Echo Generation follows the adventure of two kids, investigating mysterious alien sightings in their hometown, Maple Town. It's the latest project from Cococucmber, pitching a turn-based RPG slated for Oct. 21. Aside from its insanely detailed voxel art style, what attracted me to Echo Generation were the similarities to my favorite JRPG from the Super Nintendo, Earthbound. Both share the same premise, departing a small town for a big adventure, fighting with cosmic beings, and touching on story beats beyond a conventional RPG.
However, can Echo Generation back up its nostalgic presentation with substantial gameplay? Here's what I learned in my review.
Travel back to the 90's
Bottom line: Echo Generation may frustrate some players with puzzles with their unorthodox solutions and backtracking. If you can get past those parts, you will find a fun, quirky, and sometimes dark RPG that will keep you guessing just what supernatural or extra-terrestrial being you will be fighting next. If you're a fan of old-school RPGs that deviate from the norm, like Earthbound and Paper Mario, I highly recommend checking out Echo Generation.
- Fun, timing-focused, turn-based combat system
- A gorgeous, voxel art style
- Likeable main character
- Challenging and scary boss fights
- Old-school puzzle design may cause modern gamers frustration
- No fast travel system
- Lack of a party member swap feature during battles
What is it?
It's the year 1993, and you play as one of the several kids living in the quaint little town called Maple Town. You're getting ready to make a short film with your friends but stumble upon rumors of a spaceship outside of town. Together with your little sister, you venture to investigate if these rumors are true. However, your little trip takes a frightening turn of events.
You quickly discover that dangerous, otherworldly beings have begun lurking within Maple Town and picking off its inhabitants. The local wildlife is mutating into hideous beasts, and giant robots are seen rampaging on the outskirts of the city. With the fate of Maple Town in jeopardy and the adults thinking it's all smoke and mirrors, it's up to you and your sister to find out where these monsters came from and stop them from destroying your home.
The good stuff
Echo Generation drew me with its aesthetics, featuring a voxel art style that mimics 8-bit and 16-bit graphics in 3D, rendering character models using 3D blocks called voxels. Echo Generation's art style strikes considerable depth to convey detail while maintaining its retro style. The visuals shine in certain boss fights, where character models, lighting, and backgrounds look closer to concept pixel-art works you find online, rather than a video game.
The music elevates the retro-inspired aesthetics even further with a soundtrack fusing late 80's synth and early 90's rock. From the calm beat, melodic beats of Maple Town's theme song to the pulse-pounding boss fight music, they help sell its 1993 setting.
Just like the music, the gameplay mirrors an old-school RPG from that era. You will be exploring Maple Town and conversing with NPCs to discover where these monsters came from. Along the way, you will also collect comic books to teach your party new special moves, buy healing items from tuck shops, and recruit pets to join the party.
Echo Generation can be challenging at times, but if you come in prepared and hit all those command prompts perfectly, the combat system is very satisfying.
Eventually, you will be forced to battle with the alien menace plaguing Maple Town in turn-based battles. Echo Generation's turn-based battles play out akin to the Paper Mario series, where all your attacks and special attacks are executed through short mini-games. Depending on how well you perform, your attacks will deal more or less damage than normal. Enemies will also have special mini-games to their attacks where if you do them correctly, you can reduce their damage output. Defeating enemies will yield EXP, and when your characters gain enough, they'll level up and boost one of three stats – HP, Skill points, or Strength.
I enjoy turn-based battle systems where they have timing-based mechanics to make it more involving, and that rings true here. Random encounters and monster respawns are exceedingly rare in Echo Generation. This meant I couldn't rely on level grinding and instead had to hit the special attack mini-games correctly for maximum damage. I also had to use my healing items sparingly and build my characters' stats properly to achieve victory.
This adds a level of tension to fights where even regular enemies can pose a threat if you're not paying attention, especially during the boss fights where your reaction timing and item management are put to the test. Echo Generation can be challenging at times, but if you come in prepared and hit all those command prompts, the combat system proves satisfying.
The characterization of the main player character also surprised me, breaking from the usual tropes of a custom protagonist, contributing to the events that unfold. She came across as a quirky, teenaged delinquent who doesn't bat an eye at the strange phenomenon happening in their town, injecting some charisma throughout the cast.
That quirky personality drew me into its narrative, and while avoiding spoilers, brings its share of unexpectedly dark turns. My character would crack a quip at the boss to lighten the tension and while reassuring their sister, adding levity and charm to this bizarre adventure.
The not so good stuff
As much as I enjoyed Echo Generation, there are some design decisions that prove too old school in the current day. The solutions to Echo Generation's puzzles that progress the story can be a little too hard to find. The answers require you to think outside of the box and in many cases, use key items that aren't immediately intuitive.
I appreciate this method of story progression, evoking memories of old-school point-and-click adventure games like Broken Sword for the original PlayStation. However, those accustomed to linear story progression or frequent objective markers could be stuck for length periods of time.
There's also no fast travel system in the game which amplifies these quirks. The game doesn't have too many areas to traverse but running back and forth to find an elusive key item can wear thin. A fast travel system would've been a nice quality of life addition to lessen the backtracking and quicken the game's pacing.
For the majority of the game, I also only used the first pet, with later pets provided much later in the game. Their levels were so far behind my current party, making it hard to justify training them to catch up, given the rarity of encounters in the game. It's a shame since their abilities sounded really cool to use.
I feel this issue could've been mitigated if all my pets got EXP, especially if swappable mid-battle. This way, my pets could earn EXP by for a brief appearance, and then switching safely back to my main choice. Plus, this would add variety to the battles; being able to switch between a damage-focused pet and then a defensive-focused pet, for some creative, strategic gameplay.
On the whole, I really enjoyed Echo Generation. It was a great nostalgic RPG romp with a great art direction, a fun combat system, challenging bosses, and likable characters. There are some parts of the game that can drag down the experience, but they are by no means deal-breakers.
If you're a fan old school RPGs with unconventional gameplay, I would recommend Echo Generation. If you didn't grow up with those sorts of games but enjoy mysteries involving cosmic horrors like Stranger Things and Gravity Falls, I would also recommend this title. It's certainly a worthy addition to the Xbox's extensive library of great JRPG-styled indie games.
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