Finally putting this fantasy to rest.
Snow. Lots of snow. Get used to squinting your eyes as you traverse the world of I am Setsuna; a game built to remind players of how JRPGs used to be. And much like the ground our heroes walk upon, this game left me cold.
It is clear that Tokyo RPG Factory are trying to replicate classic Japanese RPGs; such as Chrono Trigger and the early entries in the Final Fantasy series with a top-down view, over-world map and turn based combat mechanics. But unfortunately they only succeed in a few areas. Where the game hits its mark is in the visual presentation. Staying true to its inspirations, while still feeling modern, both the main areas and the over-world map look amazing and really pay homage. However, everything else is mediocre. The music, which is played out with a piano, is repetitive and often doesn’t fit the action on screen. Navigation was also a bit of an issue, with movement slowing to a snail’s pace when moving around the map, and there being nothing to indicate the direction I needed to travel in.
Platform: PC, PS4 (Reviewed)
Those issues alone can make I Am Setsuna a little tough to play through at times, but when the story feels tired and the characters bland, it makes it harder still. The story starts off with a mercenary called Endir, who is tasked with assassinating a young girl. No reason is given as to why her life must end, and being the ever dutiful killer, Endir asks no questions. But upon meeting this girl, Setsuna, he discovers that she has been chosen to make a sacrificial pilgrimage to the Last Lands. Her life is to be given in order to quell the recent uprising of the various monsters that have suddenly appeared across the land; something that has been done for hundreds of generations. Endir, seeing that Setsuna will die at the end of her epic journey, feels that the best way to complete his mission is to help her in hers.
As you can imagine, this trip won’t be one that just the two of them face on their own. Queue the list of stereotypical characters that join Setsuna on her quest; Her feisty bodyguard friend, the grizzled swordmaster who needs to redeem himself, the snarky fresh-faced kid who has a lot of growing up to do and the cold hearted knight who only cares about the protection of her village. These are the kinds of characters that you have seen several times if you’re a fan of JRPGs, and nothing new is brought to the table here. In fact, the story does whiff a lot of Final Fantasy X. Yes, I know this game is meant to invoke that nostalgia for early JRPGs, but you don’t have to re-tread the genre in order to tickle our memories. The relationships between the group and their development throughout their journey are tired and clichéd, and the dialogue, which is all text based, often feels cringe-worthy. It’s a hard slog with no endearing characters or interesting story arcs.
When it comes to the combat, on the surface it is what you would expect; turn based action, with the party members facing off against various monsters. To start off with, it is all very straight forward. There are basic attacks, tech attacks (magic and special attacks) and item use. However, it isn’t long before the game starts to introduce some new mechanics; ones that seem convoluted. First off there is the Momentum system. If a character is ready to command, but is left doing nothing the Momentum meter will fill. Once filled, extra damage can be done with normal attacks if the square button is pressed at the point of impact. Then there is Spritnite; which is a fancy word for spells.
There are three types of Spritnite; Command, Action and Support, and these can be obtained from merchants. However, they cannot be bought with money; the merchant will ask for materials instead, which are obtained through battle. Give him the items and he will craft the Spritnite. Then there are Talismans. These are items brought or won that will add bonus effects to combat, such as extra defense, support bonuses and combo powers. They can also add a Flux bonus, which adds status effects randomly to whoever has the Talisman equipped. It’s a lot to take in at the start of the game. At least it allows players to brush up on these mechanics whenever they visit a trader. It seems as Tokyo RPG Factory wasn’t totally happy in making a retro RPG, and wanted to add a little something extra. But it just comes off as overcomplicated and it doesn’t really stand out as anything special. It’s also worth pointing out that there is no auto-save feature, and that the battles can get incredibly tough. So save, and save often.
I appreciate where the thought for this game comes from. The world of JRPGs has moved on so much since that genre defining era. We often look back with rose tinted glasses and say “They just don’t make them like that anymore”, and there is definitely worth in looking backwards, but moving forwards. Maybe they were just of their time, and what makes them truly great are the memories we have of them. A golden age of RPG gaming. I Am Setsuna desperately tries to pull us back in time, but just feels old and worn out, no matter how good the fresh new lick of paint looks.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.