Echoes of Aetheria is Dancing Dragon Games’ ode to the classic JRPGs that we all grew up on. From the moment you hear the title, your mind’s eye conjures up images of a beautiful pixel art world with tiny sprites traversing its vast landscapes. Crafted in RPG Maker, the indie title harkens back to the SNES era of JRPGs and offers fans of the genre an enjoyable albeit familiar turn based experience.
Echoes of Aetheria is not without its flaws however and the game’s opening highlights some of its weaknesses. The opening narrative and overarching story are incredibly forgettable and unoriginal. While this game is in many ways a tribute to JRPGs of old, the story is just plagued with platitudes that hold back the opening and make the plot seem like an afterthought. There is a princess who gets kidnapped (never seen that one before!), two kingdoms at war, breaking out of prison, a fight with the main villain that is unwinnable, and the list goes on. Going into the title, I wasn’t expecting a revolutionary story, but the constant reliance on tired plot devices ultimately makes the plot just seem downright lazy.
Although the plot is a letdown, Echoes of Aetheria does a lot of things right. Its combat takes place on a grid and follows a turn based format, which allows for strategic gameplay. For example, your healers and ranged characters can be placed behind your tanks/melee fighter since they have much lower armor and health compared to your other characters. There are many skills and abilities available to your character as well as a battle system that continually expands to include new mechanics such as staggering which allows the player to cancel enemy attacks. Furthermore, when you are out and about exploring the overworld, you don’t just get forced into chance encounters; enemies can be seen walking around and it is up to the player to decide whether or not they want to engage. Another welcome addition is the fact that you start every battle at full HP, which allows the developers to throw enemies at you that don’t feel trivial and can actually be challenging as opposed to the standard JRPG grind.
Dancing Dragon Games’ adds a breath of fresh air to the genre by including puzzles and elements within dungeons that the player can interact with, offering a bit of a Legend of Zelda feel. While this isn’t anything revolutionary it certainly offered a change of pace to the standard enemy laden,
winding dungeons that many JRPGs rely on.
There is also an interesting and surprisingly intuitive crafting system that allows the player to build an astounding amount of weapons. It allows players to craft up a large variety of weapons and put your characters in the best possible position to beat down enemies. Another little thing worth mentioning is the soundtrack, which is absolutely fantastic for a low budget indie title such as this. The game’s composer deserves a special shout-out for the work that he/she has done on the title.
There are a few major areas that Echoes of Aetheria stumbles in, such as its plot and overall narrative that is littered with clichés and banalities. Ultimately it doesn’t detract too much from the entire experience. At its core, Echoes of Aetheria is an entertaining game that will satisfy old-school JRPG fans that can appreciate its influences but doesn’t offer anything groundbreaking.