Review: I Am Setsuna

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At E3 2015, Square Enix announced that their newly established studio, Tokyo RPG Factory, that specializes in JRPGs would be working on a new game that, at the time, was only known as “Project Setsuna.”

Now here we are, a little more than a year after its announcement and the finished project, I am Setsuna, has finally arrived and it brings with it a Chrono Trigger inspired battle system and an all-piano soundtrack set in a snow covered world.

Story

The story of I am Setsuna tells the tale of a girl whose name you can probably guess (hint: It’s Setsuna) and her journey as “the sacrifice” as she journeys to the Last Lands in order to help stop the monsters that are terrorizing the land.

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You start the game as a man by the name of Endir, a mercenary who, after a small tutorial, is tasked with a new mission: kill the sacrifice. Of course, thing’s don’t go quite as planned and instead of eliminating his target, Endir ends up accompanying her with an increasing group of other party members as they make their way to their destination.

Battle

I am Setsuna’s battle system draws heavy inspiration from what some consider to be one of the best JRPGs ever released: Chrono Trigger. A party consisting of three members will participate in battle when approaching enemies and from there, an Active Time Battle gauge will determine when each member is able to take their turn. Additionally, the game has a Special Power meter which will charge when attacking, taking damage, or by waiting and taking no actions when your ATB gauge is full. These SP charges can be used during attacks or techs by timing a button press and will trigger “Momentum mode” which will add various effects to attacks and techs to increase their power.

Abilities are not simply earned by leveling up in I am Setsuna, instead they are determined by items that you can equip known as Spritnite. Divided up two different types, these stones can be equipped to a talisman that has the appropriate slots. Command Spritnite gives player access to”techs” such as Cure, Enthunder, Aerial Strike and more. The second type, Support Spritnite, will grant effects that occur automatically while in combat. In order to gain Spritnite, you’ll need to sell the various monster materials you come across on your journey to a special NPC. After you have sold enough of the required items, you’ll be able to obtain a Spritnite from him and equip it to one of your party members.

Another element of battle is Singularity, which will occur randomly as you fight. Singularity gives special bonuses to the whole party however, the effect of it is selected at random. The frequency of Singularity occurring is increased the more you trigger Momentum by utilizing your SP charges.

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In addition to normal techs, there are also Combos, which sees multiple party members attacking when all of them have a ready ATB gauge.

The game’s narrative doesn’t have voice acting- however there is voice acting that appears during battle, with characters saying a few lines here and there. It seems a little odd, and it hurts even more when you notice that the audio is only in Japanese- meaning anyone who doesn’t speak Japanese has absolutely no idea what the characters are saying as they execute their actions. There is an option to disable the battle voices in the settings, but it doesn’t ignore the fact that the developers didn’t bother to get other voices recorded for the game or include subtitles for these lines.

The World Aesthetic

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The world in I am Setsuna is covered in snow. The more I played in this snowy setting however, the more I found myself becoming bored of it. I traveled to a small snowy village, entered an ice cave, traveled across a snowy plain and then pretty much repeated that a few times with an occasional ancient ruin thrown in. The game, while it does have a few settings, feels a bit lacking when it comes to variety.

The game has had some wonderful artwork attached to it. However, the graphics of the game itself aren’t anything to write home about. Some of the visuals feel like they’ve been held back a bit, most likely due to it being available on the PlayStation Vita in Japan. Some of the UI textures look incredibly pixelated and if you’re one to nit-pick, there are some type issues in the text bubbles that pop up during the game. I will say however that one small thing that impressed me as I played the game was seeing the tracks in the snow that are made by both the player’s party and enemies alike.

The soundtrack for I am Setsuna features a beautiful sounding piano and… that’s it. The entire soundtrack for the game is piano music. On one hand, I’ve always been a fan of the piano soundtracks released for Final Fantasy titles. On the other however, I feel that the lack of variety in the world setting is compounded slightly by the use of piano music everywhere. Where some games have greatly varying musical styles scattered throughout a game that gives each area a distinct feel, I am Setsuna is all piano all the time. Of course as stated earlier, there aren’t many variations with the locations, and so if anything, the game is consistent in keeping its tone.

There are also some musical nods to previous JRPGs within the soundtrack as well which are fun to discover.

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Conclusion

I am Setsuna is a beautiful, snow-filled love letter to former JRPGs. While the lack of variety may strike some players as boring, it sticks to its aesthetic and presents us with bits and pieces of what we loved from older JRPGs years ago. The all-piano soundtrack and snowy setting of the game are beautiful, though some may find it to feel repetitive the more they play.

I am Setsuna launches in North America on July 19th for PlayStation 4 and PC (Steam).


~ Final Score: 8/10 ~


Review copy provided by Square Enix for PS4. Screenshots courtesy of Square Enix.