I Am Setsuna – Review
A JRPG in this day and age can be an epic production. Just look at the years of development that has gone into making Final Fantasy XV. Lifelike cinematics, hundreds of hours of voice work and stunning graphics all make up the biggest names in the genre. However, this wasn’t always the case. Back in the day JRPG’s were 16-bit adventures with text and simple graphics the only way to tell a story. Times were simpler then yet that didn’t stop the games from being amazing. Ask any old time rpg’er about how much they love Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy 6 or even Super Mario RPG. They will regale you of a time when gameplay was king and all the bells and whistles of modern JRPGs were simply not a reality. It is this time period that I Am Setsuna attempts to capture and it has come exceedingly close to matching those past greats.
I Am Setsuna is a story about a girl who is willing going off to be sacrificed. It is believed that her sacrifice will keep the encroaching hordes of monsters at bay for another 10 years so she is gladly heading off to give her life so that the rest of the world will remain safe. The main character of the tale is a mercenary who has been hired to kill her before she reaches the sacrificial location but ends up helping and protecting her on the way. In true RPG fashion, the two are joined by various characters along the way that all have their own unique reasons for protecting Setsuna. The story is quite enjoyable and while it does take some very silly turns at times there is a wonderful feeling of simplicity and innocence that makes this fairy tale styled story greater than the sum of its parts. Players who have played a lot of these sort of games will probably be able to guess the twists and turns that the story takes but that doesn’t make them any less enjoyable.
Graphically the game is both simple and stunning. Simple in that it keeps both the perspective and cartoon style of the JRPG’s of old but stunning in the landscape design and art style present throughout the game. It would be very easy to think this game was made on the UBIart engine that stunning games such as Rayman Legends and Child of Light were created in but no, I Am Setsuna was made in humble old Unity. This is a game that feels like you are playing through a piece of art, not realistic in any way but captivating none the less. In fact, the only bad thing to say about how the game looks is that towards the end of the game the snowy backdrop starts to get a little old. The entire game is set in a snowy, wintery world and there is no real change to break that up. It does become a little monotonous as the game is winding down.
The real highlight of I Am Setsuna is the beautiful score. Haunting, melodic, inspiring and heartbreaking this score is right up there with the best that video games have to offer. The true test of a video game score is how good it sounds out of context, outside of the game it was created for and the music from I Am Setsuna more than passes this test. The score is available on streaming services such as Spotify and it is well worth a listen for not only fans of the game but fans of well written and beautiful piano music.
There are problems in this magical world and funnily enough, they are the same problems that the classics of the genre struggled with so many years ago. The save system is an absolute nightmare. Save points are back in I Am Setsuna and they are horribly far apart. It can literally take an hour of gameplay to come across the next save point, causing massive frustration if life gets in the way and the player has to leave the game. It is clear that the developers were trying to create a 16 bit RPG on modern systems but what the failed to recognize is that some conventions are best left in the past. Game design has come a long way since the SNES RPG’s that I Am Setsuna is trying to copy and as a result, things like save points have been relegated to history. Their return could be the most frustrating part of this entire game. Perhaps two modes should have been included. One mode where saving could happen at any time and one “old school” mode for those wanting to play with the old conventions. This would have catered modern fans as well as those that enjoy the classic JRPG experience.
The other carry over from the JRPGs of yester year is the walls and walls of text. There are so many new things to learn and so much story to take in that is quite often seems overwhelming, especially when the game first starts. Thankfully after an hour or so everything starts to click and the gameplay becomes quite satisfying. Combat can be tense and exhilarating with positioning of the characters playing an important part as it can add extra damage to an enemy or allow a special boost to affect more than one character. Combat plays a lot like the RPGs of old with a few additions. Holding off on taking you attack builds momentum, once enough momentum has built up it is possible to add an extra sting or effect to attacks with a correctly timed button press. This adds an extra level of strategy to battles, especially against enemies with defensive maneuvers as it is quite often better to hold off attacking and build momentum while their defensive special is in play.
What it comes down to is I Am Setsuna is a great 16 Bit RPG with all that description entails. The combat is robust and entertaining, the story simple yet heartwarming and the musical score is sublime. Sadly more annoying things like walls of text and horrible, horrible save points have also made it into the game. Thankfully though it looks stunning and the negatives can be looked over, especially if you played these games in your youth. Not quite at the level of Chrono Trigger (which it so obviously uses as inspiration) it is none the less an excellent example of the genre and shouldn’t be missed by anyone with fond memories of JRPG’s gone by.