I am Setsuna Review- For Fans of Old School JRPGs

Old school JRPGs tend to elicit fond nostalgic feelings from many gamers. They were turn based affairs, featuring lively sprites on colorful backgrounds. Stories generally involved a young adventurer off to save the world from unspeakable evil, often doing so with the aid of companions found along the way. Now Square Enix and developer Tokyo RPG Factory seek to bring that feeling home again with I am Setsuna. Long time fans of the genre will no doubt make comparisons with such games as Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger, and yet while taking inspiration from those classic games, I am Setsuna is very much its own being. It’s a 20-30 hour trek across a snowy world, through forests, towns, and long abandoned structures filled with various monsters. Your mission is to bring about the attacks by the monsters, which have been increasing, to an end.

But here’s where I am Setsuna takes a different turn.

Your adventurer is no naive farmer boy, or even a young impetuous prince. Rather, you are a mercenary, tasked with dispatching a target. The target in question turns out to be the titular Setsuna, but she’s not your typical eighteen year old maiden. Turns out Setsuna is the sacrifice, a maiden to be offered up to halt the attacks by bands of monsters to give humans a respite for a time, before the next sacrifice is needed. It’s a bit of irony that the girl you are to kill is destined to die anyway. But she can’t just die anywhere. A journey must be made. And so, your mercenary agrees to accompany Setsuna on her pilgrimage. In the end, your party will grow to one of seven companions, each one on the surface an RPG trope. But as time goes on, each character is revealed to have a much deeper story, and these revelations are just one of the joys of I am Setsuna.

I am Setsuna does not ultimately tell a happy tale. This is a sad game, though there are some moments of levity from your party members. The soundtrack uses only a piano for the game’s score, and the notes often punctuate the sadness as you trudge across the snowy landscapes. Despite only a sole instrument being used, the music for I am Setsuna never becomes grating or dull. The music will generally clue you in as to what’s coming up, and it all works well. The piano proves to be a terrific choice in providing the aural backdrop to the snow-filled environments. The environments are nicely rendered by don’t vary much between types. Each forest more or less resembles the other, as do the towns, right down to the furnishings inside the houses. The sparseness of the open world serves to highlight the hopelessness of this world. The people you meet on your journey all seem resigned to their fate, even as their encourage Setsuna to continue on to complete her sacred duty. Despite victories over groups of monsters and large boss foes, joy always feels fleeting. Obstacles are placed in your path at every turn, adding a sense of futility to a mission you know you need to accomplish for the good of the world, despite knowing what awaits in the end. There’s a sense of poignancy as the party rallies around Setsuna, each one determined to help her see her duty through, even though fulfilling that duty means she will die.

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But how does the actual gameplay hold up? The answer is quite well.

Combat in I am Setsuna is turn based, but the speed of those turns is at your control. Want a faster moving experience, designed to keep your on your toes? You can set the battle speed to Active, where you need to decide quickly on your next move. Those who want a little bit more time while deciding what to do next can set the speed to Wait. each is a viable option, depending on your preferred style of play. Weapons can be upgraded with the use of certain materials, which can be found across the world or purchased from a specific merchant. For the most part, your weapons will increase in power and strength in a fairly linear manner, as the next step on your journey often presents you with a weapon that’s the next step up. That holds true until around the end of the game, where you may choose to keep an older weapon because its stats are better overall. It does add a bit of strategy to your choice. Do you pick a weapon with a greater attack power but lowers your defense? The differences generally aren’t too drastic, but it does add a layer of choice.

Items, of course, play a vital role, and going into battle well stocked is of great importance. Getting money is as simple as finding materials across the world and then selling them to a merchant who represents the Magic Consortium. Selling these materials is crucial, as it makes more spritnite available to you. Spritnite is that substance that gives you enhanced abilities, be it being able to heal your party or deliver a powerful attack on your foes. Having the proper spritnite equipped plays an important role in combat, as some enemies are more susceptible to certain attacks over others. This also adds a layer of strategy in how you compose your party, to make sure you can present a balanced force. Finding what works can be trial and error at times, which can set you back a bit should you choose wrong depending on where you are. You can only save anywhere on the world map, as you’ll need to find save points (designated by glowing circles) in forests or dungeons (there’s a neat explanation for these points given towards the game’s end, which was a bit clever). Hitting Triangle on the PS4 brings up your menu, where you can reassign party members, use items, or equip weapons or spritnite. Talismans, which can be found or purchased, determine how many slots you have available to equip the spritnite. these talismans can also add certain buffs, such as seeing an enemy’s hit points or speeding up how quickly your ATB gauge fills. Between weapons, spritnite, and talismans, there are plenty of ways to customize your characters. You can also choose to keep their default names, or get creative with your own.

The customization can give a unique feel to each playthrough, even though the basic game structure and ending will remain unchanged. Conversation choices are mostly illusory and rarely change things up too much. The main differences are how the characters immediately respond, though the choices have little to no effect on the overall story. Still, it’s nice that choices are provided, and gives some incentive to replay the game once you completed your journey. The end simply takes you back to the main menu. There is no new game plus or alternate difficulty level. Replay value will depend highly on how much you came to like the characters and the story.

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While Tokyo RPG Factory did a very good job with its first release I am Setsuna, the game does have a few issues, but nothing that’s game breaking or will ruin your enjoyment. Characters have no feet, a la Fire Emblem Awakenings, though it’s rarely noticeable seeing how you’re often walking in knee high snow. There is no map for forests, caves, or dungeons, so you’ll have to figure out your own way through. For the most part this isn’t an issue, as these areas are generally linear with few branching paths. Moving across the world map is a slow affair, and can sometimes make going back and forth between areas a bit tedious. There is some backtracking in the game, but most of it comes later, when you have an airship to help traverse the map. Some enemies ramp up the difficulty quite a bit, and getting killed before you can save can undo any progress you’ve made, especially if you leveled up. Grinding can become necessary in spots, though long time players of the genre will most likely expect that. There is no voice acting (beyond gibberish), so you’ll be doing a lot of reading. Also, you can’t skip cut scenes, so dying will force you to sit through them all over again. For the most part it’s not a big deal, but can be annoying if a boss takes you several tries until you defeat it.

In all, I am Setsuna is a nice homage to earlier JRPGs while still retaining its own identity. It tells a sad tale, but that tale is well told. The piano soundtrack makes a nice accompaniment to the snowy environments. Visual assets are heavily reused, but this didn’t really detract from the game, as the characters in your party make up for any of the rest of the game world’s shortcomings. The story is a poignant one, though never gets maudlin. The turn based combat makes you think on your feet and doesn’t really become routine. Customization is fairly deep with all of the choices you have between weapons, spritnite, and talismans (you can even add food recipes to the mix, a la the Tales series, though they’re not necessary to finish the game). The game’s momentum system during combat can be more a matter of luck than skill, as you need to press the Square button at a precise time. Again, it’s not necessary to use to complete the game, but it does add another layer should you wish to make use of it. I am Setsuna doesn’t reinvent the JRPG wheel, but for fans longing for the games of old, it fills that nostalgia craving nicely. If you’re a fan of the genre, I am Setsuna is well worth your time, and its snow filled journey is one that will both lift and sadden your heart.

 

8.5/10

Thomas Juretus

Born in 1963. Enjoy videogames, movies, comics- anything that tells a story. Have written three novels (The Zarchler Chronicles Book One: The Cassandra Crisis, Shalgroth The Zarchler Chronicles: Book Two, Madman's War The Zarchler Chronicles: Book Three) all published and available through PublishAmerica. Currently working on my fourth book, a sci-fi/murder mystery.

Thomas Juretus

Born in 1963. Enjoy videogames, movies, comics- anything that tells a story. Have written three novels (The Zarchler Chronicles Book One: The Cassandra Crisis, Shalgroth The Zarchler Chronicles: Book Two, Madman's War The Zarchler Chronicles: Book Three) all published and available through PublishAmerica. Currently working on my fourth book, a sci-fi/murder mystery.

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