Squaresoft was seen as the king of RPGs in the 1990s. From the Final Fantasy series to the Mana games, to the ever popular Chrono Trigger, many were enthralled with Square’s masterfully-crafted titles. While Square Enix still makes some great RPGs, many people pine for the classic gameplay and stories of old.
Tokyo RPG Factory, a small team, worked very hard to produce I Am Setsuna — a game which draws most of its influences from Chrono Trigger — in about a year and a half. Now that it is officially released in English, it is safe to say that I Am Setsuna is an amazing JRPG. While not exceptional in the graphics department, the game is still able to be an interesting and worthy successor to Square’s lineage from the 90s.
At the start of the game, players are immediately introduced to the main character Endir and guided through all of the game’s different mechanics. This is followed by a very Final Fantasy VI-esque opening.
Along the way, you meet Setsuna, the sacrifice, Aeterna, a mysterious woman who volunteered for the sacrifice’s guard, Nidr, an old swordsman with a shameful past, Kir, a boy who can control a large amount of magical energy, and Julienne, a knight who wants to see her old kingdom restored. Despite Endir and Nidr’s names being a little too similar, all the characters are distinct and memorable. You grow personal bonds to these characters, and feel emotional consequences when you see them struggling.
While I will refrain from spoiling anything, the story of I Am Setsuna is amazing. Something I did not see coming early on gripped me for the rest of the game. Likewise, the story has many other interesting twists, turns, and revelations all the way to the end. While the plot itself is great, the dialogue options are rough around the edges. The player has agency to choose the dialogue of the protagonist, and at almost every point the player gets two options for the conversation.
While some of these dialogue options are interesting and open up whole branches of differing dialogue, in other situations the options barely offer any new dialogue, no matter how different your initial response was. It would have been better if the player had more influence on the story, and could make decisions that would end up effecting the world or future bosses.
The game is not pushing any boundaries with its graphics. While the environments and enemies (especially bosses) look nice, some of the character models are a little rough and not detailed enough. Character models do not have feet, which just seems like a cheap way to make animating walk-cycles easier.
The game has beautiful concept art (which you can see below), and I wish more of that aesthetic made it into the final game. I Am Setsuna was made in a very short time span, and it is clear that there was simply not enough time to make more complex character models, with the developers instead deciding to focus on the gameplay and story.
I Am Setsuna’s gameplay is very similar to Chrono Trigger. Enemies are visible when walking around, and can be walked into to initiate a battle. If attacking from behind, the player will be able to flank the enemy, striking immediately. All characters have a basic attack, along with multiple “techs” that are acquired by using Spritnite — stones that act like Final Fantasy VII‘s Materia. This is done through an Action-Time-Battle system.
As time passes, a meter is filled up — when it is full, that character can attack. Enemies also operate on the same system, even though you cannot see their ATB meter. Players can choose to have enemies’ ATB meters pause while they choose an attack or run throughout in the options menu, allowing players to either add an extra layer of strategy or challenge to their game.
Spritnite can be acquired by selling various items found in the overworld to the Magic Consortium. When enough of a certain item or group of items is sold, the player will be able to obtain them. Spritnite can be named and equipped to slots gained from wearing talismans, which are found in-game. It falls into two different categories: Command and Support. Command Spritnite let the players use techs, such as Cyclone, Cure, and Lightning; Support Spritnite instead grant passive effects for the characters.
When the magic gauge runs out, it must be refilled by either using an ether or leveling up. These techs do various types of elemental damage, such as water and fire. If two of your party members’ ATB gauges are full, then they can do a combo attack that combines two of their different techs: these are more powerful than the regular techs, and are very useful against bosses.
One new thing I Am Setsuna adds to the classic Chrono Trigger combat is the Momentum system. There is an SP gauge to the side of your characters’ health and magic meters, which fills when you take damage, attack an enemy, or wait for the ATB meter to fill. Once it is filled, one SP point is gained; every character can hold up to a max of three during any battle.
When a character has available SP points, a light will flash above their head, and if the square button (on PS4) is pressed in time, then there will be an added bonus effect to the attack, which includes doing extra physical damage, magical damage, or healing the party. Momentum attacks also give regular attacks an area-of-effect, which can damage other enemies if they are in range.
The Momentum system adds an extra layer of risk-and-reward to every battle. Do I wait for my meter to fill so I can activate Momentum mode, but risk taking too much damage? Or do I not use it and not get the extra buffs it gives, making the battle more difficult? It is a nice innovation to the ATB system, which is criminally underused in modern games.
The player can only save at certain points when in specific areas, and anywhere in the overworld. While this might be considered an outdated design choice by some, I Am Setsuna is very stable, and saving becomes available often enough where it does not become that big of an issue. Save points always appear before bosses too, so the player is not unfairly punished and sent very far back if they lose the battle.
In that same vein, party members dying in battle is not big of an issue as they can easily be revived with an item, and will still gain experience if knocked out at the end of a battle. This makes leveling up characters easier, and prevents the player from having to grind at any point during the game.
Movement speed is painfully slow on the world map. While these sections allow you to save anywhere, the slow movement grinds the game to a halt while you trudge to the next area. Other than that, the game has excellent pacing and the story is constantly engaging. Even when I got stuck and frustrated on a tough boss, I still wanted to keep playing and see what comes next — a great quality for an RPG to have.
I Am Setsuna’s soundtrack is nothing less than amazing. Tomoki Miyoshi’s pieces centered around solo piano perfectly reflect the emotion and gravitas of any situation the player is in: the battle theme and winning jingle in particular are excellent. It is one of the most memorable soundtracks I have experienced in a while, and I would definitely recommenced that everyone check it out, whether you’re buying the game or not.
I Am Setsuna is a game from a different era in the best kind of way. For better or for worse, it borrows many of its mechanics from some of gaming’s classics. While its graphics are outdated and its story gives only the illusion of choice, the rest of the game is good enough to make up for it: the characters are likable, the story is engaging, and the gameplay is fun. RPG fans will find a lot to enjoy here, especially those who love games like Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger.