Every gamer grows up different, but if you’re like me, you grew up on classic Japanese Role-Playing Games, also known as JRPGs. Final Fantasy, Star Ocean, Chrono Trigger, the list goes on and on. As I grew older, my love for these games never waned, but my time did. It’s so much harder to power through an RPG as a working adult.
I had no business picking up I Am Setsuna with my current backlog of games, but the look and feel was just too good to pass up. Now that I’ve sunk my teeth into the experience, it’s time to answer the big question: does this game channel the masterful experiences it was inspired by, or is it imposter masquerading as something greater? Time to find out!
A Somber and Familiar Tale
JRPGs tend to follow certain trends when it comes to the story. In general, you’ll find specific themes that seem to appear more often than not. I Am Setsuna’s story of sacrifice calls to mind the same themes we saw in Final Fantasy X, which is high praise coming from me.
The game’s premise involves the journey of a young girl whose name is, you guessed it, Setsuna. She has been chosen as a “sacrifice” which is part of an ancient and ongoing ritual done by the peoples of the world the game takes place in.
It is believed that these sacrifices (all of which are young girls) keep the resident monsters of the world at bay. Without sending these people to their deaths, the people believe that the world will be overrun.
Setsuna takes pride in her journey, but her character quickly becomes deeper than that. She has accepted that her fate is to find a place called “The Last Lands” and end her life there, but she doesn’t resign herself to hopelessness like most people would.
Instead, she’s honored to have this burden, and takes it very seriously. Journeying with her are guardians who are sworn to protect her until she reaches the end of her quest. It’s a simple setup and while it doesn’t blossom right away, the game starts adding new layers to the characters you come across and the ones that fight with you.
I am Setsuna’s story probably won’t go down in history as the greatest one ever told, but I felt myself becoming invested more and more as it went on. Like a greatest hits track of JRPGs, it hits all the right notes to be an engaging and somber tale.
A Tried and True Combat System (And Plenty of Other Elements Too)
Like any good RPG, I Am Setsuna combines a surprisingly in-depth combat system with plenty of other mechanics that you need to manage outside your battle encounters. Since this is an RPG, I’ll start with the combat.
I Am Setsuna unapologetically takes its combat cues from Chrono Trigger, but that’s not a bad thing. This type of real-time/turn-based combat works well, even if it takes some time to really understand it.
Instead of falling into random encounters, you’ll see enemies in the world around you. Making contact with them initiates battle without even a hint of a loading screen. It adds a lot to the game’s pacing that combat is so seamless.
When you enter battle, your party members have an ATB meter that fills over time. Meanwhile, the enemies have invisible meters that fill on their end as well. When the meter is full, you’re given the option to take your turn.
It’s worth noting that making contact with a group of enemies from behind gives you full ATB meters at the start of the encounter. The game continues to add depth to this as you also have a “momentum” meter in the form of an orb that fills up and gains small dots of light to show how many uses you’ve charged up.
This meter increases faster when you attack and when you’re hit. When you have momentum to burn, you can press the square button while doing any action to use it. You simply wait for the burst of light above the character’s head. The timing here is pretty forgiving as well, which I appreciated.
Using momentum will give attacks extra damage or add to the positive effects of stat boosts and buffs. Repeated uses of momentum can also trigger a singularity which is a random benefit added to the encounter that appears in the top left corner of the screen.
This is all pretty crazy to grasp at first since there’s zero pause in the game’s flow of time. That being said, you get used to it. You even start to see how certain attacks will move the enemies closer together or further from you.
When facing an enemy that self-destructs, for example, you can push them away so the explosion doesn’t damage your party. The separate pieces slowly come together to form a cohesive and intense battle system.
Outside of battle, there are several other systems to keep you busy. You’ll come across merchants selling the usual items you’re used to see, but you’ll also do business with members of a magical group. As you sell them specific amounts and types of items you get from monsters, they’ll sell you stones called “Spritnites”
These stones are placed into Talismans that your characters have equipped. The stones themselves are your skills like “heal”, “protect”, and so on. You’ll also find that you can gather ingredients in the world to use with chefs that will cook meals for your party.
Meals provide a boost for the next encounter, so they’re great for when you know a big boss is coming up. It’s an interesting, if a little complicated way of handling skills and the like, but like the combat system it grows on you.
A Beautiful World
I Am Setsuna has a fascination with snow that permeates the majority of the game. Whether you’re traveling through forests or exploring a village, you’re going to see a lot of snow. I didn’t mind it so much, though. I would have liked more varied environments across the 20-30 hour journey, but the game’s world was still gorgeous.
The snowy landscape plays perfectly with the soundtrack which is an incredible selection of piano-focused tracks that convey the somber mood of your journey. Combine that with the eternal winter and you have a very strong atmosphere.
The graphics are simple, but there’s enough detail to make the characters unique, and there portraits in the game are detailed drawings to give you a better look at their faces. There’s no voice acting in the game, but you do have the option for Japanese audio during the battles which I opted for.
Little details like how you leave tracks in the snow were charming, and the writing is emotive enough that I still felt the intended emotions in each scene. Overall, I Am Setsuna manages to channel the nostalgia of classic JRPGs, while still forming a few new ideas of its own.
While some work better than others (the skill system is needlessly complex), I really enjoyed my time with the game and I’d recommend it for RPG fans looking for a taste of the classic era.
Final Score: 8.5/10
Article by - Bradley Ramsey
Insert date - 8/2/16