Echo is one of those games that is nigh impossible to review or look at from a "spoiler-free" perspective, but I'm going to attempt to fill that perspective here anyways. From the genres this game falls under, it's understandably a bit of a hard sell if you're not a gay furry (or you don't spoil at least one or two things), but I'm going to try to sell it anyways without any spoilers, because this work is just too good to remain in the niche of a niche of a niche and it's definitely got broader appeal outside of the "target demographic." It deserves at least
recognition as an all-timer VN, and as an incredible horror game, not just as "a great gay furry horror VN", if that makes any sense. It's not just "good for a furry game", it's honestly not even just "good for a video game", it's just outright a great piece of storytelling.
Echo is a game I first played over a year and a half ago and it's still probably the most a piece of media has burrowed its way into the center of my brain, maybe besides Undertale
, and I played that one when I was like 14 years old lol. Echo is an incredible, harrowing, emotional, crushing, beautiful and miserable read in all of the best ways. It's such a dense and complex work that you'll probably spend weeks, if not months (if not years) attempting to unravel all of it in your head. It's directly inspired by stuff like Silent Hill 2
, the work of Stephen King, and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
/The Return, and there's a lot here that's vaguely reminiscent of the work of Michael Haneke
and Denpa Horror
as a whole. If you like any of those things I just mentioned, do yourself a favor and put this game on your radar, at the very least. The game is (shockingly) a literal free download, you can always just try it (get to the route split first though, it's the first time you are given 4 options to pick from). You really don't need to read any more of my review, but if you're not sold on giving it a go yet, I'll go into a bit more depth about a couple of the things that make this such an impactful work to me.
The dialogue writing here is easily some of my favorite from any game ever--I know that isn't a super high bar, considering most games that aren't interactive fiction have a million opportunities to break immersion (repeated dialogue lines, weird timing/pacing due to player input, mismatched animations, etc), but the writing in this game is dense, believable, and somehow at the same time, easy to parse. There are so many layers to so much of the dialogue in this game, this is extremely a VN you could reread and get a completely different experience the second time, but at the same time, people talk like people do in real life, and it's such a pageturner for it (or, in this case, a box-clicker, I presume). I admit, preferring this sort of prose is definitely an Americentric perspective, and I don't doubt that if you read Japanese fluently this isn't that fresh of an experience for VNs, but I don't and I'm used to most VNs reading like they've been passed through a Japanese to English translation barrier first (which, usually, they have), and I'm used to most authors of actual books getting way too verbose or flowery or playing loose with run-on sentences (or having also been passed through a translation barrier first, although the languages are generally closer to English than Japanese is). Admittedly, my perspective with "normal books" is limited, especially after honors English classes in high school beat "reading for fun" out of me, but hey, my enjoyment of VNs like this one is the only reason I've made any attempt and have had any success with trying to claw back that avenue of entertainment at all.
But the dialogue is just an interface for the characters--everyone is their own complete person, everyone has their own motivations and history and relationships--every single person in the main cast is wildly multifaceted and all of them get just the amount of screentime needed to shine. And yes, the length here is absolutely necessary and almost none of it is wasted. A 500k+ word long VN is a hard ask for prospective players, but there's a hell of a lot more stuff going on here than there is in most JRPGs twice or thrice its length in terms of pure hour count. If you've got time for a Persona, you've got time for Echo. Even if we go more apples to apples with other VNs, even other works that I enjoy like The House in Fata Morgana [ファタモルガーナの館]
or the Umineko When They Cry - Answer Arcs [うみねこのなく頃に散]
have multiple portions that could (and should) have had hours trimmed off (Fata repeats itself for a few hours longer than it needs to and it takes a while to get going, and Umi is filled with at least a dozen hours of moe SoL and fight scenes which really detract from the story if you came for the mystery and the drama and not the "cute/cool" factors). Meanwhile, Echo isn't really a work I would want to make any major changes to at all. Sure, there's a lot of tiny things, some more CGs would be nice, they've fixed the vast majority of the typos but there's still a couple here and there, but really nothing major. There is, like, one bland minor side character that only shows up in one route that I think could do with a rewrite, and a single route that's an 8/10 instead of a 10/10, but besides that Echo is firing all engines at all times, even if it's not immediately clear it's doing so. It's definitely a game that gets better the more you think about it, not worse.
The horror is something I feel a little out of my depth trying to discuss from a spoiler-free lens, but it's good. Like, really fucking good. Echo is much more of an atmospheric and tense horror than most horror games, it's subtle, it's uncomfortable, it gets under your skin. Truly deserves the label of "Psychological Horror", not in the tacky backrooms creepypasta way but in the narrower definition of the genre that film tends to use, in the same step as Psych Drama. Something that the furry perspective brings to horror is extremely detailed and vivid sensory descriptions. Part of me thinks that the propensity of furry writing to be very concerned with the minutia of smells and touch is due to the scene's links with fetishization (although that could just be the Crash
talking)--but in the end? It doesn't really matter why the furry perspective is such a sensory one, this perspective does a huge amount for this game's horror identity and the writing here is better for its inclusion.
But that's about all I can say without spoiling anything. I know I've been vague here but trust me, it is almost impossible to talk about this game in any specificity without accidentally spoiling something. Again, this is a free download on itch and I highly recommend it, it's been my favorite game of all time for well over a year, and I don't see that changing any time soon. I can't wait to see what's next from Echo Project
, and from other furry VN authors directly inspired by this. Truly a groundbreaking work, in almost every single one of the half-dozen genres it's tagged with here. If you like psych horror/drama, you owe it to yourself to see what Echo has to offer.