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I Am Setsuna

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Tokyo RPG Factory
Release Date: July 19, 2016


PS4 Review - 'I Am Setsuna'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Aug. 19, 2016 @ 3:00 a.m. PDT

With a battle system inspired by the classic hit Chrono Trigger, I Am Setsuna brings back authentic RPG gameplay, beautiful art design and a sorrowful story to the new generation.

Buy I Am Setsuna

I Am Setsuna is the first game from Tokyo RPG Factory, which was secretly created by Square Enix as the starting point for a new generation of RPG developers. According to the story, job seekers initially didn't even know it was Square Enix's offshoot. Perhaps that explains I Am Setsuna, which is both a niche RPG by a fresh development team and an attempt to revitalize older Square Enix concepts. Chrono Trigger is an obvious inspiration, but there's plenty of Final Fantasy here, too. Unfortunately, I Am Setsuna is torn between its pedigree and its potential, and the result satisfies neither.

I Am Setsuna follows the story of two characters, Endir and Setsuna. Endir is a a masked swordsman hired to assassinate a woman named Setsuna, who is known as the Sacrifice. Every so often, the Sacrifice travels with her guardians to the Last Land, where she must give up her life to prevent a swarm of monsters from taking over . Endir's assassination attempt fails, but Setsuna offers him a chance: Help complete her quest. After all, isn't that the same as killing her? The two set off on a journey toward the Last Land to bring peace to the world.

The plot attempts to mimic the brevity of old-school RPGs but fails in a few ways. The first and largest is that it's too busy aping other games to define itself. The plot can be summed up as, "What if Final Fantasy X were set in a snowy environment instead of a tropical one?" Character and plot points are predictable because they're borrowed from other games, although sometimes there's a very minor twist. That isn't the end of the world, except that the original game elements are paper-thin. Characters have little characterization or personality, so it's difficult to care about their fates. SNES-era RPGs did a lot with very little, and Setsuna is the opposite. It has a lot of potential but squanders it with tepid dialogue and "me too" plot twists.

The battle system in Setsuna is heavily inspired by Chrono Trigger, so much so that the mechanics are almost identical. Players have a team of three characters and battle enemies directly on the map. Attacks and moves push around characters and enemies, so positioning is actually relevant. You have the ability to attack, use items, or use techs, which cost MP but allow you to perform special attacks. Much as in Chrono Trigger, you can also use multiple characters' turns to perform combo techs, which combine multiple moves into a single attack. These combo techs take MP from multiple characters but offer much greater dividends in return.

Unlike Chrono Trigger, however, these moves are customized with a Materia-style system called spirnites. When enemies are defeated, they drop parts that you sell at a shop, which converts them into equippable spirnites. There are two types: command, which are character-specific and give you special skills, and support, which give you a passive buff but can be equipped by anyone. You get various talismans from shops and chests that increase your available spirnite slots in addition to granting passive buffs. If you fight with a talisman equipped with a spirnite, it may unlock a permanent buff, such as reduced mana cost, higher attack power or other cool attributes.

Spirnite drops must be earned by defeating enemies, but you have to defeat enemies in certain ways. There are special kills, depending on how you defeat an enemy. Kill an enemy with a fire attack for a Fire Kill, kill an enemy while they're debuffed for a Debuff Kill, and so on. Most enemies have multiple drops depending on the specific method you use to kill them, and these drops are necessary to unlock powerful attacks earlier than you would normally.

Characters have a momentum meter that fills up when they take or do damage. They can also choose not to act on their turn, which causes the momentum meter to fill up as long as they are holding their action. When the meter is full, you earn a momentum charge. When you attack or use a tech, you can spend these momentum charges to amplify the attack. A physical attack may do more damage, a healing spell may cure debuffs, a taunt may grant a defense boost, etc. It's a neat system that rewards you for considering when and where to use your actions. Saving a momentum charge for a big healing spell may be more useful than wasting it for some extra damage you don't need.

Unfortunately, I Am Setsuna's interesting mechanics are stymied by the fact that they're unnecessary. The game's overall difficulty level is already super low. Early in the game, you unlock a combo attack called Blowbeat, which is an absurdly powerful attack that hits every enemy on the field for massive damage while also inflicting bad statuses on them. From the moment you get it until the endgame, using this attack instantly ends every random battle in a single move while also earning you a variety of end-of-battle bonuses. On top of that, using it in boss fights locks down the boss with status effects, so for several boss fights, the enemy was unable to attack. Bosses become resistant to status effects after they are used, but when they can't attack for a while, it heavily trivializes them.

Blowbeat is far from the only move that's powerful enough to do this. On top of that, repeatedly using the same move means it unlocks bonuses quickly and becomes far more powerful at an accelerated rate, which only compounds the problem. There are some optional enemies who are more difficult to beat because they deal incredibly high amounts of damage. Once you have a way to circumvent that damage, they lack other interesting gimmicks to help sell the combat. To be fair, this is a problem in a lot of classic SNES JRPGs. Chrono Trigger can quickly devolve into spamming one or two spells to wipe out enemies fairly quickly, and Final Fantasy 6 can be broken over your knee without even trying. However, it stands out in I Am Setsuna because the combat is the title's strongest element, and it's unfortunately undercut by the poor balance.

It doesn't help that the environments are not very interesting to explore. Most dungeons are a straight line, aside from one or two small branching paths that lead to a treasure chest. Puzzles are almost nonexistent except for a handful of basic button-pressing puzzles, which barely qualify. The towns are largely interchangeable and indistinguishable places where nothing of significance occurs. They amount to largely "snowy forest," "snowy village," and "snowy mountain," with a ruin or two thrown in. The game's focus on snow means that everything blends together even more. There aren't any interesting side-quests, just bland battles against palette-swap enemies. You get an airship and can venture around the world, but it lacks the appeal of old-school RPGs because what you discover isn't very interesting.

I Am Setsuna's biggest flaw is that it's the cover band of better JRPGs. It repeats plot points, character traits and storyline twists from more popular and more interesting games. It tries to mimic the flair and style of classic JRPGs but lacks their charm and honesty. It's competent in every way that a game needs to be, but there's almost nothing original or distinctive about it since it's always reminding you of better games.

That is another of its major flaws. I Am Setsuna wants to constantly remind you of other RPGs. The ultimate spells are Chrono Trigger's Luminare and Final Fantasy's Meteo. Most characters get an ultimate weapon that is borrowed from Chrono Trigger, including the Rainbow Sword and Valkyrie Bow. One of the last characters to join is such an homage that it borders on copying. Unlike Bravely Default, which felt like a Final Fantasy title in everything but name, I Am Setsuna seems content to remind you of the games it's trying to copy. The lack of ambition means that rather than feeling like an honest take on a new game, it's hoping that nostalgia will carry you through the weak moments.

Despite all of this, I Am Setsuna isn't bad in any sort of traditional sense. It's fun enough, the mechanics work, and the gameplay concepts are reasonable enough until you break them. If it had been plain bad, it might be easier to judge. It's not that I didn't enjoy myself, and there are a few strong moments, but overall, it's thoroughly average.

I Am Setsuna is a lower-budget JRPG, and it shows. The aforementioned lack of diversity in the environments is further hindered by the lackluster character models. They're lacking in animations, so it leaves them feeling rather bland. Despite the simple graphics, the game chugs sometimes, the frame rate taking a noticeable drop for no clear reason. The strong point is its soundtrack. A melancholy and sorrowful piano permeates the game, with excellent songs that do a lot to set the mood. In deference to the title's old-school sensibilities, it also has minimal voice acting (mostly limited to Japanese battle cries), which can be turned off. It isn't the sort of game that would work with voice acting, though it might have helped to give the characters some much-needed personality.

I Am Setsuna lacks confidence in itself but still tries to stand with the greats. Chrono Trigger was a tremendously ambitious and far-reaching game because iIt ventured across space time and took huge risks with its characters. I Am Setsuna wants to remind you of classic games such as Chrono Trigger but doesn't have the courage to do anything more than that. If I Am Setsuna had been released as a $20 indie title, it would be more understandable, but as a $40 game published by Square Enix, it is found lacking. RPG fans will probably have a fun, if forgettable, time with the game, but there's no need to rush out and buy this one unless you've exhausted your other options first.

Score: 7.0/10

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