One writer thinks that the success of I Am Setsuna‘s stubborn adherence to JRPG traditions could be an indicator that Final Fantasy 7 Remake could thrive doing the same.
Perhaps, as a diehard JRPG fan, I’m guilty of a number of biases when it comes to the games I enjoy the most. Turn-based combat might not be the most exhilarating for some, but I have never felt so in control and invested in a battle than when I’m desperately searching a menu of magic spells to find the right combination to salvage a difficult boss fight.
Games suddenly demanding that players spent an hour or two wandering around an area they’ve just arrived in before they take on a new, monstrous, and over-powered enemy might be frustrating and blatantly extending the playing time of a title, but I adore grinding out experience points to learn new skills, and loathe level scaling features – sometimes I just want to head back to an area and beat up on some critters that gave me trouble earlier. It’s cathartic. Some of the best JRPGs ever made won players over with the exact same fondness for strategic combat and number-crunching leveling grinds, and it’s not as if gamers have somehow gotten worse at managing these often challenging gameplay elements.
It should come as no surprise, then, that I personally adored I Am Setsuna, a game that almost religiously adheres to the classic JRPG tenets without making them stale or unexciting. Square Enix and Tokyo RPG Factory managed to create a compelling modern-day take on turn-based combat and an incredible array of skill combinations that makes a number of different approaches to the title viable, and the publisher and developer duo managed to do it without straying from the core of the genre.
While some will say I Am Setsuna should have done more to push the envelope, I think the restrained approach served the game much better. Tokyo RPG Factory very deliberately honed a formula that stayed true to its roots, and the result has been a welcome mixture of nostalgia and innovation. That nostalgia is interesting, however, in the fact that I Am Setsuna is a brand new IP. Now, what if Square Enix tried to take the same approach to a game that really is capable of the kind of nostalgia that is driving Pokemon GO to unheard of heights?
Things have been quiet for Final Fantasy 7 Remake ever since the media frenzy that erupted from its debut at E3 2015. News regarding the title has died down to nothing more than whispers, and the developers themselves have labelled 2016 as the year of preparation for Final Fantasy 7 Remake, indicating that they believe the game likely won’t even have a demo until next year at the earliest. That’s a lengthy period of time where the game will go through several very different iterations, and it’s also a chance for Square Enix to rethink some of its strategy when it comes to remaking one of the most beloved titles – regardless of genre – of all time, Final Fantasy 7.
After all, it’s no secret that fans of the original game were decidedly split by Square Enix’s announcement that Final Fantasy 7 Remake would not necessarily remain faithful to the numerous gameplay and character designs that defined the original game. The option to explore more Final Fantasy 7 side character stories is, admittedly, quite appealing and something Square Enix should pursue, but the changes to combat are a little bit more suspect.
To be clear, I’m not advocating for Square Enix to completely abandon the idea of bringing in a brand new combat system. I’ll be the first to concede that a meticulous reconstruction of Final Fantasy 7‘s combat would be a bad idea and alienate a number of newer gamers who didn’t play the original title and have no interest in truly old-school gameplay mechanics. I Am Setsuna, however, proves that a developer can lean more towards classic gameplay modes and still manage to find new ways to make them compelling, something that a publisher as experienced as Square Enix can no doubt achieve with an IP as important as Final Fantasy 7 Remake as well.
The trick, of course, is finding out exactly how to balance the old with the new. I Am Setsuna was able to do it because it is a relatively short gameplay experience that is unabashedly an homage to older titles like Chrono Trigger. Tokyo RPG Factory’s new IP also had the added benefit of being created for a very specific niche audience, while Final Fantasy 7 Remake is a title that many gamers either played or grew up around, and as such its player demographic is likely a lot more varied.
One suggestion could be to implement timing-based attacks that also change depending on player positioning to a battle system that already had a lot of strategic depth in its first iteration. Players could still choose how to proceed in a turn-based menu, but it would also add a reflexive element to the gameplay, something that Final Fantasy 8 tried and found success with. Another option could be looking at Final Fantasy 12‘s much-maligned battle system and attempting to modify and modernize it into something that manages to appeal to traditionalists and fans of a modern approach alike.
The beauty of the situation is, however, that Final Fantasy 7 Remake doesn’t necessarily need to restrict what it can take away from I Am Setsuna to combat alone. Final Fantasy 7 Remake can also adopt other elements of the game, like I Am Setsuna‘s modified skill system that plays like an updated Materia interface. I Am Setsuna also proved that old-school JRPG save points and item scarcity won’t turn people away from a well-made game, and Square Enix would do well to remember that when designing just how difficult it wants Final Fantasy 7 Remake to be.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake is a speck on a very distant horizon right now, and Final Fantasy 15 is likely demanding most of Square Enix’s attention currently. When the time comes to seriously consider the gameplay elements that Square wants to embrace in Final Fantasy 7 Remake, however, I’m hoping – as a fan of JRPG titles, and a fan of good games in general – that the publisher learns a few lessons from Tokyo RPG Factory and looks to I Am Setsuna for a bit of old-school inspiration.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake is currently in development for the PS4. It currently has no scheduled release date.