While not being as good as its predecessor, Echoes of Time provides hours of a solid action RPG and FF experience.
Now for the story...lets first talk about the central character and the party members. The Chrono Trigger/Pokemon approach was taken...meaning the protagonist does not have a predetermined identity. Before the player starts the game, they are required to choose a race, gender, and name (either your own or from a list). This of course as you may a figured out causes your name or even your character to ever be shown/mentioned in the game's cut scenes. Party members aren't occupied by characters met in game for the most part. Instead, they are simply recruited from the recruitment station in the main town of the game...which is where you can determine the same traits as you did in the beginning for your hero and rotate who take with you. I'm not sure exactly how many party members you can have altogether, but its a lot. The reason that characters don't join your team "for the most part" because there are minor characters in the form of mercenaries that can be found and recruited around the same town at different points of the game. They usually come with one-of-a-kind equipment and their own predetermined stat alignment that differs from default recuits of the same race. The catch is, the player has to meet some sort of require of the mercenary before they'll be willing to join up. For example, there's a mercenary in the very beginning of the game that will not join you unless you have at least 100 hours of play time*.
*As a side note: Be wary of this specific mercenary because unlike the others, he start off a level 1. So unless you're willing to leave your DS on for that long, come back after playing the game for that long (which will not take you 100 hours) or are willing to hack the game...all in the name of making him a relevant party member, then I would advise you to stay away. Personally, I hacked the play time to get him and he wasn't that bad.
As far as storytelling, its definately not as indepth as Ring of Fates. Its basically: conversation...new world map location...find n' beat the boss...cut scene...conversation...etc. Of course a story is being told in between and there are expections to that pattern but that's the basic flow of the game. I feel Ring of Fates had a better story just due to the emotional detachment of the central character and how infrequently the villian is actually shown. The protagonist emotions are implied in the conversations with people but its just not the same as seeing and hearing them. The same kind of goes with the other party members...there's no real interation or bonding going on outside the battlefield do to the customary approach to them. None of the bosses or challenges the player's party faces in the game are obstacles the antagonist has placed in their way necessarily. The story itself just lacked a lot...a lot of the same things that made the first game great. That's not to say the story is bad (because it isn't) but I just expected a lot more out of a Final Fantasy. Just as with Rings of Fate, there is a New Game + and also Hard and Very Hard difficult settings to unlock. Honestly, after playing certain parts of this game (especially the Rings of Fate bosses), I wouldn't want to play this game on any other difficulty than the original one...but some of the more powerful mercenaries are obtainable on this harder difficulties, so there is an incentive.
- The new magic and equipment system
- Being able cast multiple spells with one character
- Being able to recuit mercenaries
- Great customization features
- A world map that can be navigated
- Has some good extra content
- Great incentives to replay the game
- NPC conversations are too long and irrelevant
- The game is kind of short
- The sheer irritating cheapness of the game's super boss
- Some of the mercenaries' demands for recruitment can be a bit unreasonable
- Navigating the world map is nice but its also pointless as well
- The loot dropped by enemies really don't attribute that much when looking to gain the more powerful equipment from the customs shop
- The storytelling
- Character development
- The amount of puzzles water down the game's fun
In all, Echoes of Time puts the "Action" in action RPG but it neglects the indepth storytelling that's expected from an RPG (especially a Final Fantasy). The storytelling just had a very incomplete feeling to it but the battlefields felt like a very finished and polished product. Anyone who is looking for some solid action and A LOT (but not too difficult) puzzle solving would thoroughly enjoy this game. However, anyone looking for uber action and a well told story may want to look else where.