I Am Setsuna is the creation of the Tokyo RPG Factory, a developer whose name pretty much tells you everything you need to know about the company. When marketing the game, publisher Square Enix often pointed out the game’s old school vibe using games like Chrono Trigger as a reference.
Now, games such as Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy (the earlier years) remain fondly in peoples hearts. Even today, they’re still loved because of the memories they bring back from our childhoods. I Am Setsuna on the other hand has no nostalgic ties, yet hopes to win old school JRPG fans over with its tales of valour, simplistic gameplay, and stunning visuals.
But has it achieved this idea?
The short answer is yes, to a point. But what we need to remember here is that we’ve grown up with JRPGs which have evolved over the years. RPGs are now a lot more complex offering not only insanely in-depth character customisation, but also branching story arcs which can be tackled in a number of ways.
We’ve kind of thrown out the old school linear paths for a more open game fuelled by player choice. Stories become a part of our lives within the game, not just stories we tag along with. We learn more about the game’s characters and history through side quests, we discover secrets without having our hands held.
However, there comes a time where we might want something a little more simple. A game where we can just sit back and enjoy the story, a time where choosing your party members and the weapons they own are the only real choices to be made. A time where accidentally losing a boss battle meant that the game was over, and you had to rely on a save you made an hour and a half ago, in order to continue.
I Am Setsuna scratches those itches, but it’s not perfect.
The story behind I Am Setsuna is a bit of an odd one. You begin the game as a lone mercenary who, following a brief tutorial around the games battle system, is given a new job – to murder a girl. Of course, instantly you know who said girl is, especially when you arrive at the town in which she resides and you discover that she’s a noble sacrifice who’s planning to take her life to save the town.
Without giving away too much, it turns out you find the girl all alone praying to the Gods. A perfect time to take a swing at her, which you do, but unfortunately you’re stopped before you can complete your hit. Then after around four or five minutes of dialogue, this cut-throat mercenary has an instant change of heart and decides to go on a pilgrimage to protect Setsuna and allow her to finish her mission as a sacrifice.
From here you go on your journey taking down various different beasts and following along with the game’s fairly predictable story. However, there’s just something about the game that just kept me playing, which I found quite strange. I played the game for six hours straight once, and could have gone on for longer. There’s just something oddly compelling about this game, which I can’t quite put my finger on.
Aside from the game’s story, the only other real mechanic in the game is its battle system. This is where it takes on a more Chrono Trigger-esque game where players aren’t transported to a battle screen, battles take place right on the map as you wander into enemies.
There are no random encounters in I Am Setsuna, which is an absolute dream. You know exactly when and where you’ll be battling and sometimes you can make it past a horde of beasts without actually engaging in battle.
When you do, it’s fairly simple too. The game takes on an Active Time Battle system where you don’t necessarily take turns to battle, instead you have to wait until the ATB gauge is full before that particular character can attack, if you wait a little longer another character can also be ready to attack and if they have the ability to unleash a combo attack, they can do just that.
That being said, your enemy also has their own ATB gauge, which you don’t see, meaning you have to take risks in order to unleash more powerful attacks. Dithering about can sometimes have its downfalls as the enemy continues to attack you as you’re deciding where to strike next. So sometimes you have to be quick off the mark in order to execute the perfect attack.
At the start of every battle, your team assumes a formation, but as the battle goes on, both party and enemy positions can change, which might not seem like that much of a problem, but some of your characters attacks have a slight blast area meaning that if there’s two enemies in close proximity, you can hit them both. The same applies to some heals which your characters can perform, as close-by party members can also benefit.
Players have no control over these positions however, and it all seems to be the luck of the draw. So you definitely need to keep your wits about you.
I Am Setsuna is a pretty simple game. The only real customisation options you have are the weapons, techs, and jewellery. The weapons are simple enough, the further you progress you can afford weapons with higher stats. Techs can be applied by purchasing Spritnite, these allow you to unleash higher powered magical attacks, and if you equip the right ones within your party, you can create combo attacks for much higher damage. Finally, Jewellery works with Spritnite to offer additional benefits, whether it’s the ability to have a higher critical hit percentage, or something as simple as being able to see the enemy’s HP.
It’s what you equip that makes all of the difference in I Am Setsuna, as I found myself too intent on following the story than actually upgrading my team. I actually made it pretty far on simply just buying a weapon or two, until I started to really struggle. Adding rings and Spritnite really helped move things along, though for the most part it’s largely trial and error.
I Am Setsuna has all of the right ingredients and far too many RPG Tropes than I can count, and for the most part it’s enjoyable. It is relatively short at just 15-20 hours, but you don’t crave for more once its all come to an end. I guess it doesn’t outstay its welcome, which is fantastic, but it also feels like there’s something missing. Sadly, the game is somewhat forgettable, and while it’s enjoyable, it sadly won’t be held in the same high acclaim as the games it tries to mimic.
Visually, the game is stunning, though with the game being primarily snow-covered, it does lack a colourful pop every now and again.
Overall, if you’re a fan of games like Final Fantasy 7 or Chrono Trigger and are looking for some new ice to stand on, then I would definitely recommend I Am Setsuna. However, if you’re looking to use I Am Setsuna as your entry into classic JRPGs, there’s definitely something more out there for you.