I have a weird history with adventure games. While I kind of love them, I also kind of hate them. Constantly getting stuck while running face-first into illogical puzzles is simultaneously a beguiling mystery and intensely frustrating. Make no mistake, there’s no pointing and clicking and no item combining, but Echo Generation is very much an adventure game at its core. It has the aforementioned maddening puzzle solutions in spades, but I was joyously enraptured while playing it. It’s also a turn-based RPG and, even though I thought I was irrevocably sick of those, I thoroughly enjoyed it here. This is a gorgeous, hilarious game with tons of character and heart. It’s not for everybody, but I think everybody should give it a shot all the same.
Echo Generation is a voxel game. The setting can basically be described as an early ’90s LucasArts game combined with a retro-cool ’80s aesthetic. You play as a teenager whose character model you pick. After leaving your room, you’ll meet your little sister, Lily, who has her appearance aligned with that of your main character. The father of the aforementioned siblings vanished without a trace years before the game started and strange things are afoot in the neighborhood.
You hear rumblings that something has crashed in a nearby cornfield. Checking it reveals a wrecked spaceship and a corpse. Prior to that, you run into several creatures that appear to have escaped from the crash. What follows takes our heroes on a journey to find out just what’s going on. The story in Echo Generation is familiar, yet pretty great. There’s plenty of dialogue and it’s very funny, dripping with personality. The game doesn’t take itself seriously at all, which is to its credit. The story’s length is also right where it needs to be, concluding without dragging on or stopping suddenly.
Can’t turn away
When Echo Generation begins, you have free reign of your neighborhood, which isn’t large. As the game goes on, more and more locations are unlocked. They’re all interconnected and constitute a decent amount of space. Your main party is squared away at the beginning, as your character and Lily are the principal members. The third slot is occupied by a pet. I stuck with the family’s pet cat, Meowsy, who has a healing skill, but there are four others that can be recruited.
The game is primarily a comedic adventure game spiced up by turn-based battles similar to that of a JRPG. This is especially important because, yes, it’s reminiscent of Earthbound. Almost all battles are initiated by walking into enemies, although there are a couple of spots where you can be attacked randomly. Echo Generation offers a stiffer challenge than you might expect in regard to these fights. It’s not hard, mind you, but it requires you to do a decent job of picking stat increases, alongside making the right choices as to which skills to use. If you’re not practical with how you level up, you can make the game impossible to complete, so be warned.
You gain experience from defeating regular enemies and bosses. Get enough experience and your characters level up. However, level-ups don’t give you stat increases across the board, but instead, just give you one of three options. You can increase a character’s health by five HP, increase their attack by two, or increase skill points by three. Some might be tempted to focus on one stat, but there needs to be a balance. There are skills that characters will learn over the course of the story, but many skills are locked behind optional content, so being proactive is highly beneficial.
And my axe
Each fight starts you off with a pool of skill points totaled from all three of your characters. Skills have different point requirements and, naturally, stronger ones require more points. Once you’re out, there are items that can refill your points as well as healing items and buffs. Each skill has a minigame associated with it. These can occasionally require a great deal of focus and some can take a bit of practice to get down. There’s so much variety to these and many of them are hilariously silly. My favorite is when the main character throws three axes at a foe and then applies bleeding. Strangely, bleeding damage is limited to just a single health point, so it’s underpowered.
Using normal attacks makes a prompt appear. If you press the select button when it shows up, you’ll do extra damage. You can reduce the damage of enemy strikes with a similar prompt too. Enemies do a lot of damage, so taking a full strike can have serious consequences. Bosses often have an interactive attack where you’ll need to manually control your characters in a 3D space to avoid damage. Combat is very involving and doesn’t have the detached feeling that other similar systems use.
There aren’t a great many enemies in the world of Echo Generation. You’ll only find respawning enemies in specific instances, so that you have a way to grind up before a mandatory battle. You won’t do much grinding, but it can be somewhat necessary at times. When you’re not fighting, though, this is a full-on adventure game. The world is dense with content, there are so many little puzzles you can solve for rewards. Figuring these out is always rewarding. Recruiting new pets, however, will see them show up at level one, so you’ll need to take some time to grind them into shape. It’s necessary since you need to pick their stats, but I wish it just allocated level-ups through a menu when you met them.
I have to do what?!
Many of the puzzle solutions in Echo Generation are laugh-out-loud hilarious, but progression is almost entirely based around figuring out what to do next. Just like the classics, it isn’t always clear how you’re meant to accomplish things. I had to receive a ton of help from an extremely patient developer in order to make it past some of the puzzles. Some of them are things I would have never figured out on my own. This comes with the territory, though, and lovers of the genre will have no problem with any of this. Other players will get frustrated, however.
Although figuring out what to do next was such a tall order, Echo Generation‘s world and personality are so welcoming that I think it’s absolutely worth immersing yourself in, even if you’re the type to get stuck. The game’s voxel visuals are lovely. There are many stunning vistas that make wonderful use of color and space to make for areas that are a joy to explore. The art direction is simply as marvelous as the writing.
How demanding the combat and puzzle-solving can be will turn some folks away, but the game is so much fun that I’d recommend anyone with a penchant for any of the genres it encompasses to give it a look. I enjoyed myself so much that I played through the whole eight or so hours in two sittings. It’s on Xbox Game Pass on day one as well, so I’d also recommend that anyone with a subscription give it a try. Even if you’re not usually into games like this, you may just fall in love.