I've been kicking this review down the road for a while now. I don't typically wait for games to get patches before reviewing them, because once the game is on the store, it's fair game for any customer to buy. I had to make an exception in the case of Echo Dawn: Shattered Visions [Free], which worked on my device when I first grabbed it, then broke with the next update, then broke some more before finally getting fixed with its last update. That's not a promising start to a review, I know, but I think it's important to be clear about one side of Echo Dawn. It lacks polish in more ways than one, and there's really no ignoring that aspect of it. There's another side to Echo Dawn, however, and it's a far more pleasant one. It's an enthusiastic indie take on a typical JRPG, more complete than many that attempt to deliver a full package, and it has some genuinely interesting gameplay systems, even if they don't quite come together as cleanly as one might hope.

Echo Dawn is a fairly orthodox take on a traditional console JRPG. You have a four-person party with a selection of job classes to choose from. Gameplay consists of wandering the countryside and exploring dungeons from a top-down perspective, with the random turn-based battles switching to a Final Fantasy-style side view. It follows the usual routine of arriving at a town, hearing about a problem, then going to a nearby dungeon to solve that problem. Once that's done, the way to the next town will open up in some way or another, and you'll move on to the next issue. Along the way you'll gather new gear from shops and treasure chests, and your characters will gain experience points that allow them to improve their statistics. Each character has a selection of special skills they can use that are connected to their job class at a cost of using up some mana. It's all very much by the books.

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We follow the story of four young adventurers who wake up with parts of their memories blanked out. They set off to try to figure out what's going on and get pulled into a bigger situation than they expected, but almost exactly what we would expect. The game has an okay plot and the characters are certainly fun, but the dialogue is really awkward at times and the cliches come at a steady rate. I mean, I've run into far worse in the genre, but I want to make it clear that if you're hoping for a fresh and exciting story, Echo Dawn is probably not going to give you a great deal of satisfaction.

By contrast, its party building mechanics are much more enjoyable. The seven different job classes bring a lot of options to the table. You can mix and match your party as you like at the start of the game, and the 15 or so hour running time of the game lends itself well to replays with different builds. In a cute little touch, each character's job class is reflected in their portrait, though their battle sprites always look the same. I'm used to seeing the opposite, so I suppose that's novel. I like that the developer didn't fall into the same old job classes we always see in fantasy RPGs. Here, the choices include templar, bard, druid, elementalist, marksman, mystic, and ninja. Some of those map onto typical job classes, to be sure. The templar isn't much different from a paladin, and the mystic is pretty close to a priest type. Each job starts the character off with their own sets of skills, with more learned as they gain levels.

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As near as I could tell, the skills come at a fixed level for each job class, so your only real input into each character's development is choosing a few stats to bump up with each level. You can create some really odd hybrids by dumping points in unexpected places, though. For a great portion of the game, my hardest-hitting character was my elementalist. Her staff attacks did more upfront damage than my templar most of the time, and staves typically also get extra damage based on their element. The ninja was also extraordinarily powerful, since that job starts off with the ability to poison enemies using their regular attack. By contrast, my mystic was of little use beyond healing, and did by far the least physical damage of anyone. It's a big, unbalanced mess, but it's a fun one to play around with.

The battle system is pretty straightforward, drawing in elements from other JRPG-style games. A bar at the top of the screen displays the turn order, with each character being able to fight, defend, or use a special skill when their turn comes up. Certain attacks can delay a character's turn order, something you'll want to take advantage of to fend off attacks from more powerful foes. The game also makes use of a limit break-style system where every so often each character can make use of an exceptionally powerful skill. It all works well enough, and you can even choose from four different difficulty settings to find the right challenge level for you. I played on normal, and it was actually pretty tough in a lot of places. One noteworthy point is the number of enemies that can appear in any given fight. The enemy groups can be pretty huge in Echo Dawn, and it was in those cases where I had the problems I did on normal. If everyone decides to pile up on the wrong person, things can go awry quickly, especially if they're using attacks with an after-effect like fire or poison.

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I really enjoyed the dungeon designs in Echo Dawn. They're quite long and full of different paths to explore, with plenty of good treasure to be found. There are even some secret areas you can find by pushing against certain walls. I'm also impressed by the ratio of useful treasure to junk. When a game has random battles and big dungeons, going a long way out of your way to only find a potion is just about the worst. This game puts a lot of cool equipment and high value items in most of its chests, encouraging you to explore. I think some people might be put off at how big the opening dungeon is, but I definitely appreciated it. Since your characters get their health and mana topped off every time they level up, it's not that troublesome to cover a big area. You can even save at any time outside of combat. My only serious problem with the dungeons in this game had to do with visibility, or rather the lack of it. Some of the areas you traverse are quite dark, and while I appreciate the developer wants to show off their lighting effects, it can make it hard to navigate. That issue is only made worse by the nondescript tiles used in dungeons and the way your character doesn't clip through background objects in a way that makes visual sense. It makes it easy to get lost for all the wrong reasons.

Speaking of the equipment, one of the reasons why it's fun to find new treasure chests or enter a new town is the variety of gear each job can make use of. You always have a couple of options with most job classes, and the type of weapon you use can make almost as much of a difference as the job class selection itself. If you want your templar to be more of a wrecking ball, you can give them a pole arm, but that leaves them more open to attacks than a standard sword and shield combo. The ninja can make use of ranged weapons, and combined with the inherent poison ability, they become a very dangerous back row attacker. You could just as easily wield a huge katana and smash things from the front row, if you want. Since changing weapons is fairly effortless, you can play around with these different styles quite a bit throughout the game. Of course, the way you dump your stats can support some equipment set-ups more than others, but it's always fun to experiment.

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The gameplay is messy in a good way, a trait that unfortunately doesn't extend to the presentation. All of the individual pieces are fine on their own. The enemy sprites look great, the battle backgrounds are surreal and quite beautiful in a way, the character battle sprites animate more than you would guess, the music is quite lovely and appropriate, and the overworld stuff looks the way it ought to. The problem is that each one of those components fails to mesh with every other piece, creating a very rough final product. It's especially noticeable in battles, with the backgrounds, enemies, and player characters all using a slightly different art style. The soundtrack fares a bit better, but some tracks don't loop cleanly. When you're exploring a big dungeon, there's a little pause between the end of the track and when it starts again, and every single time I thought I was about to receive a phone call. I realize these are all awfully nitpicky things for a small team's work on something as big in scale as a JRPG, but it creates a cheap look that belies the quality of the game within.

Less of a nitpick and more of a real problem is the game's weak UI. It follows the rule book for the genre, but buttons are too small in places, and certain elements such as the shop menu are absolute disasters in terms of intuitiveness. The game generally makes do with virtual controls which work well enough, but anytime they're cleared off the screen, you can expect some irritation with fussy and sometimes opaque UI choices. Ultimately, we spend a lot of time in RPGs fussing around in menus. It's vitally important that this be made as easy to understand and do as possible. It's not a deal-breaker, but it's definitely something for this developer to prioritize in future games if they keep with this genre. The game has also had many issues with bugs and I would be awfully surprised if more didn't crop up under careful examination. At least on this point, the developer has been extremely responsive, something that helps tremendously. One last thing I want to mention is that the game doesn't support iPad natively, which certainly doesn't help its visuals.

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Echo Dawn isn't going to knock your socks off, but if you're looking for an original JRPG-style game that offers the full package, it's a decent enough choice. I don't think it's much better or worse than the average Kemco game, but it feels different enough from that developer's work to make it worth checking out in an increasingly narrow market for traditional games of this sort. The presentation isn't so hot and the game is generally unbalanced. The benefit of that lack of balance is that it gives you a lot of fun options for breaking the game, and I certainly can't deny the energy that permeates the whole thing. Throw in the unexpectedly good dungeon designs, an enjoyable spread of equipment choices, and you've got a pretty good time, even if it's a tune you've assuredly heard before.

TouchArcade Rating

  • defunct32

    Stellar review like always, Shaun! Always a blast when you really put a lot of thought into your article.

  • bobish

    Well stated about the menu interface. It ended up being a game breaker for me. Utterly unintuitive. Shame. Some good ideas here.

    • PixeLight Games

      Bobish or Shaun do have any simpler suggestions for adjusting the menu interface which could be implemented?

  • Connor

    Really helpful and honest review thanks for taking the time to give us your thoughts Shaun 🙂

  • Merlin

    I really like how you titled it a mess, but a FUN mess. Because I've actually played it a ton now and I really think it's a JRPG style worth playing. Especially for the job classes that get better and better the deeper you go. So glad to see some original ideas and unique character abilities. You're right Shaun, there's a gem hiding underneath, and game-breaking play can be really fun to experiment with.

  • PixeLight Games

    Thank you Shaun for the straightforward and honest review. We have worked hard on every aspect of this game and appreciate everyone's feedback! I know there is much to learn and we will move forward to create an even better experience for our next game.

Echo Dawn: Shattered Visions Reviewed by Shaun Musgrave on . Rating: 3.5