The world is in turmoil. Monsters rampage through fields, hunting people with a ferocity and tenacity never seen before. But there is still hope. As long as the sacrifice reaches the Last Lands, she can avert the end of the world. This is the story of “I Am Setsuna”.
Developer: Tokyo RPG Factory
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: July 2016
Played: Full Story
Purchase At: Steam
Source: Review Copy provided by Publisher
Many have called I Am Setsuna the successor to Chrono Trigger, but while that title had a fantastic plot, addictive combat system, amazing characters and lovely environments, I Am Setsuna has none of them. The only thing the games have in common is the “Combo” system, but I Am Setsuna’s is not as good, not by a long shot.
But I’m not here to judge the game bases on how it is not Chrono Trigger, but by its own merits and faults.
Let’s start with the combat, which has been one of the game’s main selling points. Something I enjoyed about it is how flashy it is. Every strike, Tech and special move, hell even basic attacks, has bright and colourful animations. The characters shine with an inner light when casting spells, their sword swings show damage numbers in wicked red gashes, and when you hit your momentum key, you see a small burst of energy as the mechanic enhances your powers.
That is the second thing I loved, Momentum—and its direct result, singularity. Each charge builds up over time or by taking actions. When used, they add extra damage to attacks or special effects to skills. For example, near the end of the game, I mainly used momentum to make my character’s “Wall” skill affect the entire party instead of being single-target, something that became necessary as bosses begin to dole out massive amounts of damage to the party.
Every once in a while, your momentum triggers a Singularity, which adds a new effect to the party or the fight and I always hoped it would be the “If anything were to kill your characters outright, they stay alive at 1 health,” because it was a lifesaver. Singularities encourage the use of momentum since you have everything to gain.
But the combat isn’t perfect by any means. The position-based effects are a novel idea but eventually become just another source of frustration, as a skill critical to surviving an encounter becomes unusable because the boss just split the party. I lost count of how many times I set the actions for the turn only for enemies to push my characters around and make the intended effect fail.
And then we come to the combos. I was ready for Chrono Trigger-syled tech combination, because that’s what they sold me in all gameplay videos and PR material. But what I received was a system where Combos are so mana-intensive and have such meager effects that their use becomes pointless. Why would I perform an X-Strike if using the separate skills not only deals more damage but costs about half? It makes no sense.
And that’s without considering how rare it is to get combos. Tech (special attacks) drive combos and spritnite in turn drives these. The problem lies in the Spritnite information panels, they tell you which combos are possible with that stone, but don’t tell you which ones will become available with your current party or with which Tech they need to combine to create those combos.
I am not a fan of the Spritnite mechanic. While it’s not the first time I play an RPG where the skills come from equipment, and neither is it the first where said items come from crafting, I Am Setsuna is the first where I’ve actively had to grind for monster drops only to get a specific spritnite. They could mitigate the issue if you could upgrade the stones or equip as many as you like, but there are a limited number of slots and a few of those you can’t even use for new Tech because they’re for support spritnite. And to be honest, with how difficult it was to find character combos, I didn’t want to waste time on support items when I could just crank out new special skills.
The mechanic of selling the drops to a merchant and have him craft the spritnite from it is pretty neat though, especially since the merchant keeps a record of what you’ve sold him so far. I just wish I could sell all items in the game. I carried every weapon with me, and could never sell them. This makes the economy wholly dependent on monster grinding, and considering how little they pay for most of the monster parts, you’re in for a lot of time wasted.
For most of the game, you don’t really need to go out of you way to kill things, but as the weapon prices begin to rise and you need to buy recovery items, particularly Ether to keep your mana up, then you’ll really be begging for money—or the swift release of death.
There isn’t a single character in I Am Setuna that players can relate to, especially not Setsuna. There is a line, a big one, between naiveté and stupidity, and Setsuna doesn’t just cross it but giddily jumps over it. She’s lovely to everybody, friend and foe alike, always forgiving, always nice and wants even her enemies to be her friends. It’s one of those characters that are so good, so good-natured that they lose any dimension—and make everyone else think that good characters are dumb.
Endir, your protagonist should be malleable based on your choices, but it’s clear from the beginning that these choices are meaningless as other characters will often berate you for making the wrong choice and then force you to follow the right one. What is the point of choice scenarios if they don’t matter?
Also, the underlying romance between him and Setsuna is the most forced thing I have seen in games of late.
The rest of the party stories lack even a single surprising twist to shake things up. They are decidedly bland. Even this game’s version of Magus, the recruitable villain, lacks any dimension and characterisation nuance.
The plot is a by-the-number story taking you linearly from one point to the next as you draw ever closer to the Last Lands. Linearity in an RPG is not a bad thing, but when the story is so predictable and every new “chapter” fails to meaningfully advance the plot, you start getting a bit annoyed. There are sections of the game that do nothing for the plot, as the characters learn nothing new or even reveal anything of interest to the player.
I like the character designs, their models and portraits. Monsters look great too. But I thoroughly dislike the environments, as they are absolutely samey. More than 90% of the game takes place in a snowy land, with very little variation in theme or even architecture. All towns look and feel the same. The rest of the environments are either caves, castles or some strange high-tech ruins…and they’re all identical.
Rehashing and reskinning is a big issue in I Am Setsuna. Enemy types are extremely limited and so you are constantly fighting reskins. This is not unusual in RPGs, but for such a short game, the amount of re-skinning is outrageous.
And yes, I Am Setsuna is not a long game, though it pads its content with constant backtracking, forcing you through the same maps over and over with the slowest overworld walking speed I have ever played with. The specific areas have shortcuts but only those that are mountains and only on the way down, meaning that when you return, you have no choice but to drag your sorry butt all over the place again, fighting the same enemies.
The game doesn’t offer a fast travel option until the last act, and right then it also opens the marked locked chests you’ve been seeing since the beginning—but which until that point, you have no clue how to open—and the game somehow expects you to rush all over the map to collect them. At that point, I was just about ready to call it quits, so I ignored it all and went for the end area!
I will give it to the developers though, the music is great and the voice acting is pretty nice too. The soundtrack has an abundance of piano pieces, which are always my favourite in games and they are lovely, with a good variety in theme, from adventuring-appropriate to sad pieces.
I Am Setsuna is not a bad game but it is a deeply flawed one. I feel too much effort was put into making the combat system as Chrono Trigger’s as possible—without much success—without considering all the other elements needed to make the experience as a whole just as rewarding.
3/5 – Alright