Chrono Trigger is a game often described as a masterpiece, both in design and character, yet over the years only a few RPGs have taken direct inspiration from it. I Am Setsuna is a new RPG for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita promising to not only harken back to the golden age of RPGs from the mid-1990s, but to also wear it’s Chrono Trigger influence unabashedly on it’s sleeve.
The first thing you will notice is the battle system is almost directly ripped from Chrono Trigger; the lack of random encounters, the way the characters jump into position during battle transitions, the use of the ATB gauge, the 3 character battle party and of course the Combo attacks between party members. Well, if you’re going to copy the foundations of a battle system, Chrono Trigger is one of the best. The battle system also has some other tricks including equip-able items called “Spritnite” which are similar to Final Fantasy VII’s Materia system and some new additions such as the “Setsuna” gauge which fills up with each attack and grants boosts to characters actions.
While the game design looks like a definite homage to classic 16-bit era RPGs, the visuals are more modern. The artstyle has a sombre tone that builds an atmosphere that matches the games tragic narrative. The world is covered in snow and mountains, which adds to the dreary aesthetic and adds mystery to the adventure. The focus of the story is Setsuna, she has been chosen by her village to be the sacrifice to bring the world peace. Together with her safeguards and the mercenary Endir, who is initially tasked with killing Setsuna, the party set out to protect Setsuna on her journey across the land to her final destination. The narrative clearly sounds similar to Yuna’s pilgrimage in Final Fantasy X, so it will be interesting to see how it differs in both story and character development.
Other than the battle system and presentation, other design choices that relate I Am Setsuna to the games of the past are the lack of voice acting outside of battle, allowing the music to take centre stage. The soundtrack is comprised completely using piano and sounds both beautiful and haunting. The game also features a world map, fully traversable by foot as well as airship, and many villages and towns to explore and converse with NPCs. It certainly looks like it covers all the criteria from those old-school adventures.
I Am Setsuna is filled with influences and references to classic RPGs that many people love, the main question is will it have enough new elements to stand on its own and deliver an engaging and fantastic RPG experience. It sounds very promising and would be a great beginning to a new RPG series. So if you’re still mesmerised by these classic games and are keen to jump into a new adventure, you should be excited to play I Am Setsuna.
I have written before that I prefer turn-based battle systems over action orientated ones, but some designs are better than others. Back when turn-based was the popular choice for RPGs, many developers came up with extremely creative ways to add new mechanics to the traditional systems. Some relied on deep character customisation, while others added team attacks and summons spells to make battles more epic and interesting. The following games made combat fun with game play ideas that were well implemented and developed.
Regarded now as a classic, the second game in the Suikoden series build on the foundation of its predecessor and offered tradition RPG battles, Scissors, Paper, Rock style one-on-one duels and massive scale grid-based strategy war combat. The variety was great and the different combat styles fit in with the story, but even the regular battles were full of strategy and new mechanics. Firstly your battle party could consist of up to 6 members out of a possible 108 recruit- able characters, offering a lot of diversity in how you customised your party. Another mechanic that worked well in turn-based battles was that your characters would overlap their attacks resulting in more intense combat and the ability to combine certain characters attacks. The range of options in Suikoden II kept the game feeling constanly fresh and new.
Final Fantasy VII
The Final Fantasy series has made a name for itself by reinventing its battle mechanics in each new iteration. The seventh installment saw the implementation of the Materia System. What seems at first like a simple way of equipping your characters with magic, actions and stat boosts, becomes a system that enables you to link Materia into infinite combinations. Weapons and armour come with empty slots to fill with Materia that you can purchase or find on your quest and many of them come with linked slots. Combining the Lightning Materia with an All Materia means you can cast a spell that targets all enemies, but if you also combine it with HP Absorb, then you will also regain health when you cast the spell, but then if you also use the W-Magic Materia you are able to cast that spell twice and regain health each time, then if you combine it with MP Absorb… you see where this is going? The Materia system is simply the best customisation system utilised in any RPG, as it is both intuitive and simple to learn, but extremely complex and dense all at the same time.
As the most recent game released in this article, it proves there is still plenty of ways to make turn-based battle systems relevant in the modern era. Radiant Historia places enemies on a 3-by-3 grid and your characters can knock the enemies around the battle field or stack them on top of each other to allow your other characters’ attacks to hit multiple targets at once. The most interesting addition though, is the ability to manipulate the turn order of battle. When it is your characters’ turn you can opt to swap it with any other character, so you can exchange your turn with an ally that can heal the party when desperate, or you can even give up your turn to the enemy in a strategic ploy to line up your characters turns together to enable you to perform a combo attack. These strategies become very important in boss battles and are often the deciding factor between winning and losing.
There are a number of features that can keep combat engaging, fun, strategic and challenging. Over the years RPG mechanics have evolved, but I often think that designers should take a note from battle systems of past and see how they used creative features to expand upon an old formula and make it feel new and exciting. What have been some of your favourite battle systems in RPGs?
Back in generations past all the best RPGs utilised turn-based battle mechanics. Usually your party would face off against their opponents and you would choose commands for each of your combatants to execute, depending on their turn order or speed gauge. Recently, most modern RPGs have relied heavily on action battle systems where you can only control one character. Many people think turn-based systems are just relics from the past, because older hardware was not capable of processing all the actions in real time. This may, or may not be the case, but I am still far more engaged by turn-based battles.
The first thing I enjoy more is the increased ability to use strategy against opponents. I still have fond memories of winning epic boss battles by figuring out the enemy’s weakness and casting the corresponding spells. You had time to think, and plan your actions about which character would serve which role in battle and if your plan of attack wasn’t working you could always switch to something else. It created a great sense of suspense as your characters were decimated by the enemy’s attack as you rushed to heal and regroup before launching a counterattack.
I feel that being in control of all of your characters actions helps to be more engaged with their story. As the different characters use their abilities in battle it gives the sense of unity that they are all fighting together against the greater evil. Some characters have unique abilities and techniques and it helps get the player more invested if they are the ones controlling them during battle. RPGs such as Chrono Trigger took this to another level enabling characters to combine their powers into combination attacks, adding to sense of teamwork. Games that let you have full control over your party members instead of just using AI, let you develop your own battle style and techniques.
Customisation in RPGs are always a big part of the experience and there is nothing more satisfying then when you equip one of your characters with a new magic spell and you head into battle to test out it’s devastating effects. By customising your party in different ways it allows you to play the game in a variety of ways and helps to stop combat from being repetitive.
I have played and loved many action RPGs as well, but to me nothing beats a solid turn-based system with menus, commands and a variety of roles for the characters to take, or the ability to customise your fighters however you like.
Final Fantasy VII is a turn-based RPG released for the PlayStation which is often regarded as one of the best video games of all time.
Final Fantasy VII was a revolution in video games. It introduced RPGs to the mainstream, brought cinematic FMV sequences to the storytelling and took millions of people on an unforgettable adventure. The world of Final Fantasy VII is engaging and the various locations feel like people actually live there. Never before had interesting characters, a deep narrative, cinematic presentation and intuitive game play come together so well. Nor has it since.
The story begins as ex-SOLDIER Cloud Strife joins an underground resistance group attacking the corporation he once worked for. What starts out as a simple mercenary job, leads to a story of revenge, love, identity and ultimately a journey to save the planet’s life. The story includes some of the most iconic characters in RPGs, which are all well fleshed out and really make you care for them. There are so many memorable scenes; from the death of Aeris, to Sephiroth burning down Nibelheim, that are accompanied by thought provoking and emotional dialogue. Final Fantasy VII’s narrative will keep you thinking about it long after you have stopped playing.
Battles are fought using the Active Time Battle (ATB) system used in most games in the Final Fantasy series. Materia can be collected and equipped onto character’s weapons and armour, providing them with the ability to use various forms of magic and call Summon Monsters into battle. As Materia itself is levelled up, all magic can be equipped on any character to increase customisation and can be linked together to create unique combination attacks. Game play is reminiscent of many RPG’s but one area that Final Fantasy shines is in its extravagant mini-games. From snowboarding, to a motorcycle chase and even a theme park, many of the mini-games in Final Fantasy VII could be expanded into their own games.
The world of Final Fantasy VII truly comes alive when combined with its stellar soundtrack. The music is dark and emotional and adds as much to the atmosphere as the fantastic graphical design. “Aeris’ Theme” provides the most emotional and memorable song in any RPG, while “One Winged Angel” will put you on the edge of your seat in anticipation. The music is magnificent and escalates the game into the top of its genre.
Final Fantasy VII is most meaningful experience I have ever had with a video game. If you wish to play an RPG that has it all, then you should play Final Fantasy VII.