Also On: PC
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Tokyo RPG Factory
I Am Setsuna is developed by Tokyo RPG Factory, a new group of developers working under publisher Square Enix. This is a retro-inspired RPG, that takes a whole lot of influence from titles like Chrono Trigger and applies that to a solid, solemn, and well-crafted tale of sacrifice. While the term retro-inspired RPG isn’t anything new, after all Steam and PSN are filled with like-minded titles, I think I Am Setsuna manages to get a lot of things right. But, unfortunately, it adheres a little too closely to the formula of Square Enix’s past hits, preventing it from standing out more when compared to classic games that you already love.
The story-side of I Am Setsuna revolves around a young, magic-wielding girl that’s offered up as a sacrifice to a fiend in order to bring peace to her world. She’s not the first to make this journey, but takes up the role willingly in order to push back the threat of monsters that are encroaching upon the numerous villages found within the game. Accompanying her is a mix of guardians, which expands out as you play more, offering up unique skills, weapons, and other abilities to to enhance the overall party.
While I enjoyed the somber elements of I Am Setsuna’s story, I do feel like it gets to be a bit too self-serious at times. The plot mixed with the winter-themed visuals, which are often stark and foreboding, makes for a somewhat bleak experience. This isn’t what I’d call an uplifting title, and while the game certainly captures the battle system, perspective, and general mechanics of something like Chrono Trigger, it often feels like it’s missing the heart of classic Square RPG’s. Again, it’s not a bad game by far, but there’s nothing particularly engrossing here, making it difficult to sit down and play through the game for extended amounts of time.
But on the positive side, the combat mechanics are pretty spot on. This is, almost literally, Chrono Trigger’s battle system with a new coat of paint. The popular Active Time Battle system returns here, featuring individual meters that fill up, allowing players to make an attack. Enemies, likewise, will attack when their own non-displayed meters fill, forcing you to pay attention and not be too passive when fighting. Enemy encounters happen in real-time, you see an enemy, you walk up to it, and the battle starts. Characters can also perform strong team-up attacks, (X-Strike for instance), and cast magic both offensive and defensive.
One unique element to I Am Setsuna’s combat comes from the ability to wait even after you’ve filled your player meter to take your turn. This allows you to bank charges, which can be triggered to add effects and additional damage to both magic and standard attacks. This can often be beneficial, especially against tougher foes, and it also allows for some level of strategy that feels pretty fun. I actually enjoyed entering into battles, and found even the most basic encounters to be pretty engaging.
Another big plus with I Am Setsuna is the amazing soundtrack. It’s all piano-based, but it fits the look and feel of the world so well. There’s no single track that I can point at or hum along with necessarily, but it comes together so well while playing. The soundtrack is the element that actually impressed me the most, as I’m a sucker for good video game music. I Am Setsuna certainly has that going for it, so hats off to composer Tomoki Miyoshi for a job well done here.
Finally, the only other elements of I Am Setsuna that I wasn’t entirely in love with come from inventory management and the weird upgrade and magic gathering systems. Inventory isn’t exactly a mess, but selling items could have easily benefited from something as simple as a sell-all button. You find yourself needing to sell stuff pretty often too, since it serves as the primary way of gaining new magic abilities through the vendor. While I can appreciate the customization options that obtaining magic this way gives you, I wonder if I Am Setsuna wouldn’t have benefited more from a simple, level up > get this magic spell -type system instead. I also felt like the weapon upgrade system takes a bit too long to get going, you find out about the option pretty early on in an initial village, but it takes some time to acquire the materials necessary to actually make use of it.
Overall though, these complaints are relatively minor. I certainly enjoyed the core experience of playing I Am Setsuna, and think that the developers at Tokyo RPG Factory did a pretty solid job of emulating the classic Square RPG archetype. It’s not perfect, but it certainly shows that the team has a lot of promise to it, and ideally Square Enix will make use of that going forward. I think there’s definitely room for an RPG like I Am Setsuna alongside larger, AAA releases like the upcoming Final Fantasy XV. Hopefully Square Enix will agree, and we’ll continue to see like-minded work from Tokyo RPG Factory in the near future.