I’ve been lamenting the loss of the golden age of the JRPG for a long time. When Square Enix announced that they were bringing I am Setsuna to North America on July 19th of this year, I was ecstatic. I’d finally be able to relive that nostalgic time and fill that void that’s been empty for so long.
I am Setsuna, developed by Tokyo RPG Factory and Published by Square Enix, is an homage to the golden age of the JRPB in every sense of the definition. Tokyo RPG Factory (TRF), a development team created by Square Enix that combined internal and external staff who shared the common goal of reviving the golden age, was inspired by classic games such as Chrono Trigger in the making of the game. Sitting down to play the game at PAX East this year, it became quickly clear to me how much reverence is held for the source material by the team.
The story centers around Setsuna, a young woman born to sacrifice her life in order to protect the people of her land. She is accompanied by companions who aid her on her quest. Walking through the nearby town, we learn that the previous group had failed in their attempt to complete the sacrifice, and the land is overrun with monsters. The people fear for their lives and depend on Setsuna to complete her journey and save them. It is obvious that the team at TRF went through great pains to present the themes of sorrow, death, loss and coming to terms with these inevitable events in every human’s life throughout the story and visuals.
The demo opened with snow swirling about our heroes as they trudged through vast, empty, open map in a peaceful winter mountain canyon. This snow-cladded backdrop was punctuated with the colourful party, beautifully designed by toi8, best known for his work on the character design on Full Metal Alchemist, that trudged through the frigid tundra. The entire scene looked as if it came from a watercolour painting that was transformed into a PS4 version of a 16-bit-inspired scene. Between that and the all-piano soundtrack that played delicately in the background, I was completely immersed in the world and moved with the sorrow it had and will go through.
Much like the game that Setsuna drew inspiration from, the team at TRF uses top down visuals for the gameplay. You follow a fairly linear path in the open map and experience no random encounters. The developers intended a seamless battle transition which occur in the various dungeons that scatter the map. The battles themselves return us to that classic turn-based battle system, familiar to all fans of the genre. But the attacks and magic used are where I really experienced the tribute. I opened the command menu for the first of my party primed to attack and was elated as I scrolled down to activate my first attack. Little touches like X-Strike, Aura and party combos are what really brought me back to my time spent playing games like this on my Super Nintendo and PlayStation. Right away I decided to select X-Strike and watched the animation as two companions slashed from one edge of the battlefield to the other to create a glowing X that heavily damaged the enemy before them. I set another character to perform Cyclone and watched as they spun around the enemy in a green streak on their turn. Finally I had Setsuna cast Aura and watched the spell sparkle down, healing another member’s HP. It was exactly as I remembered, but with the visuals that I desperately wanted all those years ago.
As excited as I was to play I Am Setsuna, 20 minutes of gameplay merely whet my appetite. I can't wait to dig deeper into the touching story and find out what other tributes Tokyo RPG Factory has in store for its audience this summer.