Tokyo RPG Factory: Down, But Not Out?
It’s been almost three years since we’ve heard anything (of importance) from Square Enix subsidiary, Tokyo RPG Factory. Established in 2014 with the sole vision of delivering ‘90s-esque, nostalgia-driven adventures not unlike those many of us grew up with, the studio would ultimately release three titles over the next five years: I Am Setsuna in 2016, Lost Sphear in 2017, and Oninaki in 2019. While all three would garner a moderate level of acclaim – they all share roughly the same average Metacritic score of around 70 – the first two, which drew heavy combat inspiration from Chrono Trigger, would ultimately bring home the most financial bacon. As commendable as their new action RPG approach with Oninaki was, it would ultimately lead the subsidiary to massive losses in their last reported fiscal year.
With their reported earnings over the years being a literal rollercoaster of highs and lows, many would assume that the studio all but folded in the wake of financial woes, with a certain horrible global pandemic being the final nail in that coffin. And maybe they have despite no official announcement stating one way or another. But could Tokyo RPG Factory still be kicking, and have plans for a new game – an ace up their sleeve that could get them from their current “4th and long” situation to a new (and hopefully profitable) end zone? I think it’s unlikely…but it’s certainly possible.
Unless you count a few mentions of sales and other odds and ends from their social media as recently as 2020, Tokyo RPG Factory has been on radio silence for years. However, there is one interview from November of 2019 that “suggests” the team may be in a very early pre-production stage for a fourth game. This is hardly concrete evidence, as an officially translated version of the script doesn’t seem to exist, and the true meaning of that specific question and answer could certainly be lost in translation. Moreover, even with the global happenings, you’d think the team would have something to tease at this point, especially when they’ve historically stuck to a two-to-three-year development cycle. That said, they have been known to play cards fairly close to their chest in the past, so perhaps an announcement is just on the horizon?
But if Tokyo RPG Factory truly wants to “return the favor with nostalgic adventures of their own” – a motto they’ve proudly displayed on their website for years now – then keeping things under wraps and just releasing a simple, but polished experience is arguably one of the best things they could do. I don’t think the wheel has to be reinvented to succeed, but quality and consistency is a must. Some might argue that with all the remakes and remasters that Square Enix have been pumping out – as well as the highly praised modernized retro experiences produced by other teams, such as Team Asano – that there is no longer a need for what Tokyo RPG Factory envisioned in the first place. But if the sales and critic performance of the aforementioned “retro” projects mean anything, then I’d say that is the furthest thing from the truth. In short, people are still very much into retro-inspired experiences, but, more importantly, want products that are quality and worth their weight in gold.
Taking that phrase at face value, let’s talk pricing. Whether you have enjoyed any of the games by Tokyo RPG Factory or not, most would agree that their original price tags felt a bit high. While I’m not one of those that thinks they deserve a “bargain bin” cost of entry, I’ve always felt that the asking price of their games haven’t accurately reflected what the experiences truly offer. I’m sure that having an overlord like Square Enix is partly to blame here – Square Enix tax and all – but the truth is that there are swathes of quality indie RPGs being offered at a much lower cost, so Tokyo RPG Factory either needs to ramp their quality up, or rein in their standard pricing format some in order for any new game to truly be competitive.
But that’s if we even see a fourth game in the first place. Could a fourth game actually even be in development, and what would it be like? Tokyo RPG Factory tapped into some serious nostalgia with I Am Setsuna and Lost Sphear’s Chrono Trigger-esque battle systems, then completely changed it up with Oninaki. Would this fourth game continue in the action RPG vein of the latter, mark a return to the studio’s turn-based roots (hopefully, without any Chrono Trigger influence) or be another subgenre entirely? Would it continue on with 3D assets – undoubtedly bolstered by one of the studio’s greatest strengths, aesthetics and theme – or would it opt for a retro-inspired pixel art approach?
I personally think we’d see something entirely different, for no other reason than their current offerings almost acting as a pseudo trilogy in the form of setsugekka – a Japanese expression involving snow (I Am Setsuna), moon (Lost Sphear), and flowers (Oninaki). Who can say for sure, but one thing is for certain: a fourth entry, if even possible, could be Tokyo RPG Factory’s legit “final” fantasy no matter what it ends up being. But like its distant cousin of the same name, I’d love for it to pave the way to even greater things from the team in the future.
But enough about what I think – how do you feel about Tokyo RPG Factory? Did you enjoy any of their games? If not, would you be willing to give them another chance if they were to release another game? And if so, what would you like for that game to be like? Let me know!