JRPG home cooking.
I Am Setsuna on PlayStation 4
Imagine you’re living on your own, making yourself dinner, and thinking it’s just not the same as being able to have a home cooked meal at home with your parents like you used to have all the time as a kid. Although simple, there’s something comforting and wonderful about a family member cooking up something delicious and familiar for you.
I Am Setsuna is the ultimate JRPG comfort food. There’s nothing particularly fancy about it. This isn’t a five-star restaurant meal by any means. But you don’t care. It’s so good, and it feels right.
These days, classic-style JRPGs on home consoles from major publishers/developers like Square Enix are quite rare. Action-RPGs, open world games, and MMORPGs have made the turn-based style gameplay nearly extinct outside of indies. However, you only have to play I Am Setsuna for a short while before you’re transported back into the JRPG golden age of the 90s (playing on a home console – the PS4 – definitely adds to the nostalgia). Your muscle memory will kick in right away, and it will be just like the good ol’ days.
The first thing you’ll notice is the game’s visuals. Obviously, I Am Setsuna doesn’t take full advantage of the current generation’s graphical potential. This isn’t Final Fantasy XV. Instead, it retains an early 2000s style with an appropriate modern face lift. As a result, I Am Setsuna manages to channel nostalgia, while also being very, very pretty.
The only problem though is that I Am Setsuna rarely shows off anything other than snow. Its world is very snowy. It’s supposed to be that way thematically, portraying a sense of sadness. However, it probably wouldn’t have killed Tokyo RPG Factory to include some more variety. Hours and hours in, and all you’re going to see is a lot of ice, frost, and snow. It’s all pretty, but repetitive nonetheless.
In addition to the snowy setting getting a bit tired after a while, you’ll also be seeing a lot of the same enemies too, but reskinned. You’ll be running into familiar looking enemies often throughout the entirety of I Am Setsuna, but with a different color scheme and some new abilities to mix things up. Thankfully though, I Am Setsuna’s combat is so much fun that you won’t really care.
There are no random battles in I Am Setsuna. Instead, enemies appear in plain sight and can be avoided or engaged with. Getting a preemptive strike by sneaking up on monsters is quite easy and when you do, you get a big advantage to speed these lesser engagements up. That advantage is a quick ATB boost and a single charge of the all important momentum. Yep, ATB (Active Time Battle) is back in I Am Setsuna, and is enhanced greatly by the Momentum and Combo features.
In most games that use an ATB system, the first person to fill their ATB bar is up to attack, and its best to attack right away and keep the battle moving. You’ll do a lot of that in I Am Setsuna, but it’s not always the best move. When your ATB bar is filled, you can let it sit there and gather stacks of momentum which can be used to greatly enhance your attacks and abilities. So for example, Provoke, when used normally, draws enemy attacks towards the user. When used with momentum though, it’s altered to add a useful defense boost on top of what it normally does. One more for you: Drain normally only steals HP from an enemy and restores the HP of the user. With momentum, it heals party members as well. So in tough battles, you’ll need to decide when to attack right away, and when to wait for a momentum stack to get an effect that can turn the tide. And in normal encounters, annihilating packs of enemies in a matter of seconds with well placed momentum-enhanced attacks never gets old.
That’s not all though; all of the playable characters in I Am Setsuna have their own set of unique abilities (Tech) that can be used together, Chrono Trigger style. Once two party members have their ATB bars filled, they can join forces to unleash a powerful attack (which can also be powered up with momentum). All of this adds a layer of complexity to the traditional ATB system and makes it feel fresh and fun, even in 2016.
There’s also of a ton of Tech that can be used to change/enhance the way the playable characters behave in battle. Seriously, there are TONS of abilities that range from combat attacks, passive traits, support spells and more. While each character has a general play style, you can do some serious tweaking depending on what Tech you choose to equip. You can definitely make certain characters fit into the classic Final Fantasy job paradigm if you choose, or mix and match lots of different Tech abilities. The choice is yours.
Unfortunately, instead of going right up to the line of “too much stuff,” I Am Setsuna does eventually hop over that line, and starts getting too bloated for its own good.
For starters, you get A LOT of items that you need to constantly sell in order to get access to the latest and greatest Tech. It gets quite cumbersome, quite fast. It isn’t helped by I Am Setuna’s unhelpful menu. You’ll get bogged down with tons of stuff, and need to constantly dig around to find what you want without a very effective way of sorting through it. Other than making sure I had the best weapon equipped, I tried to put off worrying about the less intuitive stuff until I really had to, like going up against a hard boss.
Also, using momentum, combos, and tech can trigger better item drops and also two features called Singularity and Flux. Seemingly randomly (read: it probably isn’t but it could have fooled me), special attacks lead to Singularity events in battle which greatly enhance your combat for a short amount of time even more than momentum. And sometimes, after a battle, you’ll gain something called Flux, which adds additional effects to your equipped abilities (or Spiritnite/Tech if you rather). Even after hours of play, I never fully understood, or was able to really take advantage of, these features. It was just cool when it happened but I never really thought about it much.
I Am Setsuna’s fast-paced and fun combat contributes greatly to its overall pacing which is quick, effective, and to the point. Plot developments are never drawn out for too long artificially through long boring dungeons and mindless grinding. Everything moves quickly. You’ll reach a new town/area, something will happen and then it’s usually onto a short dungeon (ruin, cave etc.) to solve the problem and then it’s onto the next part of the story. And, as its $40 price point might suggest, this is no 80-hour epic adventure, which is perfectly fine. I don’t know about you, the reader, but I’ll take a crisp 20-30 hour game that’s free of grinding over a long snoozefest any day. Ain’t no one got time for that.
***Very minor spoilers ahead***
Without delving too much into the game’s plot and any possible spoilers, the overall point of the story (which is revealed right at very beginning essentially) is to the help the namesake of the game, Setsuna, complete a Final Fantasy X-style ritualistic sacrifice mission to slow the flow of monsters into their world for a period of time. There are trials, tribulations, mysterious characters, twists, betrayals and the like, but everything that happens contributes to the overall goal of dragging Setsuna closer and closer to her final destination, the Lost Lands. Your character is Endir, who is a quiet mercenary type that has only ever lived to follow orders. Endir seemingly gets wrapped up emotionally in Setsuna’s journey; a journey that quickly becomes about something bigger than following orders.
Along the way, you’ll pick up new party members and each of them will get a moment to shine in the plot and have their backstory fleshed out. The characters have distinct personalities and are incredibly likable. You’ll want to learn more about them, and I Am Setsuna delivers. Their backstories aren’t just random distractions from the main plot. There’s very little wasted content in I Am Setsuna, almost everything and everyone is important to filling in the gaps of the story of Setsuna’s journey.
Really, the only drawback is that at times, the story can be a bit too predictable. It doesn’t make it any less enjoyable mind you, but anyone who has played a bunch of JRPGs – which is probably most of the people reading this review – will be able to see some plot developments coming a mile away. There are definitely a few surprises that should slip under the radar for even the most trained JRPG player though.
***End of very minor spoilers***
Despite some minor hiccups, I Am Setsuna is still an incredibly enjoyable experience. Will I Am Setsuna change the JRPG landscape forever? Certainly not. But not everything needs to. Sometimes you just want that simple, yet so delicious, home cooking, and that’s exactly what I Am Setsuna is. It’s a simple JRPG executed with tremendous amounts of polish and reverence to fans of the traditional JRPG. There are airships, over world maps that you can walk on, and plenty of treasure boxes to open up. If that’s the kind of stuff you’ve been craving, you’re not going to be disappointed.
Score: 4.5/5 – Great