This article contains spoilers for Chained Echoes.
Chained Echoes is a mythic title, perhaps one in a million. It has a world brimming with depth and phenomenal characters. There are mortals battling gods for the fate of all beings. There is a multi-generational war between nations, with incalculable lives lost, and at its center is a version of Romeo and Juliet that is a wonderfully wicked twist on the celebrated tragedy.
In Chained Echoes, people live their lives and die, and their souls are sent through the Maelstrom where their essence is redistributed back into the world. However, there are exceptions to this rule. There are people whose whole souls travel through the Maelstrom and slowly return to their former selves. Two of those individuals will be Lenne and Timothy. Lenne is tasked with saving the world from the Harbinger, a being of terrific evil, while Timothy is a learned man who has fallen in love and is willing to give up everything for her.
Unfortunately, waiting in the wings is Van, a drunkard, a noble with a silver spoon stuck up his ass. Lenne was bought by his family as his fiancée, and he wants his money’s worth. When push comes to shove, Lenne chooses love, and Van in a drunken stupor tries to stab Timothy. Lenne moves in to save her lover and is instead stabbed. Van runs off crying out it wasn’t his fault. Realizing the only way to save his beloved, Timothy takes her to a priest to perform the ritual that will send her soul into the Maelstrom. Her soul will live on, whole, and Timothy comes up with the bright idea of going through the same ritual. He stabs himself to ensure the priest will do it. This will mean that eventually they will be together again, however many lives they go through.
Fast-forward several centuries and Glenn is beginning to see echoes of his former life with Lenne, the princess of Tormund. He catches glimpses of Timothy and Lenne stealing kisses after a party, of discussing the future, and of Timothy giving up his career to ensure he can be with Lenne. Lenne herself is having the same dreams, and when Glenn comes to Lenne to profess his love, he is rebuked, harshly. He doesn’t understand why; after all, he saw Timothy with Lenne. He saw them together. And that’s when the penny drops. Glenn is not Timothy; this is no beautiful and tragic love story through the ages. After all, he speaks of Timothy in the third person — Glenn is Van.
In a final moment of pure malice, Van stops Timothy’s ritual. Van takes his place and watches as Timothy succumbs to his own self-inflicted wounds. To say my jaw was on the floor would be an understatement. To me, the narrative of Chained Echoes is one of the most spectacular stories in modern games. It actually has more in common with the works of Shakespeare and other playwrights. There are several allusions to myth and legends within this narrative. However the most impressive is this dark twist on the Romeo and Juliet tale. With Van’s incredibly selfish and downright disturbing actions, he not only has destroyed a relationship, but he has also cursed himself to an eternity of lives where he will eventually remember this horrible crime.
It is here where Chained Echoes goes above and beyond the pale of storytelling for me. I would go as far as to say this game’s narrative ascends above almost all forms of media. In my opinion, it comes down to the story perfectly blending genres and making sure they don’t collide and crumble on top of each other’s weight. The narrative focuses on how these people are dealing with their actions, both good and bad. It’s about how they tackle the issues of right and wrong across different lives and how love can bring out the best and worst of us.
From steampunk mechs to mythological gods stealing the agency of every living being, Chained Echoes is a phenomenal story. Then to have on top of that a twisted love story that is equal parts deceit and desire is exceptional writing.