When we first learned that Square Enix was working on a Final Fantasy VII Remake , first we lost our minds. Then we started speculating how it might play in 2017 compared to the original. Then forums and threads therein blew up with arguments over traditional, turn-based battles and whether or not they’d still be fun in a modern game. The majority of people seem to come to the conclusion, when they’re honest with themselves, that the turn-based combat from the original Final Fantasy VII actually has no place in a modern remake.
Tastes have changed. We seem somewhat averse not only to turn-based combat, but to the general structure of classic JRPGs generally. The modern gamer demands more freedom; an open world; stacked quests and side-quests. Traditional JRPGs tend to be linear, narrative-driven ventures, and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it doesn’t seem to be what we’re buying.
To that point, it was recently reported that Tokyo RPG Factory, the Square Enix studio that developed I Am Setsuna , saw a 244 million yen loss at the conclusion of Square Enix’s fiscal year (via SiliconEra ). I Am Setsuna was supposed to be the classic RPG that we’ve been asking for. Tokyo RPG Factory was very deliberate in its marketing the game as the classic JRPG fan’s dream come true: a modern, narrative-driven JRPG, inspired directly by Chrono Trigger , with 16-bit visuals updated to look gorgeous on our HD screens. You’d expect this game to sell at least a million copies, right? Wrong.
Now before we go all “doom and gloom” on this joint, let me just take a second to trace the silver lining here. A 244 million yen loss isn’t so huge. That translates to around $2.4 million USD. Square Enix has a few million dollars to lose, and that’s not such a big deal. You also have to consider the fact that this loss was reported before Western sales of I am Setsuna were recorded. I don’t think those numbers would have made a huge impact – unofficially I know there have been at least 20 thousand copies sold on Steam – but I have no doubt that by the time this game has been out for a few months, gone on sale a few times, and possibly ended up on mobile, Tokyo RPG Factory will have at least broken even. I’m also not sure if startup costs for the studio itself were included in that deficit.
The point is, the game didn’t sell phenomenally well. Even in Japan the numbers were somewhat anemic. I am Setsuna sold a combined 61,623 units on PS4 and PS Vita its opening week. There’s some kind of disconnect between what we say we want, and what we’re actually willing to buy. Whenever another new RPG tanks we say things like, “Why can’t they just make something exactly like Chrono Trigger ,” and “If they’d just do exactly what they did with Final Fantasy VI with updated graphics, they’d sell millions.” Well, that doesn’t seem to be the case, does it?
I think that when we express our desires for games exactly like Chrono Trigger , Dragon Quest , or Final Fantasies past, what we really mean is we want RPGs that make us feel the way we felt when we played those games back in the day. Consider the Final Fantasy VII remake again. Imagine an explosive intro in full-blown HD with these new character models who look so badass. Then imagine the hundreds of fights and skirmishes that will take place over the course of this incredible story retold. Are you really wanting every one of those battles to take place with menus occupying a third of the screen, selecting actions with a cursor and watching them play out only after waiting for an ATB bar to charge? It just wouldn’t work. Not only would it be jarring and boring in the context of a modern game, I don’t think that charming 16-bit visuals could make it work, either.
I want Tokyo RPG Factory to bounce back. I want to hear that they’re working on another game soon. The classic JRPG vibe has an immortal allure, but these developers shouldn’t be afraid to introduce a few modern tweaks. They need to realize that giving the fans exactly what they ask for isn’t always the best option. I do want a classic style RPG, but I wouldn’t mind a modern twist – especially at a $40 asking price.
What about you guys? Does the classic JRPG formula still work, or do the classics need to stay on our SNESes, PlayStations, and emulators? Did any of you pick up I am Setsuna ? If you did, what were your impressions, and what would you change in Tokyo RPG Factory’s next game?