As many of our regular readers will know I am a big fan of JRPG’s and one title I’ve had my eye on this year is I Am Setsuna from Tokyo RPG Factory. When the game was released in July on PSN and Steam I let it pass me by due to the £33 price tag, but this week saw the game get its very first discount due to Cyber Monday sales and so I finally picked it up. Having now played a good chunk of the game I realise that it’s a solid example of why not all JRPG’s need to follow today’s modern improvements.
Since the early days of Final Fantasy, Pokémon and games like Chrono Trigger it’s safe to say that JRPG’s have come a long way and evolved quite a lot. There are a lot of staples of the genre that we’ve come to accept as something that’s always there, but what happens if you take some of those away (without negatively impacting on the quality of the game)? Well, that’s a question I Am Setsuna answers quite cheerfully.
One of the first things I noticed about I Am Setsuna is that there are no inns or a home base to rest up. In fact unless you level up your HP/MP is never fully restored without the use of items. Now the lack of an inn system or having a home base to rest up only really makes sense because of the plot of Setsuna, you’re moving around a lot and the population seems so poor that there just isn’t the need for inns because no one travels around. It makes sense and because the game is well balanced when it comes to money and levelling up, you’re never going to find yourself without a means of fixing yourself up.
I’m not saying every game should drop the idea of having someplace you can sleep and rest up, but I think certain stories, some journey’s just make more sense without it. Why does every town have to be home to an inn? What if that town is poor and sees little in the way of travellers? It makes sense that there wouldn’t be a place to rest up then, right? It’s one of those things where maybe the trend of having somewhere to recover in every area is stunting the ability to truly build some of these worlds to their potential.
Another thing I briefly touched upon earlier is how important money is in the world of I Am Setsuna. You need it for everything: Buying weapons, items, and your spells. Despite how important money is though you won’t find it in treasure boxes or randomly on the ground and perhaps more importantly – Monsters won’t drop money either. The only way to make money in this game is by selling off the items that monsters drop or those you come across on the ground. Now not everything can be sold, some of the items are used to create food with but those that you should keep around are clearly labelled and everything else you sell off leaves you with enough to get by.
The thing I enjoy about this game is that it makes me think, I can’t just splurge on items or that fancy new sword I want without first considering what it’ll do to my bank balance. It’s this kind of thing that you don’t tend to find in the more recent JPRG’s though, because you usually have an overabundance of money and the ability to buy whatever you want. I get through most games without spending that much on healing items whatsoever so that money normally gets funnelled into weapons, but I can’t do that in I Am Setsuna and I like the game all the more for it.
It’s not just the fact that I like having limited money and having something to think about, it’s also that the system feels a lot more realistic. I mean why do monsters carry around currency that they don’t use themselves? There is no real point to it and I prefer the realism that I Am Setsuna offers by getting rid of the idea. We are adventurers, why wouldn’t we just sell off the drops we get from monsters instead of gaining money just through fighting them? It’s not a major issue and I’d never stop playing JRPG’s where the monsters drop money, but really, I think Setsuna is setting out some of the old ground rules I wouldn’t mind returning.
While what it means to be a JRPG has evolved over the years I really like games like I Am Setsuna that have chosen to break the mold. It makes the time spent immersed in these worlds a lot more fulfilling and, frankly, much more believable. I’m not asking for the genre to turn upside down and I’m sure many of you will have read this and not care if a game has inns or how its currency system works, but for those of us who do and want just a little more from our adventures then I hope the example of I Am Setsuna is followed. At the very least I hope it’s a formula that Tokyo RPG Factory stick with for their next game and beyond.