It has the makings of a true classic, but does I Am Setsuna fully put the pieces together?
In today’s industry, role-playing games seem to be taking off in many different directions. Titles like Persona 5 push the genre forward in new and intriguing ways, while modern action RPGs like Horizon Zero Dawn branch off in another direction entirely. Yet the old-fashioned turn-based top-down games of yore are all but abandoned. Square Enix understood this dilemma and in response created I Am Setsuna, a traditional RPG from their newest studio, Tokyo RPG Factory. The team was formed solely to recapture the look and feel of SNES-era RPGs such as Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI, which is perhaps the only feat their debut title accomplishes.
The world here is absolutely drenched in sadness.
I Am Setsuna follows a small envoy whose task is to safely escort a “Sacrifice” to the Last Lands. This Sacrifice just so happens to be the titular Setsuna, a beloved party member. If you can’t see where this is going, I’ll spell it out: I Am Setsuna is incredibly dark and melancholy. The entire quest is about bringing a friend to the altar, so that she can die to save the world from agitated monsters. This undertone sets up a memorable journey, as you cherish every fleeting second with your team.
The world here is absolutely drenched in sadness. It’s constantly snowing, the colors are all faded, and a beautifully haunting piano orchestrates every scene. Each new town provides some hardship to overcome, or hides a revelation about the past. Sorrow is omnipresent, which makes the small, hopeful moments in the story that much more special. Quaint scenes help flesh out the plot, as every character is interesting, mysterious, and charming.
Fights use an active-battle system: once a character uses their turn, they must wait for a bar to refill before they can attack again. Unique spells and abilities (known as “Spritnite”) can be used to turn the tide in your favor. By pressing a button during an attack animation, players may add special effects or extra damage to an attack. This can only be done once another bar has filled up.
Setsuna certainly looks and feels like an old role-playing game, yet sadly never sets itself apart as something new.
Although Setsuna has deep stores of aesthetic and charm, I can’t say the same for its gameplay. Combat feels shallow, as the various Spritnite never affect the fight as much as you’d like them to. Some will help you do more damage, while some will do fire damage in a small area. Others can boost your gauge refill speed. Enemies in these bouts often feel copied-and-pasted from the earlier sections; usually, they boast simple palette swaps and stat boosts. Even the boss fights feel unimaginative, as their only challenge is their ridiculous amount of health.
Every battle is fun, though not especially distinct from the one before it. Setsuna certainly looks and feels like an old role-playing game, yet sadly never sets itself apart as something new. It emulates and masquerades as the games that enraptured you years ago, but never presents new fighting tactics, side quests, or mechanics.
Somewhere in this over-simplicity lies the heart of a good game. I Am Setsuna provides a nice time capsule; a glimpse into the past, and a look into the future of turn-based experiences. The title forms a sturdy base for the studio to build upon, and with a few more mechanics, it could easily be fantastic. Yet in its current state, it isn’t. I Am Setsuna is a fun, memorable journey that ultimately leans too much on nostalgia, and never toys with any unique, meaningful ideas.
Note: This title was reviewed for the PS4– however, the game has recently released on the Nintendo Switch. No major, apparent differences exist between the two ports.