaws take away its lustre? Keep reading to find out!
A Town of Mysterious Happenings
You take control of a young kid – one of nine in the character select – in the suburban and surrounding areas of Maple Town. With the help of your little sister, as well as some adorable pet companions you can find and recruit along the way, you head off on a short adventure full of perils and mystery, including investigating the disappearance of your dad. With inspirations seemingly stemming from Stranger Things and The Goonies, this is a supernatural venture like few others.
I found Echo Generation’s narrative to be a genuine blast that never felt one-note in its execution. It touches on a surprising number of different tones and genres in its brisk, 6-8 hour runtime. There’s the more serious sci-fi elements in the later parts of the game, but then there’s hilarious moments on board an alien spaceship. Similarly, you have a part with quirky, upbeat skeletons, then one section that genuinely turned into a horror game, offering one of the most unsettling moments of the year. This juxtaposition between humorous and more darker segments, means that you’ll always be second-guessing what you could encounter next. It’s great.
The strength is in the writing. It’s full of witty dialogue, as well subversions of tropes and aspects found in the media that inspired it. Everything is imbued with a charm and personality that makes you want to experience as much as you can within the world. I just loved wondering around and interacting with the residents of the town, hearing what they had to say and laughing at the absurdities. There might not be any particular memorability in the characters, but the writing in general pulls its weight enough to compensate.
Exploration is Key
The majority of your time in Echo Generation will be spent exploring the town and adjoining locations, such as the woods, a cemetery, and a secret base. The gameplay loop is pretty simple and straightforward. As you explore and interact with people, you’ll find and receive various different key items, which are then used elsewhere to get another item to use in a different location, so on and so forth. Unfortunately, this does become quite monotonous, especially halfway through as you gain access to places further away. With no means of fast travel, you’re left to constantly trek back and forth, often between opposite sides of the map. It ends up being a bit of a hassle, unnecessarily dragging out the game.
There are some light RPG elements to think about when playing. Your party is made up of your chosen character, the sister, as well as one of the five pets available throughout the game. Each has their own set of potential skills they can utilise in combat. Unlocking more skills requires you to find comic books. Some are gained automatically as you progress through the story, while others need to be found out in the world, or bought from the book shop. As long as you explore enough, these are fairly easy to locate. Your party can level up with enough experience from defeating enemies, allowing you to increase one of three (admittedly limited) stats. Health, strength, and skill points.
When it comes to combat, it’s a successful and engaging aspect, with a few a notable caveats. Turn-based in nature, your chosen party of three fight against varying numbers of enemies. Nearly every action requires the player’s input to determine how successful it is. Basic attacks have a simple, timed button press, while skills have a slightly more elaborate input, such as pressing a series of buttons in order, or aiming into a spot that’s moving around. Successful attempts deal the most damage, while fails deal the minimum amount. You can even reduce incoming damage in a similar fashion by pressing a button at the correct time when the enemy strikes. This mini-game-like aspect adds a nice layer to combat, reminding me of Undertale in a way.
You can also use various items in battle, such as food and drink for health or even damage dealing items, although the pets can’t use them. These can found and bought at specific points, however, if you use the dog companion, he has a skill that deals damage and finds a healing item of varying quality on a successful attempt. I never really needed to buy many healing items after discovering and regularly using this. I will say the bosses are a real highlight of the game, even if they can be frustrating in design. They are real set-piece moments that stand out strong.
Concerning Design Flaws
Like I mentioned earlier, there are some caveats that hold the experience back, mostly surrounding combat. In general, fights aren’t too difficult. Having said that, it can verge into plain frustration at times. The window for successfully blocking or avoiding enemy attacks can be so awkward on occasion, meaning you’ll take full damage. For the bosses, this can lead to deadly consequences, as they have the potential to do serious harm, sometimes to the whole party. In my experience anyway, there was also the bizarre, regular issue where the enemies would almost completely gang up on one party member, leading them to die before I could heal them. It’s inconsistencies like these that hamper your enjoyment of an otherwise interesting combat system.
Another issue is the lack of regular enemy encounters to level up. Aside from some weak enemies early on and few right at the end that have the chance to respawn, there’s no effective way to grind for experience. This makes levelling feel quite rigid and dependent on the set encounters along the way. This becomes a problem when you gain a new pet companion, as they start at level one. They end up being dead weight in fights as you try to level them up with the limited enemies available to you. On the flip side, a few of the pets join so late in the game, that it’s pointless to even bother with them.
One glaring flaw the game has though, is the fact that it’s entirely possible to ruin and soft-lock your save file in certain parts if you aren’t careful. The one that immediately springs to mind is a boss fight in a basement. As soon as you enter, the door locks and autosaves, preventing you from retreating. If you’re unlucky and go in under-levelled and are unable to defeat the boss, you’re screwed. You’re sent back to just before the fight, making it impossible to go away and prepare more. I was incredibly close to have it happening to me, but after seven tries, I was just able to manage it. Although, one more attack would have ended me. Some later fights at least give you warning beforehand if you can’t easily retreat.
One thing that undeniably sticks out is the visual style that exhibits some retro flair. It’s a heavily stylised presentation that gives Echo Generation that unique look to draw people in. It’s jam-packed full of colour and memorability. It really suits the more funny tone to the game, but like I mentioned before, that doesn’t stop it from being scary when it wants to. The artists have done a brilliant drop at utilising the style to its fullest, making it work for both tonal extremes. There’s also plenty of variety in the environments you explore, where they all stand out from one another. The world is full of detail and references to come across.
Everything comes together visually to make this an adventure that pulls you in and entices you to explore as much as possible. All the weird and hilarious quirks strewn about, combined with the strong soundtrack, creates a world worth adventuring in.
In many ways, Echo Generation is a great game that juggles some fun combat ideas with an enjoyable story, full of quirky goodness. Unfortunately, it’s also a fine example of when a developer can miss the mark on some gameplay basics that make the experience satisfying to play. Despite this, I still found the overall game to be a worthwhile journey.
At its best, Echo Generation will provide plenty of turn-based adventure, filled with supernatural fun, laughs, possible scares, and charming visuals. At its worst, some fatal design flaws have the potential to completely catch you off guard and ruin your game. If you have Xbox Game Pass, I recommend giving this game a try, you might be surprised.
Thank you so much for reading, and let me know your thoughts in the comments.