This year, Square Enix released the debut of their new, "true RPG" studio, Tokyo RPG Factory, called I am Setsuna (or, "Ikenie to Yuki no Setsuna" in Japan) worldwide for PS4, PS Vita and, in the west, PC. The game takes on the task of bringing the gameplay of a "true RPG" - Chrono Trigger style ATB, to be precise - up again, backed by the company - or rather, companies - that made the (J)RPG genre popular in the first place. I have a hard time saying I was impressed with the game. It's fine - not an abysmally painful experience like Final Fantasy XIII nor mired in annoying anime tropes like Time & Eternity - but far from a good retro experience, unlike Square Enix's recent western release, the 3DS remake of Dragon Quest VII. Why is that? Why is one game so unabashidly joyous that I don't think I put in the amount of hours I did according to the in-game clock and the other has decidedly grinded to a halt to the point where I don't feel going back to it for a while? Or to put the question in more broad terms, why do some retro games "click" and others don't? Before we answer that, I want to put out why I think I am Setsuna is an inferiour game to Dragon Quest VII, in my book, of course. I believe I am Setsuna is "too basic" in its premise, plot and characters - this comes as a mild spoiler, but if you want to play something akin to I am Setsuna, albeit better, I recommend Square's own Final Fantasy X or Namco's Tales of Symphonia - for its own good whereas Dragon Quest VII, while also having a fair degree of simplicity, draws more strongly on the mystery of the events unfolding before the player. With that out of the way, let's forge ahead into the slightly esoteric territory of asking... what makes for a good "retro game"? In his book, "Game House", the late Gunpei Yokoi* poised the philosophy of "Lateral Thinking with Withered Technology", by which he argued that games (which he, then, mainly saw as toys) do not require cutting-edge technology to be excellent, and that novel and "fun" (or rather, engaging) gameplay are more important than being the avant-garde of the tech race. To his credit, he was right. Somewhat. Video games are in a peculiar place as a medium. See, unlike all other forms of media - literature, film, music, the performing and visual arts - video games are largely driven by the technology that fuels them and said technology dictates where the journey is going. We mostly abandoned 16-bit graphics by the end of the 90s, because the consoles could show an increasing amout of polygons, and now, if some people in the tech industry are to be believed, 4K and VR are the way to go. (Which is why I'm excited for anything Nintendo does, because they actually seem to give a damn about exploring new venues and new - sometimes more interesting - ways to play games) If a professional developer doesn't want to go there, some people in the community even dismiss them as "lazy" (paraphrasing some sentiments about less graphically games to the extreme, if you catch my drift), which, from where I sit, is a silly, if not outright dangerous sentiment. To put it into other terms, late-19th century artists didn't toss away their easels and brushes simply because daguerreotypy was invented. And while CGI exists, filmmakers haven't abandoned sets and practical effects either. Video games have, for the most part, done away with their old styles and left those to the "non-pros". Which, again, is a silly sentiment. From my point of view, this is where I think, good retro games come from. It's not (only) about making the "old stuff" again, but with a bigger budget. It's about either a) knowing the knickknacks of what made the "old stuff" good** - as is evident with Dragon Quest VII, though that title is a remake, not a new game; a better example would probably be the output by JRPG outfit Nihon Falcom - and working from there, or b) taking bits and pieces of the "old stuff", but find something new to do with it - like the excellent To The Moon, which aped for 16-bit era retro graphics, but ditched deep gameplay for what I'd call one of the best game narratives in years. Both paths work, but of course, it can be up to one's personal taste. Retro, in my opinion, isn't a "hipster fad". It's artists rediscovering the easel, the canvas and the paint and trying new things with them or finding new ways to (re)make old things. If someone knew how to make another (good) entry in the Gensou Suikoden franchise, I'd also be all for that. *if you don't know who Gunpei Yokoi was: He created the Ultra Hand, the Game & Watch, the GameBoy and the Bandai WonderSwan as well as the first Metroid game and worked on both the NES and SNES. He also created the Virtual Boy, meaning even geniuses can get it wrong sometimes. **by which I mean, don't believe for a second people love ATB and Turn-based enough to give retro fare a free pass. Lookin' at you, japanese devs.