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I Am Setsuna PC Review

Square Enix, or Squaresoft as one side of the current Japanese game giant was called before its merger with Enix in 2003, has a rich history behind it, especially when it comes to Role-Playing Games. Fans will fondly remember the SNES Final Fantasy games, Chrono Trigger, PlayStation greats Parasite Eve, Final Fantasy VII and Vagrant Story, and other less critical acclaimed titles, such as the likes of SaGa Frontier and Threads of Fate. As time moved on, Square Enix moved in a direction it thought was best for the company, ignoring their classic library and trying to modernise or streamline the genre, which is fair to say has not always been a hit with some of its fans. Bravely Default‘s success in the West, along with the occurrence of indie developers creating games inspired by 90s Japanese RPGs, opened Square Enix’s eyes to capturing this market again, going as far as to create a new studio, Tokyo RPG Factory, with a focus on making a throwback to those classic days of the genre. I Am Setsuna is the first game by the studio, but does its call to the past make it an unforgettable experience as some of those classics from the era?

Players are put in the shoes of Endir, a mercenary for hire who is asked in the beginning to go to an island and kill a girl known as Setsuna. This young lady isn’t just anyone, she is the next sacrifice, the next person in line who is to go on a journey to the Last Lands and end herself to put a stop to monster attacks around the world. On meeting her, Endir ends up not going through with the killing, so the two befriend each other and Endir becomes an escort for Setsuna to protect her during her travels. The story of I Am Setsuna is one that will feel similar to long time fans of the genre, It’s the tale of one heroine who has to give up her life for the greater good, a key plot point done in other games like Tales of Symphonia, Square Enix’ own Final Fantasy X and the recently released Nights of Azure, which had one of the main ladies getting ready to off herself.

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Despite the story similarities, I Am Setsuna manages to make the journey an interesting one through small unconnected tasks with the world’s NPCs. It is certainly a story that sits on the depressing side of things. The world is constantly covered in a beautiful layer of snow, its cold ambiance giving out the perfect atmosphere to the sadness wrapped around this tale, stimulated more by the moving piano score – people who hate pianos will not have a good time with this soundtrack, as it’s all based on the instrument. With no voice acting, the script is delivered through text boxes, a solid script that doesn’t quite get the time to flesh out characters as much as I would like, but for the shorter experience this game is, I understand that the developers wanted to keep the game moving on.

Endir won’t be seen speaking unless it’s for a multiple choice answer, which from my experience never matters all that much, as a wrong answer makes the dialogue eventually push in the right direction. This is not a game that wants to take your opinion and twist the story. It already has everything planned out, and while it is refreshing in 2016 to have an RPG that feels straight out of my childhood, it does come with some shortcomings – the party is made up of a stereotypical cast. There is the mysterious warrior, the friendly healer, the protecting older man and of course the young magic user who wants to be like the hero. It’s predictable, but an enjoyable sorrow adventure that doesn’t loose its appeal or emotion for the lack of originality.

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Combat is unmistakeably a copy of Chrono Trigger, and is very easy to get to grips with. Getting into a fight, which isn’t random, as enemies are visible on screen, will move the party of three into space and initiate battle with the options of attack, tech or item once the active time battle metre has filled. Tech is where skills and magic are collected together, offering strong attacks, healing or buffs. Tech skills can be customised with Spritenites, collectables that contain skills. Equipping these to the gear of a character will let them use the embedded magical ability.

One thing I wasn’t keen on was the game’s concept of positioning, especially when you have no true handle on moving characters in battle. Attacks can hit multiple enemies, and is often to best way to clear out a large group, but this is also the true for being attacked, and the only way you can move your characters away from each other is using tech that will either blow enemies apart or causes the hero to move to perform the action. It is never clear until a skill has been used once how the use of it will change positioning of the casting character. That aside, the battle system is fast and fluid,  and even without having as much depth as RPGs from the last few years this somehow manages to not feel stale. I found that surprising, but when thinking about it, over the course of time, we haven’t seen a huge deal of RPGs use Chrono Trigger‘s battle system, even when that game is often highly regarded as the best of the 16bit RPGs, likely because it evolved into something like Star Ocean‘s.

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An additional mechanic built on top of the Chrono Trigger battle foundations is the ability to increase the power of attack and tech. The longer a fight goes on, the more momentum builds up in the blue orbs next to each character’s stats. The momentum orb can be filled up three times, with a small star signalling how many are available. Just after an action has started its animation, a flash of lightning sparks on screen and a timely press of a button will absorb a momentum star in exchange to buff the action. Attacks will deal bonus damage or other worthwhile buffs, while healing will increase. On top of this, singularities can manifest that will alter the battle further with a temporary change. One can increase the speed of charging the active time battle metre by double for 30 seconds, while another improves battle rewards. These additional mechanics convolute the standard battle system to add depth, but also makes the game easy and a little random.

Apart from a couple of difficulty spikes with bosses, I Am Setsuna is a stress free game, being easy to plough through enemies without having to think much about what tech is being used. Switching the combat from the default wait to the active setting will add the challenge of time management, as being in the menus will not pause the timer, leaving enemies to freely attack if you spend too long deciding what action to select.

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The world of I Am Setsuna is completely blanketed in snow and ice, and while I mentioned it sets the tone for its story, and does look beautiful for scenery, as far as diversity goes, the constant journey switching of snow town to snow land to snow town to snow mountain to snow town to snow caverns to snow town to snow plains…well you get what I am trying to demonstrate. It lacks any truly unforgettable locations, and after finishing the game, I’ll gladly say I was happy to put the frosty world behind me. Each town is useful for buying items, new weapons and gear, and selling unwanted items. Bizarrely, there are no inns in this world, a strange choice that I had to look up, as I thought I was simply being blind on my visit to the first few towns. Healing has to be done through magic or items, and healing whole parties is performed by using tents at save points or on the world map.

Bringing back the old as something new is an idea I admit I liked with I Am Setsuna. The game manages to do this throwback to Chrono Trigger with care, while throwing in a few new ideas of its own, even if some don’t work in its favour. The fast pacing of the story means that character building and key points don’t get the time they deserve, and the developer takes minimal risks to make this a 90s RPG created in 2016. That said, while the game doesn’t strive to evolve the classic gameplay, I Am Setsuna is a nice journey, a good 21+ hour charming adventure that despite its cold environments, warms the heart with its tragic themes, while answering the question that our memories of classic Japanese RPGs were not blinded nostalgia trips.

7 out of 10