RetroVision – I Am Setsuna And Returning To The Golden Age Of The JRPG

The JRPG is one of retro gaming’s most iconic genres. From Dragon Quest, to Final Fantasy, and even through to Pokémon, they offered some of the most enjoyable and memorable experiences that could be had during the 8 and 16-bit days. In fact for many, the RPG genre has never been able to reach the heights of these titles ever since

So in a word where the everyone is chasing the next big thing, it’s nice to see one company trying to return to its classic retro routes. It’s even better when that company is the amalgamation of two of the eras most iconic JRPG creators. Yep, it’s Square Enix.

So how exactly are Square Enix trying to return to the golden age of the JRPG? Well, whilst the company readies itself for what looks to be one of the greatest RPGs in recent memory through Final Fantasy XV, one studio within the company is dedicating itself to keeping the old ways alive. That studio is the newly created Tokyo RPG Factory, and the game is I Am Setsuna.

So for those of you what in the know, what exactly is I Am Setsuna? Well unsurprisingly, I Am Setsuna is a brand new JRPG created by a small team of developers within Square Enix, all of which are aiming to create JRPG experiences in the vision of the golden age. It’s also a brand new IP, and one that Square Enix hopes to turn into a franchise.

Chrono Trigger Battle System
Atsushi Hashimoto cites Chrono Trigger as one of the biggest influences on the development team.

The game is directed by Atsushi Hashimoto, a man who describes the project as having arisen from a desire to re-capture some of the magic that made games like Chrono Trigger so memorable.

Let’s make a product that resurrects the passion and excitement of so-called Golden JRPGs

In order to do this, Hashimoto gathered a team of like minded individuals. All of which are far more dedicated to keeping alive some of gaming’s classic presentation, gameplay, and even storytelling mechanics, than to working on the next triple-a blockbuster.

There’s a trend of making games that are on par with hardware performance, but our outlook is different. We’re pursuing the fun that is inherent within the RPG.

Setsuna 2
The towns and villages are also seemingly taken straight out of the pages of a 16-bit classic.

The game’s story is set in a world inhabited by demons who assault innocent humans. As such, in order to keep these demons in order, maidens are subsequently sacrificed. The game begins as players follow Setsuna, a maiden who leads a group of companions in order to go and perform this ritual and quell the demon’s anger.

Within the story, I Am Setsuna’s key theme is that of sadness, something which is portrayed not only through the quest of Setsuna and her compatriots, but also through game’s snow covered setting. This is then compounded by the fact that the quest is entirely entered around Setsuna’s sacrifice, just another direct nod to some of gaming’s classic storylines. All in all, it’s a game filled with storylines and themes that evoke an emotional response from the player, and as such is something very reminiscent of Square’s classic retro JRPGs.

However, that’s not the only area where inspiration is taken from the golden age of the JRPG. You see, I Am Setsuna features a battle system that is based on the Active Time Battle system, and as such is directly inspired by the likes of Chrono Trigger, and the earlier 8 and 16-bit Final Fantasy titles.

What’s more, according to director Atsushi Hashimoto, even I Am Setsuna’s playtime length has been inspired by the JRPGs of the 90s. Offering a complete experience, and directly opposing the idea of adding content later as DLC.

Setsuna 1
Chrono Trigger’s influence is clear not only from this image, but also from the Japanese gameplay video above.

In fact, the only compromise the team made when creating the game was when it came to balancing. Over the years gaming has become more and more open. What’s more, game’s are not as hard as they once were. As such Hashimoto and the team chose to balance the game’s difficulty so that both casual and hardcore fans alike could enjoy the retro inspired story and gameplay.

Ultimately, whether I Am Setsuna has returned gaming to the golden age of JRPGs is not the main take away from all this. What’s far more important though, is the fact that there still lies developers within major companies who are dedicated to creating modern experiences that use classic gameplay mechanics and aesthetics. I say this a lot, but retro gaming is far from something that has been left in the past.

Setsuna 3
All in all, I Am Setsuna looks like an extremely exciting project for those that yearn for the golden era of the JRPG.

I Am Setsuna is available for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita (Japan only), Steam, and most recently as a launch title for the Nintendo Switch. Look out for our RetroSpective review very soon right here on Rings & Coins.

Simon Aubrey Drake

A lifelong gamer with a fanatical love of all things Nintendo and Japan. So much so that I've written a thesis on one and lived in the other. Currently on a quest to catch every last Pokémon. Follow me on twitter via @DudeXChill or @RingsandCoins.

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