I Am Setsuna
Square rose to fame thanks to its JRPGs, while the last decade has seen that genre go by the wayside. Action RPGs and Western-developed RPGs dominate the industry, with many traditional JRGs trappings like stat boosts and skill increases being seen in other genres and scratching that particular itch for players. Square Enix itself has shifted to a broader range of releases, with JRPGs being something they haven’t dabbled in much in quite some time. The last big JRPG on consoles was probably Lost Odyssey on the Xbox 360, a game many hope comes to Xbox One backwards compatibility to revitalize the genre on Xbox platforms.
However, by creating an RPG-centric subsidiary in Tokyo RPG Factor, Square-Enix hopes to find a way to have their cake with big-time releases and eat it too with some classic JRPGs. I Am Setsuna stands out the second you start it up as you’re whisked away to a snow-covered world and meet a couple of the cast. Endir is our protagonist and he’s with an older ally who accompanies him on a quest to provide wisdom and insight.
Small battles are waged and we get glimpses into Endir’s personality. He’s sent on missions, and whatever the task is he will accomplish it. It shows that he’s a hard worker and not someone who takes a task lightly – admirable traits to be sure. Then, someone tasks him with something that takes him aback briefly – killing a young girl. We find out that she is going to be a sacrifice, but since she just turned 18, that doesn’t really make things any easier. She hasn’t had a chance to live much of her life, and now we must either end it or it will be ended for her. Either way, her fate seems sealed – so is it better to be the one to slay her and give her dignity or let her be sacrificed in a more traditional manner? There are no easy or “right” answers to this query and Setsuna seems doomed from birth like her mother and aunt before her to meet her fate.
Setsuna’s village loves her, but knows her fate is sealed and wants things to be done the right way – the traditional way. Endir is locked away and only let free to help prevent Setsuna’s early demise. Setuna’s friends become Endir’s reluctant allies, and while we know Setsuna’s destination, we want to go on the journey. Her journey winds up being incredibly emotional and one that will give you insight into the lives and motivations of the characters in the game. Some are just there to fill roles, while others actually do get a fair amount of depth. The cast is focused and that allows you to gain more knowledge about what makes them tick.
I Am Setsuna may have a strange title, but its active time battle system is one that many longtime fans of the genre are familiar with. Like with Final Fantasy VII or Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross, time constantly passes and you don’t just wait for traditional turns. Timing plays a key role in combat as you can forgo acting immediately and wait for an on-screen prompt to show that you are now able to execute a momentum attack. When a light flight appears above your character, just press Square and the buff on your attack will become clear. It’s a way to take a small gamble and possibly kill a foe in one less turn, and something that makes boss battles even more exciting.
Currency is also handled differently here – so instead of grinding to get money to earn better equipment, your goal here is to gather materials. You can trade said materials for either better items or forge new and super-powerful things into them. You can also trade-in raw materials to earn new spells and skills. Careful use of this system ensures that you will never go into a dungeon or a boss battle unprepared.
Visually, I Am Setsuna is absolutely gorgeous. Its simplistic art style manages to convey similar feelings of the pixel art days gone by – where very little was needed to tell you something. Facial expressions change, and body language shifts alone can tell you about a character. The snow-covered environments evoke a sense of helplessness, while all the snow does result in a gorgeous-looking game. Environments are lush and full of detail, while the various kinds of snow evoke different feelings. When it’s just faintly across the ground, it gives you a sense of peace – while never-ending snowfall makes it seem like the world is in peril.
Everything blends together wonderfully, and looks pleasing – except for maybe the feet. For whatever reason, characters seem to either have no feet or just super-small feet. It’s jarring and just looks weird to the eye. It’s not a huge deal, but something that is odd and hopefully isn’t in future games by Tokyo RPG Factory.
One thing I’m all for returning is a soundtrack as powerful as I Am Setsuna’s. Beautiful piano music accompanies the game and calms your nerves. When you’re in a town, it will be slow and relaxing – akin to something you would like to hear at a fancy restaurant. It intensifies greatly in battle, and you’ll hear somber music play during dramatic portions. Every piece of music evokes some kind of emotion from the player and some of it sticks with you after playing. Anytime you find yourself humming some piano music outside of a game, that’s a good thing and I Am Setsuna has one of the most beautiful soundtracks in years. When it comes to sound effects, it has some great spell and melee attacks – but nothing that sticks with you. Voiceover work is limited to small amounts of Japanese with English subtitles, and you can eliminate all the voicework if you prefer keeping everything in line with the 16-bit era of not having voices.
I Am Setsuna is more than just a love letter to the past – like so many JRPGs have been since the decline of the genre. While it does pay homage to classics, it also tells a story all its own that showcases what a hero is and reminds us all about how precious life is. Here, Setsuna knows her fate is sealed – and she is determined to use every minute she has left on Earth to ensure that her time is spent making the world a better place after her time on it than it was before. It tells a compelling story, and so few RPGs have done that recently that it makes this game shine ever brighter. With a largely-stunning graphical style and memorable piano soundtrack, I Am Setsuna is a must for all die-hard JRPG fans – especially lapsed fans who need a reminder of just how special a JRPG can be when it’s done correctly.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
Publisher: Square Enix
This review is based on a digital copy of I Am Setsuna for the PlayStation 4 provided by Square Enix.