Review: I Am Setsuna
In the opening moments of I Am Setsuna, Endir, a skilled mercenary is asked to complete a job that tasks him with murdering a girl who will soon be turning 18. As fate would have it this same girl, Setsuna, has recently been determined to be the ‘Sacrifice’, an offering that’s destined to make the pilgrimage to the Last Lands and, in death, appease the monsters that threaten their world. Setsuna, without an ounce of fear, doesn’t only react in kind to Endir, but she also fully accepts the unfortunate task that has been given to her. She, like many of the game’s characters, is very simple in her characterization, but her unwavering optimism and courage come as a breath of fresh air. I Am Setsuna, despite taking place in a world blanketed in snow, is just overflowing with warmth from a beating heart filled with love for JRPGs of old.
Setsuna’s pilgrimage to the Last Lands is one that crosses deep icy caverns, through populated towns and tiny villages, over snow capped mountains, and into monster infested forests. At the start it feels reminiscent of Final Fantasy X, and indeed a bit too familiar at times, but as the story goes on it begins to pave a path all its own. Familiarity is never really an issue with I Am Setsuna, it’s much more about what it does with its inspirations that makes it so enjoyable. Setsuna’s guard is made up of characters from all over the world who each have their own story and personality that you’ll get to know. They’re not just an extra hand to use in battle, but rather a real person who believes in a better tomorrow. Kir’s willingness to put others first and Julienne’s dedication to her home village are both inspiring in their own ways, but they work so well because we get to see their personal struggles first hand. Often times the game is willing to take a break from the pilgrimage and allow each new location, be it a large city or small village, to tell its own story. By the time Kir joined the party I felt like I understood exactly what he was fighting for, his help in the journey suddenly meant more to me. It’s this reason that I wish Endir didn’t fit into the role of ‘silent protagonist’. There are times when you can choose between two different reactions, but these never have an impact on the story nor do they add anything to Endir’s character. I get that he’s supposed to be an avatar for myself, but with the rest of the cast so likable I often found myself wishing that Endir would interact a bit more with the party.
Tokyo RPG Factory and Square Enix are very open with what game they drew inspiration from the most in developing I Am Setsuna. The Chrono Trigger vibes run strong through I Am Setsuna and there’s no place where it’s more obvious than in the battle system. Combat in I Am Setsuna essentially uses Chrono Trigger as a starting point and then introduces a few new features to build off of it. The result in something incredibly familiar that offers just enough of a twist to feel like something entirely its own. All enemies are visible in-game and walking close enough to them will trigger an encounter. (Tip: Coming at enemies from behind triggers a surprise attack that instantly fills your party’s action gauge.) If you’ve played Chrono Trigger then it’s likely that you know exactly how the basics of combat works. If not, I Am Setsuna is a turn-based RPG where combat takes place on the same map that you’re currently traversing. When the action gauge is full a character can attack, perform one of many learned skills, use an item, or attempt to flee. Additionally, two or even three party members can perform a special combo skill to deliver far more devastating attacks. New to I Am Setsuna is a Momentum system that rewards patience and encourages you to put a little more thought into each encounter. A character’s Momentum increases when their action bar is full and is capable of charging up to three times. Activating these charges while performing an action can increase damage dealt, restore more health, or cause any number of other buffs. Similar to the Default system in Bravely Default I love how this adds a small twist to the combat system that I already know all too well.
Then there’s the seemingly random Flux and Singularity elements of battle. When activated Flux can give certain skills a special permanent boost and Singularity can impact certain elements of battle for a set period of time. Both are supposedly random to a point, I do believe it’s possible to impact the rate at which they occur by using Momentum, but the game doesn’t do a great job of explaining how they work. Singularity in particular was so rare that I’m not sure if it ever actually helped me in battle.
I Am Setsuna’s story content, even some of the later boss fights, isn’t very challenging. Personally, I’m not too bothered by this, and I think it’s partially helped by the way in which enemies drop items. Defeating enemies with certain elemental types, in a combo move, with a precise or even critical hit will result in specific types of items being dropped. The vast majority of these items are materials that can then be used to trade for spritenite (think materia in Final Fantasy VII) which can be equipped to a party member enabling the use of dozens of different skills. So, instead of just mashing my way through combat, I often found myself utilizing different strategies to ensure I’d receive the highest amount of materials possible. This alone, to me, made it easier to stay engaged with enemies that I’d easily wipe the floor with. Of course, all of this said, it should be noted that the game does feature a fair amount of end game side quests that, from what I’ve finished thus far, does provide a decent challenge. These same quests also provide a bit more story for each party member and, from what I’ve seen, are very much worth it.
No matter where the journey leads snow and ice are sure to surround Setsuna and her guard. The world is cold and the entirety of its snow-filled landscape fits well with the more somber tone that the story often takes. This is coupled with an absolutely beautiful piano-focused soundtrack, the presence of which perfectly encapsulates the kind of themes touched upon throughout the story. The endless snow, gentle piano-focused theme, and general tone of the story can at times hit really somber notes, but juxtaposed with the endless optimism of Setsuna and the hope that each party member brings is, to me at least, what really made my journey feel special. In no way is this a groundbreaking story, nor will the soundtrack be remembered as an all time great, but a simple story with characters that feel genuine can indeed keep me heavily invested.
I love a good Summer RPG, don’t get me wrong, but there’s a part of me that wishes I Am Setsuna came out in the Winter. I just want to wrap myself in a warm blanket, sip hot chocolate, and lose myself in this world, with these characters. That’s not the snow-filled landscape talking either, this is the kind of game you’d wake up early Christmas morning for. It’s not without faults, of course; Flux and Singularity could be explained a little better, a run button on the world map would be welcome, and Endir’s place as a silent protagonist is a bit disappointing. Still, I Am Setsuna kept me fully engaged from start to finish and, overshadowing any complaints I might have, provided a world and characters that I care about.
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What I Like:
- Side stories that give backstory to each new party member
- The use of Momentum in combat
- The way enemy drops work and how they play into obtaining more spritenite
- This is pure JRPG comfort food
What I Dislike:
- Some mechanics aren't explained very well
- I wish Endir wasn't a silent protagonist