For years, many old-school JRPG fans have clamored for a return to the PS1-era golden age. Sure, JRPGs still live on through indies and handhelds, but it’s quite rare to see classic turn-based JRPGs from “big” developers anymore on home consoles. There are games like the Persona franchise and others that still release and utilize the power of modern home consoles, but it’s hardly the golden age where JRPGs were the big ticket item. Enter Tokyo RPG Factory, a new development studio made up of Square Enix employees that was put together to not only deliver a classic turn-based JRPG to the PlayStation 4, but also take advantage of the modern hardware. The fruits of their labor come together with I Am Setsuna.
What makes those PS1-era games so memorable are the amazing stories that they told and the characters that you got to know over the course of 40+ hours. The demo we played at PAX East 2016 was about 30 minutes, obviously not enough time to gauge that quality of the story and the characters well. However, we did learn enough to feel very encouraged about the direction I Am Setsuna is going.
First thing’s first, it’s gorgeous. It nails the PS1-era feel and look while also taking advantage of the PS4’s power to make everything look crisp and beautiful instead of low budget. In other words, it looks like it belongs on the PS4, but keeps the old-school aesthetic.
I also can’t wait to hear the rest of the soundtrack because so far it’s amazing. It sounds like one long, wonderful piano piece played just for you, the player. It’s beautiful, and exactly what one would hope for from a game trying to channel the spirit of the golden age of JRPGs.
While it’s easy to tell already that I Am Setsuna’s score and art is going to be fantastic, as mentioned earlier, gameplay and story is tougher to tell right now. As any JRPG fan knows, 30 minutes is a drop in the bucket. However, this is what we can gather so far; I Am Setuna follows a “young woman of incredibly inner strength” that must go on a journey to sacrifice herself in order to save the people of her land. Sound familiar, Final Fantasy X fans? According to the fine PR people I spoke with from Square Enix, I Am Setsuna is going to be really sad. The snowy setting, music, and story themes, are all meant to be very somber and the player is meant to feel that. If it turns out that I Am Setsuna is similar to Final Fantasy X, that somber setting won’t be difficult to achieve.
As we’ve already alluded to, I Am Setsuna is an old-school JRPG that uses a battle system similar to the Active Time Battle (ATB). Bars charge up underneath each character and when full, they can unleash an attack, spell, or ability. Same goes for the enemy. Anyone that’s remotely familiar with the Final Fantasy or Chrono Trigger games should be very familiar with I Am Setsuna’s gameplay.
The game does throw in at least a couple of twists, though, based on what was shown off in the demo. For starters, instead of wailing on the enemy as soon as a character’s turn comes up, you could wait for a teammate to be ready, too, and preform combo attacks on the enemy. Again, this will sound familiar Chrono fans, as it closely resembles the double and triple techs. You can pair people together, or do attacks that get the entire party involved.
Also, position plays a part in I Am Setsuna’s battles, as well. Within the demo, there weren’t a whole lot of opportunities to really see how deep this goes, but here’s an example; There were these puffer enemies that would self-destruct on contact and damage anyone near by. The first couple of battles against these enemies, I just kept eating the explosion. Then, by chance, I picked an attack ability that knocks all enemies back. This pushed the puffer enemies away and they all exploded from a safe distance from my party. Neat.
Unlike most PS1-era and earlier JRPGs, I Am Setsuna doesn’t use completely random battles. Enemies in each dungeon are visible and will attack you if you get close, but you can attempt to avoid them if you choose. The game DOES, however, have a traverseable world map that you can explore. Dungeons, towns, and more can all be discovered by wandering around.
If you ask any fan what are three most important elements for a memorable JRPG, many will probably tell you story, characters, and gameplay. As noted above, after only 30 minutes, it’s impossible to say how that will shake out in I Am Setsuna. However, there’s nothing negative to report so far. Everything that we can see and evaluate is coming along great. JRPG fans will definitely want to mark their calendars for its July 19 release for the PS4, Vita, and PC.