From the trailers leading up to its release and looking at the gameplay, it’s clear that I Am Setsuna draws inspiration from classic JRPGs, mainly the likes of Chrono Trigger. While it takes that inspiration in the form its combat, the game stands alone for its memorable characters, beautiful music and intriguing story.
The story revolves around Endir, a mercenary for hire, taking a job from a stranger to kill a girl named Setsuna. Beginning his mission at a shrine north of her village, Endir meets Setsuna who comes from a place where women are chosen to sacrifice themselves to prevent monsters from taking over the world. Events ensue and Endir agrees to take Setsuna to the Last Lands, the place where sacrifices complete their pilgrimage.
What surprised me with the story is how memorable the NPCs and their dialogue are. Each town, especially Setsuna’s home of Nive Village, is distinct in their own way. I remember talking to the townsfolk in Nive and one man lost his wife as a sacrifice right after their marriage, and this stuck with me throughout the game. That man was recently married, happy as could be, and it’s taken away like that because of the village’s customs. Learning that helped me appreciate the world and made me curious of the many towns throughout I Am Setsuna.
It’s a good thing I Am Setsuna comes with the music on another file because the soundtrack is one of the best I’ve heard in years for a video game. The music is exclusively performed with a piano and it creatively conveys emotional moments, silly ones and upbeat rhythms for boss fights and regular battles. From the catchy overworld theme to the soft lullaby that plays during the main menu screen, it all comes together for an impressive range of tracks with one instrument. It’s a reminder that games don’t need a full orchestra or many moving parts to create an effective mood with its music. One instrument can portray impending doom or an intimate moment between characters.
The cast is memorable, with everyone ultimately coming together to support Setsuna, who was easily my favorite of the group. She never seemed to lose her cool, even with the idea of dying. And Setsuna always tries to bring out the best in everyone, even enemies who want to kill her. Her good hearted nature caused me to make Endir act more caring than cold because she was so likeable. The other members also come from different backgrounds with interesting stories to share.
For example, we learn that one of Setsuna’s companions was previously accompanying another sacrifice on a journey to the Last Lands, and the pilgrimage was a failure. This character felt so guilty that they couldn’t return home and instead fended off monsters to the south to keep his village safe. These character beats help make the cast more memorable and this applies to everyone that helps Setsuna in her journey. My biggest complaint with the character development is that there aren’t any side quests to further flesh out the party members. They’re great characters as is, but I would have liked to have learned about Endir, being a mercenary and all.
Here is where Chrono Trigger and other classic RPGs come into the fray: I Am Setsuna’s combat is fun and fluid. Each party member has Techs, or abilities, in the form of stones called Spritenites. These abilities can be used individually or combined with another party member’s skill for combo attacks. Dual and triple techs are fun to experiment with to expose an enemy’s weakness, and it’s capped off with a slick animation, especially for a three person combo. Enemy and character placement is essential when maximizing the effectiveness of your techs, whether to deal serious damage or to heal your party. Endir’s Cyclone is best used in the middle of an enemy pack so it’ll hit all the enemies at once, or Aeterna’s Demi will bunch enemies together so another party member can act off that and damage multiple enemies.
There’s also a poorly explained mechanic called Momentum Mode in which you press square at the right moment and your character’s attack will have an added effect. Momentum Mode is charged when dealing damage, taking damage or waiting for a circle to fill up if you don’t act in battle. This benefits the party because an attack may deal extra damage or provide a debuff on the enemy, and using it with a healing spell may remove any status effects on the party or give a member auto revive. Momentum Mode speeds up fights against common enemies and makes bosses easier to kill, but the game doesn’t clearly explain its purpose or how to take advantage of it. Unfortunately, this isn’t the only thing that lacks explanation.
Spritenite stones are obtained by selling ingredients to a vendor who specializes in magic. You obtain the ingredients from killing monsters and with the right pieces you’ll be able to give your characters new command and passive abilities. You can equip more abilities based on the talisman you wear, and these talismans provide some kind of immediate benefit like increasing HP and MP, or showing the enemy’s health. However, the accessories also provide Flux Bonuses, which are not clearly explained, so bear with me here.
If a talisman is equipped and it has a Flux Bonus, a skill may receive that talisman’s bonus if you use Momentum Mode with the skill. For example, if you use a spell in Momentum Mode with a talisman that provides an MP Consumed bonus, there is a chance that spell will now have a passive bonus which reduces MP consumed. There are dozens of talismans with different bonuses like combo power, ATB bonus and many more. Sadly there are not many guides online to help, and it took a long time for me to grasp the concept of a Flux Bonus. The game says they can alter skills to make them more useful, but it never explains how to actually utilize Flux Bonuses. By the end of the game I had characters with three to four bonuses, sometimes even of the same skill, and other characters with zero because I didn’t understand the mechanic.
Some minor issues I have with the game are that it lacks some kind of an inn. Inns have always been a method to heal your party in JRPGs and I enjoy resting at the local inn after slaying monsters for an hour, sue me. Another is that money is not easy to come by. To my knowledge, the only way to acquire money is by selling the previously mentioned ingredients you obtain from killing monsters. It’s bothersome to be a few thousand gil short of a new weapon, and the only method of obtaining that money is by selling the ingredients from killing enemies.
Lastly, I didn’t feel much of an incentive to explore the world once you have the means to go wherever. I’ve read you can obtain characters’ ultimate skills by revisiting old or unexplored areas, but I never felt I needed them because the game was never too difficult outside of a few challenging bosses which can be easily remedied by grinding for a few levels. I enjoyed discovering a secret area that I won’t spoil, but my enjoyment wasn’t much beyond that.
All in all, I Am Setsuna is a great RPG with amazing music, a memorable story and a great cast of characters. The combat is engaging, though they should have done a better job explaining some of its key mechanics. Regardless, it calls back to JRPG roots while having its own positive ideas.
+Memorable Characters and story
-Mechanics aren’t explained
– I WANT AN INN