A Paladin’s Review: Before The Echo. Rhythm and RPG Genre Mixing Goodness.

Screenshot 2015-11-29 16.25.35

A review of the not often talked about rhythm RPG from Iridium Studios. I hope you enjoy!

Read my review of There Came An Echo, the Sequel to Before the Echo, now!

Some notes: I’m spoiling the story of this game to see if this is how I want to handle future reviews or not. This is something I’ve been going back and forth on and probably will for a while longer until I come to a decision. I’m still a bit intentionally vague on details of the story to keep some of it a surprise as I don’t feel they’re particularly relevant to the review so we’ll see how this all works out.

Read and rate this review on Steam.

A Paladin’s Review: Before The Echo. Rhythm and RPG Genre Mixing Goodness.

  • Genre: Rhythm RPG Indie Title
  • Developed & Published by: Iridium Studios
  • Platform: Windows, Mac and Linux.
  • Business Model: Cheap Base Game.
  • Copy Purchased by Myself

Preamble

Originally titled Sequence, Before the Echo is the first game released by the indie devs Iridium Studios. It was later followed by There Came An Echo, a real time tactics voice controlled game released on Steam in early 2015. According to Before the Echo’s Steam Forums, they had a copyright claim thrown against them by another developer over their name. So, Iridium Studios had to rename Sequence to something else in order to avoid legal trouble. A rather unfortunate turn of events. However, I will say that Before the Echo might have been a better choice anyway, as Sequence isn’t particularly memorable for a name. I myself only discovered Before the Echo when There Came An Echo was released and got a lot of press attention for its unique voice control mechanics. BtE has some interesting ideas of its own though and I don’t think it should be ignored.

Overall Gameplay Thoughts

A rhythm-based-combat RPG with a story driven narrative has a decent amount of content, especially if you decide to go for as many recipes as possible. The rhythm mechanics are a refreshing change of pace from the normal choose-spells, counter as best you can and win over and over again. It forces you to pay attention to what you’re doing and continually improve as the game goes along. This is even after my initial skepticism that this game had few legs to stand on. After all, we’ve had plenty of rhythm games before. What could possibly make BtE stand out? Well, a good story with an amusing banter between the two protagonists and a decently diverse set of characters to fight out against with their own particular personality doesn’t hurt. Neither does a refined rhythm system that requires you to pay attention and react quickly to three different fields of falling arrows.

200910_2015-11-24_00004

One of the creatures you’ll face. I think it was on level five.

Story Considerations

The player is following the story of Ky, a hacker who finds himself waking up in a mysterious tower called, well, the Tower. This seven leveled tower isn’t something to scoff as he’ll soon learn that he can die in this tower. Upon awaking and talking to himself about what’s going on, he’s greeted by Naia, a “shepherd” that has few answers for Kai but seems to be on his side or at the very least trapped by her own circumstances. She’ll help him out by guiding him through the tutorial and each level. Ky must do this, defeating monsters to grow in strength to eventually defeat the seven guardians that stop forward progress. The plot has lies and half truths a plenty. Not everyone is telling the truth and there’s something sinister going on in the background. It seems to be set in the modern era though no country or actual year is dropped. The characters do seem to imply this is all happening in the 2010s.

As Ky traverses the tower, he’ll pick up clues from Naia and the other guardians as to what’s going on. Before and after every level, he’ll banter (or have more serious conversations) with Naia. It’s eventually figured out that Naia and Ky are in a computer simulation and that their lives were in fact not in danger. Everything has been setup and controlled in a particular way. Their emotions were manipulated by the Tower’s events. The goal of this whole simulation is to get Naia and Ky to fall in love with each other, apparently. They hope that by doing this with intelligent people who would never normally meet each other, they can preserve those genes that are important for the next generation. But as said before, there’s lies within lies so even that explanation may not ultimately be true. All of this has been orchestrated by a shadowy group that is never named in-game. It’s a constant back and forth that eventually culminates in a final showdown against the guy who apparently orchestrated all of the events. But you can never be sure.

You're finally introduced to the shepard.

At first Naia only talks to Ky through an offscreen intercom system but eventually you’re introduced to her in person.

There’s a secret ending as well where you have to defeat Ky’s double in a bizarre level and its the hardest fight in the game. Upon beating that boss, you’ll be “rewarded” with a final cutscene that seems to suggest everything explained before was just a lie. I’ll be honest, I didn’t feel like it was worth the energy to get that final cutscene…until I realized that There Came An Echo is actually a sequel to this game. Still, getting to the point of being able to beat that boss is quite difficult so I’m not 100% convinced it was worth the effort. But, it does offer a last final challenge for those who felt like the game was just being too easy on them. For whatever reason.

He's not wrong Ky.

He’s not wrong Ky.

I rather enjoyed this story even though it does hit a few too many tropes for my liking. The banter between Ky and Naia seems quite genuine and the voice acting really helps sell it. The diverse cast of guardians keep the humor up as they’re all just a little…strange in their own way. The story won’t be particularly new if you’ve seen sci-fi stories about people playing matchmaker but the writer does handle the somewhat complex material smartly.

RPG Elements

There’s some crafting, leveling and spell learning in Before the Echo. When you enter each level of the tower, you’ll be given several recipes to craft the important and optional items. No other recipes can be found while fighting monsters. Each level only has three different monsters to fight and each monster can only drop three different types of items, each having a different drop rate. Most of the drop rates are pretty reasonable and it won’t take long to get all of the items for every recipe. Just a few repeat fights against the same three creatures over and over again. The only recipe you have to craft is the key to access the final boss. However, I’d generally recommend spending some time crafting at least a few items per level as it’ll give you the levels, spells and stats to take on the boss. Bosses themselves will drop a, usually, nice item upon beating them.

The crafting/gear screen.

The crafting/gear screen.

Leveling in BtE has an interesting mechanic that’s tied in with crafting. You level the normal way by fighting monsters and you can also gain experience by “desynthing” or recycling items/weapons/armor that you don’t need. Upon gathering all the necessary materials to craft a recipe, you’ll be presented with a screen that lets you “bet” how much experience to craft an item. The more experience you spend, the higher chance of succeeding in making an item. Generally, you’ll want to spend enough experience to have a 75-80% chance of success. This does, however, lead to you losing levels as the experience costs can be pretty high, especially towards the later levels. So, you’ll either need to grind some more monsters or desynth some items to recover that experience.

Combat Mechanics

In Before the Echo’s battles, you defeat monsters and bosses by following the beat of the music and destroying the enemy’s health before they do yours in. This is accomplished in a dance-dance-revolution type battle where you’re trying to cast spells, block their attacks and regenerate your mana when possible. To do this, you’ll need to press the right direction on the d-pad and letter keys of your controller when arrows are at the right time. You’ll often need to use both set of controls in order to handle all the arrows falling. Keyboard and mouse can also be used but I find the controller to be a little bit more enjoyable and easier to use for this game. To further complicate things, you’ll need to select and cast spells using the controller’s joystick while keeping an eye on arrows. This can be a little tricky to figure out at first but I eventually got used to it.

Fear the cloud!

Fear the cloud!

As for the battle itself, there are three fields from which arrows will drop down. Mana regeneration is one field, where arrows will come down in a constant stream but you only need to “collect” them when you’re running out of mana. The spell field is the most straightforward, as its the field where simple or complex strings of arrows will fall when you cast a spell. Hit all of the arrows and the spell will be unleashed. Missing a spell is relatively less debilitating as you simply waste the spell, have to wait for it to come off cooldown and lose the mana spent. The defense field is for blocking enemy attacks in the form of arrows. Ky can handle getting hit by the regular grey arrows from time to time but there are different colored arrows to watch out for as they hit for more damage depending on what color they are. The player should always keep special attention to the defense field as it can generally decide whether you’re going to win or lose. Though you’ll need to keep an eye on all three fields in each battle in general and be ready to switch between the three, often very quickly. Winning a battle nets you experience and a chance to get an item(s). Losing a battle simply gives you a smaller amount of experience and a chance to retry it or return to the safe room.

There’s a decent variety of spell types and spells for each. There’s the simple yet costly damaging spells, the more middle-of-the-road leaching spells that drain their health to give to you, complex spells that dish out even more damage but can be messed up more easily, defensive spells to allow you to survive brutal encounters, healing spells that heal, obviously & finally augmentation spells that make your next spell even more powerful.

You get to choose which one of the three enemies to face.

You get to choose which one of the three enemies to face.

It’s one of those few RPGs where I felt like I was improving alongside the character I was playing as. Not only does my character have to improve stats in order to survive the attacks and dish out more damage, but I have to become more reactive, really learn the song and each enemies’ quirks in the song itself. Figuring out different combos or changing my approach to each monster/boss fight is also part of the mechanics as well. Spells themselves have a pattern that will need to be understood so you know when to use them. Learning new spells requires achieving a certain combo number or accuracy rating on a song and there are some spells that are brutal, especially the two end-game spells. The battles themselves have their own unique quirks. Some have faster songs with attacks that come in different waves. Others are slower paced but starve the player for mana in the mana field, requiring the player to be conservative with spells and so on. This all combines to make for a challenging experience, even on “normal” difficulty. There are options for easier or harder difficulties depending on your preference.  

PC Settings and Video/Audio

Settings are a little bizarre here. Fullscreen on/off is the only traditional video setting to be found. Particle effects can be turned off, there’s a lag calibration for your controller, gem and text speed can be changed and a lot of other different functions important to the rhythm mechanics. Resolution options, AA, V-sync and other settings are missing as well. The one game I actually desire individual sound volume options doesn’t have them at all. I found the SFX was just a bit too loud over the music and people speaking but not unbearably high. For such an audio-intensive game, being able to adjust the different volumes seems like an obvious thing to include in your game. Voice acting can be turned off but I don’t know why you’d want to do that. It’s pretty good voice acting. I was surprised to hear the voice actor for Dust from Dust: An Elysian Tail in this title too. He plays one of the guardians.

Fighting.

The UI, while initially confusing at first, makes sense the more you play BtE. The graphic style is a consistent low-key sci-fi/modern look to it. Music is done by Ronald Jenkees and Michael Wade Hamilton and works really well for BtE.

Final Thoughts

Before the Echo is a good and different experience that’s both decently approachable but difficult to master. The combination of RPG and Rhythm mechanics just works here, the mechanics blending well together and never allowing things to get dull for long. Though there are fights that can be overly frustrating. It’s also not too hard to lose concentration and find yourself in an unwinnable situation. So, you’ll need to stay on your toes or take a break if it’s happening too often. The story itself is pretty good, I found myself chuckling at the banter between the two protagonists from time to time. It does lean a bit too much on tropes but I think it does them well enough that I’m not bothered by it. It’s a good time “dancing” to the beats while playing a more traditional RPG game. I definitely liked this mix of genres and I recommend checking out when you have the chance.

Thanks for reading! Check out my review of There Came An Echo, the Sequel to Before the Echo, now!

-KingIsaacLinksr

Leave a Reply