It didn’t take much to convince me to pick up I Am Setsuna. No, I hadn’t even heard of it until a day or two prior to its release, and even then this is usually the sort of thing that I tend to avoid. I don’t typically buy day one releases for games I’ve never heard of, and I have definitely strayed from the JRPG path for years now. There was a time when I bought Final Fantasy games on day one, or when I thought JRPGs were better than American ones. Most of the RPGs coming out of Japan for the last decade or so have looked pretty “meh” to me, so I’ve not really paid attention to the genre.
I Am Setsuna used just enough keywords to get me to take a second look. It was published by Square Enix, and was said to hearken back to the Squaresoft days when JRPGs were all the rage on the SNES and even moving on to the original Playstation console. Tokyo RPG Factory was introduced semi-recently as being the future of classic JRPGs utilizing modern technology — essentially “Squaresoft the next generation.” I remember hearing this news but not being very excited about it, mainly because I had basically avoided any new JRPGs for a long time. There was hope though, that games from that era could be similarly made with today’s technology and we’d get some modern classics out of the deal. Lastly, it was said that I Am Setsuna is a “spiritual successor to Chrono Trigger,” which is arguably one of Squaresoft’s most beloved titles. I was sold after reading a couple of articles and watching some video. Plus, it was nice to see a new game release for less than $60 — $40 is a nice number that feels like my own personal spending sweet spot.
This isn’t going back to the 16-bit glory days completely, but the aesthetic and design choices feel very much like a console game from the early 90’s. Since release, there have been plenty of reviews popping up, and the general consensus is that the game is nearly a modern classic, but there are some downfalls. I have noted the general sense that people dislike the world design, think the music is too repetitive, and some even say the graphics look like shit. Systems are not fleshed out enough. It doesn’t really feel like Chrono Trigger.
Some of these complaints have some merit. The world is covered in snow and seems to be in perpetual winter, just like the North in Game of Thrones. This means the map largely looks the same and so far most outdoor areas feel similar. The music is sort of repetitive, in that they only have a piano player and he is constantly playing, but really, have you not turned off the music in FF games because it’s the same damn songs every fight? The same goes for MMOs and most games really — music is repetitive but usually you’re not paying attention. Graphically, it’s not ridiculously good looking; it does have a stylized retro feel but it’s still true 3-D and it runs smoothly the whole time. I have yet to see a single framerate drop. Honestly it’s optimized and looks good, even if snow gets old after a while. I’ll agree that the systems can be a little convoluted, and that I still haven’t figured out how to use “momentum mode” or seen a “flux” happen yet. One review I read said it was completely unnecessary to even figure this out. There are trophies for using these things though, so might as well right?
The largest similarity between this game and Chrono Trigger is the fact that the combat essentially plays out the same, and there are some abilities that can be comboed together to create new abilities. You have a three person party, and each character has their own niche abilities. However, it seems that like the materia system from FF7, you use a material called Spritnite which can be slotted into talismans with varying amounts of slots and passive effects. I’ve gotten to a point where each of my characters has multiple abilities slotted, and combat has been a snap. I’m sure things will get more difficult eventually, but even after facing a few bosses, I haven’t even come close to dying.
Is I Am Setsuna a modern classic? No, I wouldn’t say that. Is it a solid JRPG experience that evokes feelings of nostalgia and makes me yearn for more classically designed JRPGs? Hell yes. It hits most of the right notes, has many of the same feels, has an interesting-enough storyline, and combat that is somewhat satisfying without being overly boring. I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys a decent JRPG, and enjoys a text-driven narrative with an active time battle system. It’s good stuff, and makes me want to go finish off that copy of FFIX I bought a couple months back.
It’s my opinion that I Am Setsuna is a great first offering from a new studio. I think further iterations will produce a modern classic, as the team seems to be on the right track. For posterity, here’s some screens of what I’ve been through so far, but keep in mind there may be some light spoilers.