Recently, Square-Enix released its new RPG I Am Setsuna in Japan. Its most interesting feature? The return of Chrono Trigger's excellent battle system — only with a few nifty upgrades. The active-time battle system has long been a staple of Square RPGs — Chrono Trigger and I Am Setsuna included. The system works like this: The characters have individual bars by their names that fill up based on their individual speed stats. When a bar is full, you are able to choose an action for that character. At the same time, the enemies are also governed by the same basic rules (though you don't see their bars). The trick is that the enemies choose their attack actions instantly upon the bar being filled. Because of this, it is important to choose your commands as quickly as possible so you don't fall behind and give the enemies any extra attacks. It is a system that often demands quick thought and your full attention.
Chrono Trigger builds upon the active-time battle system in several ways, the first of which is double and triple techs. Waiting for several characters to have full battle bars at the same time allows them to perform combination special attacks — attacks that are often far more powerful that two individual special attacks. Of course, waiting for two or three characters' bars to all be full at once also leaves you open to additional enemy attacks.
The other big addition found in Chrono Trigger is the combination of area-of-effect attacks and monsters that move about the screen. Many special attacks hit a small area. So by waiting until several enemies group together, you can maximise the damage you dish out with a single attack. Of course, as you wait, the enemies get more chances to attack. All in all, it adds another layer of strategy to the game.
I Am Setsuna's battle system includes all that Chrono Trigger's has plus a few new additions. In I Am Setsuna some characters' normal attacks (namely large swords) do AOE damage naturally if the enemies are close enough together. This is true for enemies as well — some even explode when killed, resulting in some unwanted blowback damage on your nearby characters.
It's not just normal attacks that can affect multiple characters. Many spells like "protect" have an AOE radius, allowing you to buff several characters at once when they are grouped closely together.
Another little change is that while you can't manually move your characters about the field mid-battle, they can be moved by the monster's attacks or their own special attacks — thus moving into or out of range of AOE healing and buffing.
There is also a cool visual effect that highlights the importance of monster and character movement mid-battle. I Am Setsuna takes place mid-winter, often in lands covered with snow. This means all monsters and heroes leave trails in the knee-deep snow whenever they move about.
The final addition is that, as you battle, a snowflake symbol builds up next to each character's ATB bar. When the snowflake is full, you are able to boost the power of one command you give that character — be it a normal attack, healing/buffing spell or special attack.
I loved the Chrono Trigger battle system back when I first played the game in the '90s. It was a treat to come across it again in I Am Setsuna. And the little additions are like the sprinkles on top of your favourite ice cream sundae — just a little change that makes it taste even better.
I Am Setsuna was released in Japan for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita on 18 February 2016. It is scheduled for a Western release later this year.