If you take a look at my list of 100 greatest games, you’ll find a healthy selection of classic JRPGs. As a product of the late 1980s and 1990s I’ve grown accustomed to what I played as a child. Older JRPGs were smaller games, peaceful games, games that took place in little, distant worlds. Turn-Based JRPGs were quiet and did not require a whole lot of press as their excellence was mostly spread through great reviews and word-of-mouth. While they have seemed to vanish from existence, it looks like the Turn-Based JRPG is desperately trying to make a comeback.
Enter the Tokyo RPG Factory, a new subsidiary of Square Enix that is focused on delivering classic style JRPGs. Their first project, I Am Setsuna was released earlier this year in Japan and is set to hit the US in the Summer of 2016. I for one, cannot wait! Take a look at the trailer.
It’s quite impressive that Square Enix is trying to pull itself back up from the roots. Outside of a few select series (Persona), the turn-based JRPG has been dormant for quite some time. Obsidian Games was able to find success with their love-letter to classic JRPGs, South Park: The Stick of Truth back in 2014. It’s massive critical and commercial success has warranted a sequel which should release sometime either this year or in 2017. South Park was able to respark JRPG enthusiasm for all we children of the Super Mario RPG generation. What will this mean for the future of the genre, though? Will it experience a retro-renaissance like 2D platformers have enjoyed over the past few years? Or will it slowly go the way of the dinosaur a second time.
We love nostalgia. More likely than not, we have clung to the games that remind us most of our childhood. Games like Shovel Knight or a throwback to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles show how nostalgia is starting to become a massively important sales and marketing tool for game developers. I question whether or not this is a good thing, or if it will forever limit the potential of great game design. I gather, for the time being, that I will just be forced to live in the world that is looking to cling tightly to mechanics that worked decades ago. While it hurts originality, the warm feeling I get from seeing these games makes me happy.
Turn-Based RPGs have mostly been sequestered to handhelds. Games like Pokemon, DragonQuest, and Bravely Default (and Second), have all had massive success on the 3DS. On the PSP and PSVita games like Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky have a strong following and are keeping the classic gameplay alive. I am Setsuna looks to be a charming throwback to the 1990s and takes many ques from the Square classic, Chrono Trigger.
It looks great, actually. I’m excited for this game’s eventual release. It uses a similar combat design to Chrono Trigger complete with an ATB system. Square is paying homage to the games that made them famous, which is a refreshing change from FFXV. I just grow wary that this may be a quick and easy way to drive sales and not necessarily a return to form. Silicon Studio, another subsidiary of Square Enix, has also been creating nostalgic JRPGs with their Bravely series. Bravely Second: End Layer releases in April here in the States and is a follow up to Bravely Default. It mimics the gameplay of SNES games like Final Fantasy V. In 2016 Square is releasing two games that greatly borrow from their success of the 1990s.
Looks like fun, doesn’t it! I just hope we get games that pay respect to the genre and aren’t just using the style as a way to get a quick buck. We shall see, as 2016 looks to showcase the rebirth of the turn-based JRPG.