E3 2015, to Square Enix, will undoubtedly go down as the show where the real Final Fantasy XV stood up, and the company’s decade-long AAA investment finally entered the home stretch. It will go down as the show that saw dreams of a return to Midgar finally come true with a Final Fantasy VII Remake, the hype fresh and unspoiled before a series of unfortunate interviews with the project’s staff would make it one of the most divisive games ever announced.
To JRPG fans of more traditional influence, however, E3 2015 carried with it the birth of Tokyo RPG Factory, a studio purpose-built to produce classical JRPGs just like the ones Square Enix as a company was built upon. It brought to light a tangible initiative to correlate with new company president Yosuke Matsuda’s previous declaration of support for classical JRPGs a year prior, in an interview with Siliconera.
Also revealed during the Tokyo RPG Factory announcement was their inaugural release, known at the time as Project Setsuna. It was only shown in the form of preliminary concept art, but it, combined with all of the developers’ rhetoric leading up to the games eventual Japanese release as Ikenie to Yuki no Setsuna (or “Setsuna of Sacrifice and Snow”), hyped players up for a return to form for Square Enix. Specifically, one cut from the same cloth as Super NES legend Chrono Trigger. The message was clear: if Project Setsuna, now dubbed I Am Setsuna, checked all the boxes it set out to, we were in for something truly special.
What Is It?
Despite the name, I Am Setsuna is the story of Endir, a helmed sellsword from a secret society of assassins. Endir’s latest job takes him to the village of Nive, where he is to eliminate one of the local girls, the titular Setsuna. Setsuna, meanwhile, is preparing for a journey that will culminate in her sacrifice to appease the world’s monsters from attacking human civilization for another generation. Predictably, Endir’s attempt on Setsuna’s life fails, and he finds himself captive in Nive, facing penalty of death for the attempted murder of a village sacrifice.
Before the execution can be carried out, Nive Village is beset by a wave of attacking monsters, and Endir is conscripted to help resist the assault. After successfully defending the village, Endir is recruited as an unlikely escort for Setsuna’s journey by none other than the martyr-to-be herself, reasoning that her sacrifice upon arriving in the Last Lands will also satisfy the terms of Endir’s assignment. If that sounds like a bizarre two-way version of the Dulcinea Effect trope (laced with the fastest case of Stockholm Syndrome ever), that’s because it is, and it’s no less awkward here than when it’s played straight.
Why Should I Care?
From the onset, I Am Setsuna’s main appeal has been the constant comparisons to Chrono Trigger, justified absolutely. The first thing Tokyo RPG Factory did after being established as a studio was to port Chrono Trigger’s battle system, ATB 2.0, to modern platforms. On a very basic level, I Am Setsuna is a very effective throwback to the era that spawned not just Chrono Trigger, but many other great Squaresoft “Not Final Fantasy” titles, and the 1995 classic in particular seems to have informed just about every facet of Setsuna’s design.
ATB 2.0 has indeed been transplanted faithfully, bringing its positional approach to combat and Chrono Trigger’s unique dual- and triple-techs along for the ride, along with the added depth of Materia-like MacGuffins called Spritnite and a well thought out accessory system that allows you a great deal of customization for your party. Quite frankly, this added layer of freedom of creativity means that Setsuna’s battle system is even more of a joy to explore than that of the game that inspired it.
Spritnite is also central to the game’s economy. Battles will not yield any money directly, but rather, materials that you can sell to the local Magic Consortium representative. Not only will you receive cash back, you’re also free to take any Spritnite that can be made from the sold materials. This is a clever design step to push you toward Spritnite early, because most boss fights will be nigh-unbeatable if you don’t make good use of the resources available to you.
Unfortunately, the constant ties to Chrono Trigger play as much to I Am Setsuna’s detriment as to its benefit, as at times, playing this game with Chrono Trigger in mind will only serve to shine a spotlight on Setsuna’s shortcomings. While Chrono Trigger was a vibrant, lively affair with a wide variety of settings throughout its numerous time periods, I Am Setsuna plays out almost exclusively in the dull, at times almost grayscale backdrop of endless snow and ice. Fitting, based on the Japanese title, but still unfortunate. Where Chrono Trigger maintained a lighthearted atmosphere in the face of some fairly dark themes and the apocalyptic threat posed by Lavos (to say nothing of the post-apocalyptic desolation of 2300 AD), Endir’s journey drowns in its moodiness throughout. As Chrono Trigger’s soundtrack was varied and upbeat courtesy of legendary composers Nobuo Uematsu and Yasunori Mitsuda, Tomoki Miyoshi’s occasionally lively compositions for Setsuna are undermined by the odd decision to go almost exclusively with piano arrangements. Tokyo RPG Factory was certainly consistent in its delivery of I Am Setsuna’s temperament, but it’s the result of a series of very strange choices in the face of the game it set out to emulate.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
All that having been said, Tokyo RPG Factory’s maiden voyage is a game that should not be missed, and in fact should be enjoyed and even celebrated by anyone who loves classic JRPGs. It is a great example of the genre with a worthwhile story and terrific replay value, worthy of standing next to virtually any of Square Enix’s classic JRPGs except the very one it aspired to be. Still, if Chrono Trigger was the bar for what constituted a good JRPG, the list of such games worth playing would be depressingly short. Setsuna’s arrival front and center on console and PC marks an important move away from the era when such games were relegated to handhelds and smartphones, and is a very positive sign for things to come from Yosuke Matsuda’s version of Square Enix. If there was ever an opportune time to vote with your dollar to drive a movement in gaming, this is the perfect combination of a receptive publisher and a worthy cause.