Review: I Am Setsuna
Right off the bat, I should mention that I’m not a big fan of turn-based RPG’s. It’s not so much that I mind them, it’s more that you have to really sink in a lot of time to get a sense of the combat mechanics and follow the story. But when the story starts off with a compelling opener, I feel a willingness to follow it and immerse myself in the game. I Am Setsuna manages to do that in its first half-hour. After a brief rescue mission where you fight off some monsters that are threatening a young girl, a mysterious stranger approaches Endir (our remarkably serious hero) and gives him a mission: Kill a young girl. The plot thickens, of course, when it is revealed that this young girl is in fact a member of a village that routinely sends off young women to be sacrificed in order to protect humanity from monsters.
The story starts off in a pretty intense way, and it manages to stay pretty heavy throughout, focusing on developing the various characters and showing their struggles and motivations. Endir’s character is slowly explored throughout the game, and we gain a better understanding of Setsuna’s sacrifice. The story’s themes revolve around loss, sacrifice and personal struggle, so if you’re looking for something light-hearted, this won’t be the game. However, the game manages to have a lot of human moments, so it’s not depressing so much as it’s dramatic. This drama is enhanced by the game’s brilliant soundtrack, featuring dulcet tones and soft melodies. Most of the game takes place in natural settings, making it a surprisingly peaceful experience for the most part.
This peace, however, is broken by various encounters with monsters, demons and other foes. I Am Setsuna has been compared to Chrono Trigger a lot, and people familiar with the classic RPG will see the similarities right away. The game’s battle system is a dynamic kind of turn-based combat, whereby you attack when your action meter fills up and in turn enemies get to knock you around when their action meters fill up. You have various techniques that take mana, and you can combine attacks with party members to really do some serious damage. Additionally, if you wait a while and charge up your action meter but don’t actually do an action, you get special powers. This creates a risk/reward scenario where waiting to strike means that your attacks will eventually be more powerful.
Of course on top of that you have items that revive you, different weapons and abilities that you can add, and crafting to create new gear and goodies. It’s pretty standard jRPG fare for the most part, and you’ll manage fine if you’re familiar with the genre. Otherwise, pay attention to the literally page-long tutorials in the opener and you’ll get the hang of it pretty quickly. In terms of difficulty curve, the game was pretty bearable throughout, with some spikes around a couple of the boss fights and some of the more challenging sections towards the end. For the most part, I did well enough when I kept my items stocked and chose abilities well, and your success in the game will depend a lot on the steps you take before a fight. As usual, trial and error will help you get a sense of how to approach certain fights.
The game isn’t all that long, but I actually found that to be a positive. We’re used to RPGs being the length of Homerian epics, and I was happy to see an RPG that was on the shorter side for a change. I would even reason that it’s a fair bargain for the asking price, as it feels like there’s still plenty of content.
In terms of replay value, there isn’t really as much, considering the story is pretty linear. The game has several points where you can choose dialogue options, but this is really just a smokescreen; the story progresses in more or less the same way regardless of how you answer. In terms of the story’s progress, I think it was actually paced pretty well, and I really liked the way Setsuna’s character developed. Endir is given less focus, and kind of falls back on the stoic hero trope a lot, but you do get more of a sense of his background as the story progresses, which I appreciated. My only gripe would have to be with the game’s ending. It felt lacking somehow, and while I won’t spoil it, I will say that the ending has a definite ‘are you serious?’ moment. On some level, it’s actually a pretty clever ending, but it’s perhaps not the most satisfying. Still, I really liked the story that unfolded in I Am Setsuna, and it’s a great reminder of the old-school JRPG classics of Square Enix’s golden age. If you’re new to JRPGs, I think it’s a great stepping stone, and if you’re a connoisseur looking for a nice modern title, it’s no classic but it holds up pretty well.
I Am Setsuna from Shining Battle Arena was reviewed using a PC downloadable code of the game provided by Studio Saizensen. Game was tested on a PC running Windows 7 Pro, with a 4GB NVIDIA Geforce GTX 970 fitted on a 4th Generation Intel i7 4790 3.6Ghz CPU and topped with 8GB of RAM. The game is also available on the PlayStation 4 via the PSN Store. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published
• Good pacing
• Well-written story with character development
• Dynamic turn-based combat system
• Beautiful soundtrack
• Combat can seem unfair in certain portions
• Story choices aren’t actually relevant
• Fairly short by RPG standards