There are certain smaller studios out there making Japanese games that are gradually growing in notoriety. One of them is Tokyo RPG Factory, a developer that most people probably know as the one that is owned by Square Enix. (Other acceptable answers include “the one that makes sad games” or “the one where all the games look a lot alike.” It’s been five years since its founding in 2014, and the company has kept on trucking. In fact, it has a new game coming out this year! Which means now is the perfect time to figure out more about it and why you may want to take an interest in the team’s games.
So, what is Tokyo RPG Factory?
To be honest, this is a studio where the name says it all. Square Enix founded this developer in 2014 to create games that were similar to old-school JRPGs. Not that they would be in 2D or have similar storylines, mind you. But that they would have similar concepts or mechanics in play. (For example, I am Setsuna attempted a Chrono Trigger-inspired battle system.) At E3 2015, it and its first game, I am Setsuna, were revealed to the world.
In practice, the company has been releasing games on almost a yearly schedule. In 2016, there was I am Setsuna. That was followed by Lost Sphear in 2017. In 2019, Oninaki is making its debut. So far, each game has been written by Hirotaka Inaba, who also wrote for Fantasy Life, and Makoto Goya, who also was a writer on Rhythm Thief and the Emperor’s Treasure and Shenmue.
True to form, each game has been an RPG. However, Oninaki is changing things up a bit, as it is an action-RPG.
How many Tokyo RPG Factory games are there so far?
Right now, there are three you can play. The first two games are turn-based RPGs. The next one is an action-RPG. They all take place in different universes and are stand-alone titles. They also are all rather manageable, as I am Setsuna is shortest around 20 hours, but you won’t be spending 60-80 hours on any of them.
I am Setsuna (PS4, Vita and PC, 2016)
I am Setsuna is the story of a girl about to sacrifice herself for the sake of the world. Players follow a mercenary named Endir who was hired to kill her. However, he fails to and instead becomes one of her guards on her pilgrimage to the place where she will sacrifice herself to end the flow of monsters and bring (temporary) peace to the world. It is a turn-based RPG that can get a little dark, considering you’re following a girl on her way to die. It released on the PlayStation 4, Vita and PC worldwide.
It ended up finding its way to another platform too! It also eventually came to the Nintendo Switch. This version launched in 2017.
Lost Sphear (PS4, Switch and PC, 2017)
Like I am Setsuna, Lost Sphear is another turn-based RPG. Here, players follow a young man named Kanata and his friends who discover things in the world are just disappearing. Items, locations, monsters and people just vanish. However, Kanata has the ability to bring them back. If he gets the right memories and words, he can restore them to the world. (There are two possible endings to earn, based on players’ actions.)
While I am Setsuna showed up everywhere in the same year, there was a slight delay with Lost Sphear. It debuted in Japan in 2017, with a worldwide release following in 2018.
Oninaki (PS4, Switch and PC, 2019)
Heading back to the whole “death” thing again, Oninaki follows a Watcher named Kagachi. His role is to find the lost souls who didn’t immediately reincarnate and help them to their next life. Watchers use Daemons, lost spirits who provide equipment and skills, to fight monsters and carry out their jobs. It is an action-RPG where one of the hallmarks is going past the veil into the other side, where the lost roam.
Is there anything else all of these games have in common?
Actually, yes! While every Tokyo RPG Factory game so far has been a stand-alone title, they tend to share some common themes. Namely, they probably aren’t the sort of titles you want to play if you’re feeling down in the dumps. All three deal with serious subject matters. People uncomfortable with games that get into death and suicide might want to check a demo or read some reviews first.
Namely, all three games deal heavily with loss. In I am Setsuna, there is the knowledge that Setsuna is going to sacrifice herself, isn’t the first to do so and in fact lost her mother in the same way. With Lost Sphear, people keep disappearing and you don’t know if or when they will be back. Oninaki follows a lead character who is constantly dealing with lost souls and the dead or nearly departed.