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E3 2016 Hands-on: I Am Setsuna

Jonathan Higgins

If you“ve played video games as a hobby for a long while, you“ve no doubt noticed how the simpler mechanics and narratives of our youth have evolved and developed into amazing things.


RPGs that used to be simple to pick up and play, today have complex systems that appeal to the enthusiast crowd and scare the stuffing out of newcomers. Some of my favorite RPGs of all time are the simpler ones, from the past. Complexity overwhelms me, if I“m being honest.


Chrono Trigger is one of those personal favorites, and a legion of folks share my sentiments. What made that game good? Mitsuda helped create one of gaming“s most memorable soundtracks, with plenty of variety and nuances that helped make individual arrangements stand out. The characters were personality-driven and served a greater purpose. The battle system was unique for its day, and gave fans plenty of challenge and new concepts. There“s so much more, but…


I Am Setsuna really wants you to remember what made Chrono Trigger so great. Just one look at

oozes the same kind of nostalgia as something like Bravely Default: Flying Fairy did for traditional Final Fantasy. And that nostalgia carries over to the game with remarkable precision. The trailer isn“t deceptive in any way -- the inaugural game from Tokyo RPG Factory will indeed make you nostalgic the whole way through... but, unfortunately, it“s kind of an example of a game that follows the past to the letter, without doing anything to modernize it.


I have a lot more to say about my time with the E3 demo than that -- and I did spend a lot of time with it. I believe the demo could only end when the player got a 'Game Over.' Since I“m extremely familiar with how Chrono Trigger plays -- no boss or challenge was ever able to get the better of me, and I spent a full hour playing, with an audience that was captivated and wondered if the screen would ever fade to black and go “Stay tuned for the full game!” -- It didn“t, to my knowledge.




An hour is enough to completely unsell me on the game, unfortunately. When you spend enough time with it, you realize how desperately this game wants to be Chrono Trigger. It copies item names and Techs & Combos to the letter. The hero has “Cyclone” that works like Crono“s does, and he can combine with one of his allies to do an “X-Strike” like Crono and Glenn.


There are a few nuances and mechanics that depart from Chrono Trigger, but they borrow from other Final Fantasy games (think FF7“s Materia) versus offering up anything “new and exciting”. Gosh, is this ever an experience that“s heavily rooted in the past. It doesn“t modernize things or try to push the gameplay forward in the same way that Bravely Default does, either.


I found everything about my time with the game to be summed up in a single phrase: “one-note”. The soundtrack utilizes only piano melodies, for starters. And hey, the piano is my favorite instrument. But to have an entire video game soundtrack with nothing but? It“s a little too much for me, no matter how catchy some of the arrangements are. The story seems very one-dimensional--with characters that try to be cut-outs of various archetypes hobbyists are familiar with.


I“m a little hesitant to be so wordy with these impressions, since I only played the first hour. But I think even Final Fantasy games that tried to market nostalgia, like IX, do a much better job of accomplishing their mission within the first hour.




Unfortunately, I'm very underwhelmed by what I saw of I Am Setsuna. But you“re free to ignore my cautionary sentiments, especially if you“re a huge fan of Chrono Trigger and long for more like it. Even if I found everything rather symbolic of a “Tokyo RPG Factory” -- perhaps you“ll find value in things that I did not.


I Am Setsuna is available on the PlayStation 4 on July 12th, 2016.

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