Developed by: Tokyo RPG Factory
Published by: Square Enix
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PC
Release Date: Out Now
Tokyo RPG Factory, the developers behind I Am Setsuna, were created by Square Enix for one purpose – to make RPGs. In particular, ones that harken back to the classics such as Final Fantasy. For better or worse, I Am Setsuna really defines what that mission statement is; as the 20-hour story unfolds, the game simultaneously delights and frustrates in how it brings back RPG elements.
An Important Journey
I Am Setsuna is about sadness and the value of being alive. In this world of monsters, protection is only brought about by a sacrifice – a female who gives her life in order to keep them back. After a time, the threat rises again, and another sacrifice is made. The main player character, Endir, is an enigmatic warrior who ends up as the guard to the new sacrifice. Named Setsuna, Endir’s job is to see her to the Last Lands, where the sacrifice is made.
Along the way, you will encounter enemies, new comrades, and characters in need of your help. It all interweaves into the main story seamlessly, fitting into the overall themes. Characters like Nidr, who has a subtle but unspoken relationship to the sacrifice, are well developed; this combination of character arcs makes you care about the group as a whole. When it comes down to it, though, it is really a story about the pairing of Endir and Setsuna. Just seen like that, it is a really touching and poignant tale of how one person can influence another.
The journey to the Last Lands is navigated through a mix of enclosed areas and a limited overworld. While you may freely navigate this mini-open-world, there is little to do other than find some items, recover your party, and move from place to place. Generally, this includes forests, caves, and dungeons between the multiple towns. They’re the kinds of locations you would expect from a throwback to the likes of Chrono Trigger. The towns in particular have a charming nostalgia, being places to buy and sell items, obtain new abilities, and chat to the townsfolk. Many intriguing characters end up being involved as you go.
Cold as Ice
One factor that helps your journey is the presentation of the game. The island land mass this game is set on is under snowfall, helping to give I Am Setsuna a distinct look despite the many callbacks to past games. Everything looks slightly magical under the cover of snow, and the sense of cold extends into caves and forests. Along with vibrant character designs, it all plays into a nostalgic appeal – where it comes unstuck is in repetition. It is noticeable that the dungeon areas, which appear more frequently in the latter half of the game, are all pretty much identical in presentation. While they are the exception, it messes with the pacing when you come across places very similar to ones you have already progressed through.
On the other hand, the soundtrack is beautifully composed. It rarely intrudes on things, but if you listen for it, you realise that the carefully constructed beats are fitting into the quiet mystery of the world. A word that can describe a lot of I Am Setsuna’s presentation is “understated”. It’s not in-your-face, but has plenty of character if you sink into it. Well, once you are past the opening hours. It’s a shame, really – in the opening hours, I Am Setsuna barrages you with screens of text explaining the intricacies of the battle system.
Unsurprisingly, given the inspiration, the combat is the meat of the game. This is one of the biggest nostalgia plays I Am Setsuna has, bringing in time-based live combat. It is a style used in entries of the Final Fantasy series. To the uninitiated, this involves removing the system of characters taking one turn after another. Instead, the combat has a continuous flow of time. Each of your party of 3 has an ATB (Active Time Battle) gauge that fills over time, and when full, they may use a move. Time only stops when selecting your next action (unless you go hardcore and have time continue then, too). Under this is your expected HP and MP metres for each character.
Old RPG, New Tricks
However, I Am Setsuna does add a few ideas onto the combat. Spritnites are crystals that can be equipped to different characters, giving them different abilities. These are basically the source of your special moves. Spritnite becomes a strategic preparation tool, as a combination across characters can enable a combo attack if both ATM gauges are full. Discovering and using these extravagant moves is a fun part of the combat, but it also ends up being a major downfall as well. Spritnites may enable you to change your movesets, but some combos are so superior that you stop seeing the reason to change.
Once into the rhythm of I Am Setsuna – and especially in the latter half of the game – my battle strategy focused around only a handful of moves. Battles between bosses (which are, thankfully, much more testing) became an almost instinctive set of inputs that would wipe out the enemies. The smaller enemies ended up just feeling like padding between tougher encounters. When the aforementioned dungeon areas were combined with this, it all ended up feeling especially bland. It’s only emphasised by the quaint, interesting areas of the rest of the game.
The other major addition is Momentum Mode, which has a much more subtle impact. Different actions in battle fill up the Momentum metre on a character, and when full, it allows for extra effects on your moves. This may mean added damage or critical hits, to name two examples. Continued use of Momentum can even add permanent improvements (Fluxes) to your abilities. In contrast to Spritnite, Momentum feels more refined in how it is included – even if it lacks the dynamic visuals of a Spritnite Combo. In general, the combat feels like it needed more time to fine-tune the balancing of certain elements.
I Am Setsuna is one of that increasingly-rarer species of game – a mid-tier title, both in production and length. The charming presentation and characters only make the 20-hours feel more appealing and palatable, and Tokyo RPG Factory use them to tell a sombre but hopeful story.
However, the smaller scale does lead to some repetitive environments and enemy encounters, particularly as the game gets into the final act. The combat has plenty of interesting ideas, and nicely calls back to classic RPGs, but feels unbalanced in the implementation of Spritnite Combos. Yet, if you can get past these flaws, I Am Setsuna is rather engrossing. It doesn’t overstay it’s welcome, and beyond some obtuse issues, you’ll discover a touching game about the value of life.