Originally published on Trevor Trove on July 27, 2016
TL; DR(eview) – I Am Setsuna is a decent game but fails to live up to the classic JRPGs that it pays homage to thanks to a combination of obtuse mechanics, a lackluster story, and largely forgettable characters.
When I first heard about I Am Setsuna, it was always being described as a spiritual successor to Chrono Trigger. Having played through it now, I can certainly see where that comparison is coming from. The combat, as I wrote about last weekend, is indeed that same style of turn-based combat where character and enemy position on the battlefield can play a role in the fight. But, as is the case with Chrono Trigger, you have no real tangible control over movement so it’s all in the luck of the draw whether that area of effect attack you select will hit one enemy or all of them. Also, like Chrono Trigger, certain characters can combine their spells for stronger combo attacks. The new Momentum/Flux system adds a bit of a new twist, but it’s not well explained in the game and sadly winds up being really the only element of note that the game tries to add to the genre.
With the Momentum and Flux system, timed button presses can add extra elements to your attacks based on the Spritnite you have equipped on a character. One of the closest analogs I’ve seen for Spritnite is the Materia system from Final Fantasy VII. Each character can equip Action or Support Spritnite with more slots being available as characters level up or equip alternate Talisman accessories. Unlike the Materia system though, Spritnite don’t level up with experience. Instead they…I think…can acquire the attributes of the other Spritnite equipped.
Let me emphasize how irksome it is that after probably 20-plus hours with the game, I still have no idea if that’s how it actually works without trying to look it up online. Also frustrating was the fact that apart from maybe a single text screen early on, the game doesn’t really describe the momentum system outside of saying pressing Square will augment your actions. I picked up the Momentum trigger on basic attacks pretty quickly, but it wasn’t until about halfway through the game that I really landed on the sweet spot for the Techs/Combos (basically just after the name of the spell appears on screen). And I definitely didn’t realize that I could Momentum on defense until after I beat the game and loaded up an earlier save to explore some of the side quests.
Which brings up another minor gripe: that the game doesn’t feature on of Chrono Trigger’s most innovative pieces: that of a New Game Plus. The story even seemed to be setting up for it at times. And there are certainly dialogue options that seem to suggest alternate endings. But no, there is only one story to be told here.
As for that story, you play as Endir, a masked mercenary hired to kill the “sacrifice” Setsuna. Every few years, a sacrifice is chosen to go on a pilgrimage in order to, well, sacrifice themselves in order to bring the world a bit of peace. Needless to say Endir does not kill Setsuna and instead joins her as one of her Guardians…er…Guard. As you travel, your party grows to include the vaguely mysterious Aeterna, the very Auron-like Nidr, the powerful child mage Kir, and the warrior Princess Julienne. There is a seventh character, who I think joins your party regardless but might be optional. However, since I imagine identifying them might be deemed a bit spoilery, all I’ll say is I saw it coming immediately but it came so late in the game that it wound up feeling irrelevant anyway.
The pilgrimage is really straightforward as you are very much directed beat by beat where to go with very little exploration off the beaten path available until the very end of the game (an unintentional homage to Final Fantasy XIII perhaps?). I Am Setsuna gives you the opportunity to build a potentially deep customization with different Spritnite combinations or a variety of characters to take into battle for your standard three-member party. But it doesn’t give you any real reason to. Pretty early on, I stumbled into a decent combination of characters that could get me through most fights in a turn or two, with boss fights taking a bit more effort but never really posing a challenge.
I guess this could be viewed as a choose-your-own difficulty setting if you want to deliberately choose characters that you’re less adept with. But I stuck mainly to these three characters because the game didn’t give me a reason not otherwise. Occasionally, one or two characters are temporarily removed from the party for some story beats but overall, I managed just fine. Maybe if there was a bit more enemy diversity or certain areas featured creatures strong against some characters and weak against others, I’d have tried alternate tactics. But pretty much every creature was susceptible to most forms of damage (and if they weren’t, you don’t find out until your in battle anyway and just wind up relying on the other characters to take out and enemy your third character might not be able to harm).
From a visual perspective, nothing really stands out. The setting is slightly interesting in that the entire world is a snowy tundra, but that also means pretty much every location ends up looking the same. The colorful characters of the main party pop a bit more as a result but then pretty much every NPC in the world is wearing muted tans and grays. Travel in the game is divided by the somewhat barren world map (no random encounters so more Chrono Trigger than Final Fantasy) and then a series of nondescript towns, forests, mountains, and caves that are mostly linear paths with occasional wider spots for anywhere from one to five enemies lying in wait. Sadly, as with most of the game, the design is lacking in personality and as such, features very little in the way of memorable locations that will stick with me.
I went in wanting to like I Am Setsuna a lot more than I ultimately did. It’s not that I Am Setsuna is a bad game by any means. But every time it invoked a classic JRPG element or trope and didn’t do anything new or interesting with it, I was left feeling underwhelmed and thinking of fond memories with those superior games in the genre of yesteryear. I want to believe that this studio has the potential to make a better title in their next outing given more time, but with a name like Tokyo RPG Factory, I am also deathly afraid that Square Enix just plans to churn out entries like this that are missing that extra special spark that could have turned this into something special.