One of my favourite elements of doing what I do, is playing games I may never have done, and finding an experience that I effortlessly connect with. Naturally, this has meant spending much more time playing indie games. More and more often, I’ll happily take an absorbing down to earth game with a strong narrative over the AAA releases these days.
Enter Echo Generation then. What we have here is a turn-based adventure game which channels elements of Final Fantasy regarding how it plays, and Stranger Things in how it feels (and sounds especially). You play as a brother and sister duo who set off on their own adventure when they begin to notice strange goings on in Maple Town. What follows is a superb supernatural adventure told through the eyes of two excitable children eager to explore the big wide world.
The action is set in the ‘90s, and Echo Generation has a visual style to match. The voxel art effect is in full force here, with stylised, blocky, LEGO style characters who tower in upscaled surroundings. The game looks consistently vibrant throughout, making use of varied fixed camera angles that allow for some very pretty perspectives of the environments. The soundtrack is a mix of electronic and synthwave music which nails the retro feel, and there are five cassettes for you to collect which can be played back on the numerous tape decks scattered throughout the game. Put simply, it’s gorgeous. Even more so thanks to the Series X|S optimisation.
Echo Generation is easy to pick and play, and keeps this simple approach throughout. You can walk, run, interact with objects and access your inventory. Your items are split into those for use in combat (more on that shortly) and those that are quest specific. Despite not having a log to track your objectives, this setup provides hints in terms of calling out the items you need to progress. Some of those will have further notes attached to them to guide you in the right direction a little more forcefully.
Your main focus ought to be exploring, as well as interacting with the town’s residents to figure out where to go and what to do next. It’s normally fairly obvious what your objectives are, but there will be the odd moment that will leave you scratching your head. This is normally because you haven’t inspected everything, or spoken to everyone in that area. Your adventure consists of a series of many find and fetch quests, you just need to figure out which order to do them in. Being logical and thorough will see you right in Echo Generation.
Of course, when you aren’t playing detective you’ll most likely be fighting off all sorts of critters. Combat is a straightforward, turn-based affair but still lots of fun. Your party will be made up of three members including yourself, your sister and one of five unlockable pet companions. Not only are these adorable (especially the cat Meowsy), but they all have unique abilities which are discovered in the form of comic books found during your adventure.
Your characters have three stats: health, strength and skills. The first two speak for themselves, but skills allow you to use your more powerful moves and are crucial in securing victory. You start each battle with only a handful of skill points, so investing in this stat will mean you can use your most powerful moves more often. However, nailing the gimmick (if you like) in Echo Generation will ensure you execute the most powerful version of your moves every time.
In a rhythm action style twist, each ability will ask you for some well time button presses. This could be a simple case of when the on-screen circle is filled, repeating a sequence against the clock or something a little more challenging. When successfully executed, some abilities will change the status of your opponent, such as leaving them paralysed or causing them to bleed. On the flip side, you’ll get a brief window to reduce damage taken from enemy attacks with a well timed button press. Getting this part wrong can prove decisive in a tight battle.
As well as encounters out in the wild (of which some are avoidable) there are numerous big bads to dispatch ranging from creepy ghost clowns, garbage monsters and even a giant worm. You’ll gain EXP from every battle won and level up too, which means a little light grinding may be required before you’re equipped to deal with the toughest of foes. You can also take along items purchased with your hard earned winnings from previous battles, such as food and drink which recovers HP, as well as mushrooms which temporarily increase your strength (to name but a few). Each enemy is different, but the right combination of abilities and items can see any one of them off.
If you’re really struggling, there are a handful of places where you can bed down for the night and fully replenish your health. You’ll then be ready to go again, at full strength. However, unfortunately there is no fast travel option in Echo Generation and due to the nature of the quests you’ll certainly be putting the steps in. This feels like a missed opportunity, and results in a lot of toing and froing.
Echo Generation is a simple but very enjoyable adventure which captures the magic of being young. It skillfully creates a sense of excitement and wonder, yet has enough going on to prevent it from becoming a repetitive slog; a trap similar games often fall into.