I Am Setsuna Review
A Cold Journey Worth Taking.
Outside of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, there are not a ton of large-scale single-player experiences to be had on the Nintendo Switch in the system's infancy. That's where I Am Setsuna comes into play. Setsuna is made by new developer Tokyo RPG Factory and published by Square Enix. Setsuna is designed to play like the classic JRPG games of the SNES and PS1 era. The game uses the ATB (Active Time Battle) system that has been seen in many Final Fantasy games. The game is pretty heavy with text boxes and there is no voice acting. Setsuna is truly a call-back to an older era with most of its design and presentation. There are no random battles, but like Chrono Trigger the monster battles will happen frequently and some are unavoidable.
Setsuna starts off with the mercenary (and main character) Endir who has been hired to assassinate the village sacrifice. The player quickly learns that they have been hired to assassinate Setsuna the character the game is named after. Setsuna is determined to complete the traditional sacrificial pilgrimage in order to rid the world of aggressive monsters that have been terrorizing the villages. Endir decides not to kill Setsuna and instead joins her group of guardians that must protect her on her voyage to the Last Lands. The story does remind me a lot of Final Fantasy X and Yuna's voyage, but just on a much smaller scale.
The game's environment is beautiful. The entire world of Setsuna is covered in snow. It's part of the plot of the game and while I've read some complaints about that, I personally didn't have a problem with it. Would it have been better if the game just had a handful of cliché worlds like a snow world, a desert world, a jungle, a machine factory, etc.? I really don't think so. The game's somber setting of a world covered in snow and winter all the time works well with what the developers were hoping to convey. I respect that they wanted to do something different.
I'd be remiss if I didn't spend a little time talking about the game's music. The music in this game does a fantastic job of setting the mood; whether that's giving the player a sense of urgency in a critical moment, a frightening boss confronting the party, or appropriate sad themes to go along with the game's plot. While playing through the game, the musical score consistently stood out to me as something I was really impressed with.
Another highlight of the game was some of the witty banter and dialogue that takes place between the characters in the game, especially the dialogue between Kir and Nidr. The game also has several moments during the story where the player is given two dialogue options to choose from. The dialogue choices don't appear to actually affect the story and only the dialogue during that part of the story. Often one choice is very selfish or rude and the other is the more reasonable option. I had fun choosing the rude dialogue at times, but usually if I went that route than one of the other characters in the party would say the correct response.
As mentioned, the gameplay follows classic JRPG games including the Active Time Battle system. The game also borrows the Tech and Combo system from Chrono Trigger. The player can use dual or even triple combos with the right Spritnite combinations. Spritnite is essentially the game's Magic or Tech system. There are two types of Spritnite: Command and Support. The Command Spritnite are specific to each user and can only be used by that specific character. For instance, Setsuna controls Lightning ability, while Kir uses Fire, and Aeterna specializes in Time magic.
In one of the most time consuming aspects of the game, the way the user actually acquires new Spritnite is by defeating enemies and then converting the loot obtained into new Spritnite abilities that you get from one of the merchants that can be found in just about every village. Almost every Spritnite ability requires 3 or 4 different pieces of enemy loot. One aspect that I didn't pick up on until the end of the game is that each enemy may give you different loot depending on how they are defeated. If you defeat an enemy with Fire you'll get different loot than if you defeat them with Ice. There were certain characters that I rarely played as and because of that, I didn't actually obtain some of those characters best abilities.
That was something that stood out to me as a negative, although it's not uncommon in any RPG that offers more playable characters than one can have in a party at any given time. I played through the vast majority of the game with Endir, Nidr, and Setsuna. I'd occasionally swap in Kir if I wanted to be aggressive offensively. But some of the other characters in the game I almost never played as and I think that's unfortunate. One of the best things I love about the classic Final Fantasy VI is that the story in the game often split the heroes up and forced the player to play as different characters throughout the game, instead of just sticking with the same three the entire game.
Another interesting game design was that the developers decided to have the weapons for each character cover Physical Attack/Defense and Magic Attack/Defense instead of also having to buy armor or equipment. It felt like this was done in order to simplify the game. Instead of having to worry about upgrading armor, helmets, leggings, etc. the player only needed to worry about upgrading their weapon.
However, this was immediately contradicted by the fact that there were a ridiculous amount of Talismans in the game. I had over 40 that I earned in the game from a few purchases and mainly treasure chests throughout the world. And I quickly stopped purchasing them from Merchants because I felt most weren't incredibly unique and it seemed like a waste of money to buy them.
Talismans are accessories that serve two purposes. First they add additional Spritnite slots to the character who's holding it, to allow them to cast more Techs. Secondly, they may or may not offer a Bonus Effect or a Flux Bonus. The most useful bonus effect I found were the ones that would show the enemies HP (something that isn't normally visible without it). The Flux system is also very confusing and not explained very well in the game. Essentially, if your Talisman has a Flux Bonus your Techs that your characters use can receive these Flux bonuses if you use the Techs enough times. But this never really seemed to play a major factor in any of my battles I had.
The core combat and gameplay was designed well, but a few of the extra features fell short. One last part of the battle system that I've yet to talk about is the Momentum system. This felt like a combination of either Final Fantasy VIII or Super Mario RPG's boost attack where the user can press the button at the right time for extra damage as well as the Default system in the Bravely Default series. The characters can build momentum once the ATB fills up and if the user decides to wait and not immediately cast a command. The longer you wait the more momentum that character will build up with a maximum of three momentum stars. When executed correctly, Momentum would boost the character's attacks or multiply the benefits of curing techs. For instance, Endir's Wall ability which casts Protect and Shell on one character will cast it on all three characters if the user correctly uses Momentum with the Tech. I really enjoyed this system and used the Momentum ability with almost every command I executed.
Lastly, while some of the regular enemies were re-used in different areas of the game, overall I thought the monster list was acceptable and worked well for the game. But what really stood out were the massive boss characters. Almost every single boss were gigantic monstrous creatures that made the fights with them feel epic. There were also a few special Spritnite infected enemies that looked like normal foes but with a much darker shade to them. These enemies were extremely powerful and I died against a few of them; sometimes by accident, not realizing I was going into a much tougher battle than I had expected.
Speaking of that, while the overall game wasn't brutally difficult. A couple things stood out to me as far as difficulty. One was the fact that there is no flee option in the battle menu. I got stuck in a battle I couldn't win and was not able to escape from the battle. Unfortunately, resulting in my death and loss of game progress. With that said, the system isn't broken. Instead of having a Flee option in the battle menu, the party is able to flee from battle if they purchase an item called a Fogstone. From my experience, the Fogstone was a 100% escape rate so as long as the player has purchased some, they will be able to flee from tough battles. Some of the later dungeons were particularly tough and at least one I died in a couple times and lost about 30-40 minutes of game progress. I probably could have used a Fogstone in some of those situations but at the time I felt I could beat the monsters and ended up getting killed instead.
The game and story itself is very linear with no major sidequests until the very end of the game. Otherwise, the game progresses by traveling the snowy world and going through different towns, caves, and dungeons.
I believe that I am Setsuna accomplished what Tokyo RPG Factory set out to do. It is a fun JRPG game that is reminiscent of the SNES or PlayStation 1 era. While the story is a bit cliché and the environments are snow, snow and more snow. Setsuna succeeds in a lot of ways. The gameplay, Tech, Combo, and Momentum system are very fun, the snowy environment is truly beautiful, the music sets the mood at every corner, and the bosses are menacing foes. And despite the story being cliché, I did enjoy it.
The game took me around 50 hours to complete, but I did grind in a couple areas and I completed all the sidequests. I do believe the game will take most players at least 25-30 hours to complete.
I think the game is worth picking up if you're a fan of classic JRPG games like earlier Final Fantasy games or Chrono Trigger, I believe you'll enjoy the experience you have with Setsuna .
Disclaimer: Review code for I Am Setsuna provided by Square Enix.