Star Trek The Next Generation: Echoes from the Past is chiefly a top-down adventure game, though it also has pronounced strategy and puzzle-solving elements. It takes place in the Star Trek universe, spanning Federation space and the Romulan Neutral Zone, and centers around the appearance of the IFD (Integrated Field Derandomizer), an artifact machine of unknown origin that, as its name suggests, allows its user to reshape matter and energy. It culminates in the IFD Trials, three tests undertaken by representatives of any races that are present when the Trials are held, and failure would mean the destruction of the Federation and the enslavement of countless worlds by the Federation's enemies.
The game begins with the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701-D) in orbit around a red giant star near the edge of the Neutral Zone (the star adversely effects Romulan sensors, rendering the Enterprise undetectable). They are monitoring the border in response to increased Romulan activity; the Romulans recently lost contact with a vessel patrolling the Neutral Zone. Starfleet has agreed to assist in any investigation attempt as a sign of goodwill. The Romulans refuse the aid, and prefer to handle things on their own, which naturally prompts Starfleet to increase border patrols.
Immediately upon beginning play, the Enterprise receives a distress signal, broadcasting on all frequencies. It was sent out by one Dr. T'Laris, a Vulcan geologist stationed on a planet in the Codis Mu system, and in the message she notes that her dig site was recently attacked by Romulans, and that the assailants are still present. The Enterprise responds to her plea for help and sets a course to her dig site.
As the game progresses, the player learns more about the missing Romulan vessel's mission, and of the IFD. The Enterprise also makes contact with an alien race known as the Chodak, hostile mollusk-like creatures who constantly accost the Enterprise as it traverses the galaxy gathering clues about the IFD. There are also mentions of a now-extinct race called the Senatorious who were the last race to possess the IFD; the reason it resurfaced is because the Senatorious understood that they'd been using the IFD for their own benefit at the cost of all other races, and judiciously decided to send it ten thousand years into the future, in the hopes that civilizations then could put the IFD to use for the mutual benefit of all races. There is one more race, the gaunt Eunacians, which are encountered only once and, after the Enterprise repairs their ship, tell Jean-Luc Picard of the IFD Trials and the Eunacians' intention to participate. However, their ship crippled and the rest of their race residing in the Gamma Quadrant, they entrust the Federation with recovery of the IFD, and its judicious use.
Though information on a Borg cube is present in the ship's database, and a sprite set for the vessel is resident in the game's memory, it does not appear in-game at all.
The game misspells Senatorious several times, providing a confusing list of spellings for the race.
This is one of the few Star Trek games in which Klingons do not make an appearance.
This game was released for both the SNES and Sega Genesis; though the plot and most gameplay elements were maintained, there are many significant differences that cause gameplay discrepancies. The Genesis version has diplomatic sequences wherein the player reasons with various entities (ranging from Romulan commanders to miners on a desolate moon), and the results have profound outcomes on the course of play. The SNES lacks this feature entirely, and the sequence at the end of the game where Jean-Luc Picard speaks with the IFD's interface-analogue is eschewed, and replaced with what amounts to a single "congratulations" screen, with no resolution to the story. Also, the SNES version makes mandatory a mission that is secret in the Genesis version (it is very difficult to unlock and requires a lengthy diplomatic exchange with a Chodak captain; the mission is exceptionally difficult, and is made more harrowing by the fact that only one attempt at the mission is allowed and failure means the opportunity to complete the mission is lost forever, but it is not part of the Genesis storyline and the game can be completed in its entirety without the player even knowing about this mission). It is a mark of pride to be able to complete this mission at all, and due to its uncalled-for level of difficulty, it nearly renders the SNES version unplayable. Other differences include the order in which events occur, changes to level maps, a limited amount of phaser energy and an unbreathable atmosphere in the Oriens Gamma IIIB mines in the SNES version (which further augmented its already obscene difficulty, the latter forcing the player to begin each of its sections, which were thickly-laden with monsters, using Lieutenant Commander Data, who, being an android, is not required to respirate, to restore air circulation for other crew members), and the absence of Dr. Beverly Crusher's medkit in the Genesis version, which allowed the player to heal other members of the awayteam during the course of away missions.
The spud-like monsters resident in the Oriens Gamma IIIB mines do not attack Deanna Troi. Ostensibly this is because she is an empath.
The game sports a number of ensigns and lesser crewmen who do not appear in the televised series and in fact were created specifically for this game. Each of these crewmen is actually one of the game's designers, dressed in Starfleet uniforms, their visage pixelized and incorporated into the game as portraits seen when selecting crewmen for awayteams. Incidentally, there are two mutually-exclusive sets of non-canon crewmen for each game, and the SNES version includes Ed Semrad, who was then an editor for Electronic Gaming Monthly. His reason for appearing in the game is not known.