I am Setsuna is the soulful journey of a young woman named Setsuna destined to undertake the sacrifice to save the world. According to an ancient custom every ten years a young women must be sacrificed to appease the demons and monsters that terrorize the lands. As the monsters begin attacking towns and villages in higher numbers than before Setsuna sets out on her pilgrimage earlier than expected. Together with a party of strong fighters who volunteer to join her on this journey across the world to the very edge of the unknown lands to undertake her destiny.
The team behind I am Setsuna, Tokyo RPG Factory, has stated that their hope for this game is to merge the nostalgic elements of the 90s and the strength of today’s technology. It is clear that this game has been deliberately designed to be reminiscent of the role playing games of the 1990s with the Active Time Battle system from early Final Fantasy games and Chrono Trigger. The game attempts to change up the combat system, unfortunately I am Setsuna falls into the same pitfall that Bravely Second does in trying to fix the turn based strategy system. Combat is now just waiting for a gauge to slowly fill before being able to take an action, furthermore being rewarded by waiting more with temporary bonuses to the party’s stats, recovering health of allow characters to deal multiple of the same attack. Combat takes a long time and with enemy mobs impossible to avoid this takes up the majority of the game. Boss fights are even slower, with no real difference in difficulty these fights are just drawn out. Without the ability to see the health bars of enemies fights seem to last forever. Overall the combat is this RPG’s biggest weakness.
The true strength of this Square Enix release lies in the design. The game looks amazing. The character designs are inventive and feel like an old school RPG, with each being unique and adding to the balance of the party. With a water painted aesthetic the world feels alive, with the brightly coloured party vastly standing out against the cold white of the snow. The backgrounds are exquisite in design, time has clearly been poured into making this game look as good as possible. Players will want to continue exploring the land just to find more of the beautiful landscapes and experience the vast world through Setsuna.
With the world seemingly stuck in an eternal winter the ability to leave an environmental mark on the endless snow is a nice touch. It adds to the time you spend walking slowly through forests and towns, failing to dodge the many mobs out to hurt your party. Being able to interact with the environment is a new trend being found in these top down RPG’s, who now have the heavy hardware to go in on some amazing graphics. The feeling of carving your way through the deep layers of snow feels almost Journey like, gliding through the world with little changed to the gameplay but a nice touch that more developers should do, enhancing the experience just that little bit.
The main story is moving and tearful, with the main journey weighing heavily on the horizon and experiencing devastation of the world the plot is centred only on the pilgrimage of the sacrifice. While the main story is well written there is a lack of side missions and reason to stay in any one area beyond the one quest. So the game doubles down on the main element – the sad story of Setsuna. A key theme running through the game is the element of “sadness”. The story’s setting, in a land covered by snow and the general tone revisited carries this theme, alongside evoking the emotional stories of classic role-playing games, something that was very important in the development of this title. The theme also extends to its title, which stems from the word “setsunasa” while it holds a variety of meanings in Japanese, the meaning used by the production team was primarily the aspects of sadness or sorrow. For writing the setting of I am Setsuna the development team used writing schemes akin to those from European literature, giving the world a unique feel. The game’s central themes, which focused on life and death as represented by Setsuna’s sacrifice, a key element of older style RPG’s.
The game’s music was composed by Tomoki Miyoshi, a young composer whose first notable score was for Soul Calibur V. Almost all tracks were performed on solo piano played by Randy Kerber, who had worked on major films including Forrest Gump and Titanic. The music incorporated the game’s themes, moving away from the usual RPG music tracks for something more akin to a movie soundtrack. The music was a bit repetitive due to the one instrumental piece being used for most areas, but it was not lacking in atmosphere.
This game will appeal to some more than others, especially those who still hold a torch for the out of date gameplay of Chrono Trigger. The tasteful graphics, sombre story and piano score come together to create something new alongside the old, creating something really special. That’s what I am Setsuna is, a special story for anyone to enjoy, blending the old and the new into something altogether new.
Developer: Tokyo RPG Factory
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, PS4, PS Vita
Review copy provided by publisher.