There are certain titles that evoke powerful reactions from gamers of all backgrounds: most Final Fantasy titles fit this mold, as well as classics like Earthbound, Secret of Mana, and Chrono Trigger. That final title is purportedly the inspiration for the latest project from Tokyo RPG Factory, an extension of Square-Enix that is taking on the revival of classic JRPG titles as its primary goal. If the gameplay video is any indication, we’re sure to be in for a treat:
Now, the game alone is enough to get me excited. However, what’s got me over the moon is the premise of Tokyo RPG Factory’s entire operation as a return to the classic adventures we enjoyed as kids. So many Millennial gamers look back at the “Golden Age” of 16-bit gaming as a wondrous and exciting time to be playing video games. As a kid, when the Super Nintendo first arrived I couldn’t believe how far graphics had come just in the few years I had been playing video games. The sprites were rich and full of color. Music and sound effects evolved to help draw gamers into these new and exciting worlds; worlds that developers such as Square, Rare, Capcom and Konami created.
As I mentioned earlier, I Am Setsuna is drawing its inspiration from another classic from this golden age of gaming: Chrono Trigger. While I’m confident many of you at least recognize the title, for the
uninitiated: Chrono Trigger follows a young man named Crono and his friends as they journey across various time periods to help save the world from an extraterrestrial force known as “Lavos”. If left unchecked, Lavos destroys the world in 1999, reducing mankind to a shell of its former glory as they cling to survival in a dark and desolate future. Released by Square (also known as “Squaresoft” at the time, now “Square-Enix”) in 1995, Chrono Trigger stood out with a unique and engaging Active Time Battle, or ATB, system that integrated combination moves called “Double” or “Triple” techs. With six main characters (and an optional 7th), the variety of specials built in an entirely different level of strategy. This unique combat system, combined with a rich storyline and over 12 different endings, provided an RPG experience unlike any the gaming community had seen before – and they reacted accordingly. Despite lackluster U.S. sales, it sold over 2 million copies in Japan, and has since evolved into a classic.
Since its initial release, Chrono Trigger has gone through numerous ports, first to the Playstation in the form of Final Fantasy Chronicles, and again to the Nintendo DS, and most recently to iOS. Its reincarnation across platforms speaks to its timeless appeal, as well as its popularity among the gaming community. Tokyo RPG Factory is aware of this, and wishes to recreate the same feeling that people had about Chrono Trigger with their scheduled release of I Am Setsuna.
The story of I Am Setsuna revolves around a girl named Setsuna (cue dramatic reveal music), who has been selected as the most recent sacrifice in order to appease the demons that consistently besiege the snow-bound island within which the game is set. Eventually she is joined by others and begins a journey to the outskirts of the island in order to prepare for the sacrifice.
Most striking from the gameplay and screenshots we’ve seen so far are the strong parallels between the battle systems, except I Am Setsuna is enjoying the full benefits of PS4 and PC hardware, whereas ports of Chrono Trigger can only go so far. A glimpse at a similar X-strike technique has thrown many fans of Chrono Trigger into a frenzy, but there are some unique elements to the I Am Setsuna battle system that will help to make it a bit more engaging, including the “Setsuna System”, which integrates a timed-element in order to improve bonus damage and activate other special abilities.
For me, the return to the JRPG mold is a refreshing move. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of quality titles out there – action games have evolved dramatically and given us quality games like Bloodborne, Dark Souls, Uncharted and more. However, I feel like the RPG market in general has shifted more towards the Bethesda-model of staggeringly open worlds with hundreds of hours of gameplay possible, but lacking refinement in storytelling or character development. Fallout 4 was a lot of fun for a little while, but it got to the point where I would play for 2-3 hours and walk away feeling like I didn’t really do anything.
As far as I’m concerned, if Tokyo RPG Factory is going to take on the revitalization of the JRPG genre, I will gladly be asking them to shut up and take my money in the coming months and years. For now, we wait until summer arrives. Once the game lands we’ll have a better idea of just how serious they are about this goal, and the reaction from the gaming community as a whole will largely dictate if this revival gains traction, or is put to rest for good.