Imitation Is the Sincerest Form of Flattery
HIGH: It feels just like the JRPG classics of old.
LOW: It feels JUST like the JRPG classics of old.
WTF: After 30 hours I still don’t know how some things work.
I Am Setsuna unabashedly cashes in on nostalgia for classic JRPGs. From its silent protagonist to its turn-based combat system, this work is clearly inspired by greats from the golden age of the genre spanning from the late SNES to the early PS1 era. The problem is that by drawing so much from those hits, it sets itself up to be directly compared to them. Sadly, the pantheon which Setsuna so wishes it were a part of remains well beyond the reach of this ultimately forgettable RPG.
Setsuna‘s plot starts off as an amalgam of other JRPG stories, with several characters having clear counterparts to its would-be contemporaries. A silent mercenary (Cloud, Squall) is hired to assassinate the shy, pacifistic Setsuna (Aeris, Yuna) but quickly has a change of heart and instead chooses to escort her to the Last Lands (Zanarkand) in order have her sacrifice herself (Final Fantasy X) to bring peace to the world. Other characters joining the party include a swordsman who was a bodyguard from a previous sacrifice (Auron) and the knight-commander princess (Beatrix) of a lost civilization. All the while, the group is being opposed by a mysterious, scythe-wielding villain (Magus).
In case it wasn’t obvious at this point, I Am Setsuna is very much a chimera of other, better role-playing games.
The only thing about Setsuna that comes close to feeling fresh and unique is the frost-covered world in which the game takes place. However, after a few hours, even this becomes dull and repetitive because the same small handful of environments are recycled over and over again.
In this land, most every village can be easily mistaken for another, each icy cavern looks identical to the one before, and even the forgotten ruins peppered throughout the world use the same tileset with few exceptions. Enemies fall into a few archetypes and rely upon palette-swaps to differentiate them. Given that Setsuna also has a fair amount of backtracking involved, everything starts to blur together into a wintery, sterile world.
One of the biggest selling points of I Am Setsuna is the combat system, which tries to compare itself to Chrono Trigger. Much like what’s found in that venerable game, combat revolves around waiting for an action bar to fill up before a character can act. Waiting for other characters to fill up their own bars allows them to join their attacks together for a greater impact. Waiting even longer fills a secondary bar which includes extra effects. While this sounds good in theory, the balance isn’t nearly tuned enough. I quickly found a simple, low-cost skill which would rapidly wipe out most encounters, making the costlier, flashier, and ultimately useless team attacks pointless.
The skill system also borrows heavily from other classic RPGs. In the case of Setsuna’s ‘Spiritnite’, it’s easy to make a comparison to Final Fantasy’s Materia.
Every skill in the game is tied to Spiritnite, which must be equipped to be used. The slots which hold said Spiritnite are limited, restricting the skills each character can have at their disposal. This in itself is perfectly fine. The problem is that the system for determining which Spiritnite successfully combos with another is poorly laid out, forcing me to fiddle with item management between each fight to truly learn what synergizes together. It’s needlessly cluttered and time-consuming for a mechanic that’s already been done better years ago.
The final components of combat revolve around Singularities and Fluxes. Singularities trigger during combat, giving party-wide buffs that can benefit the group to varying degrees. After just over 30 hours of playtime, what causes these Singularities is still a mystery to me. The frustratingly vague tutorial hints that certain conditions can be met to increase their frequency, but their exact mechanism still eludes me.
Fluxes are additional effects which can be added to Spiritnite. A Flux can reduce the cost of a skill or increase its power when used in a combo, for example. The Flux I wanted to add was determined by which Talismans I would equip, most of which give a chance of permanently applying its ability to a skill every time it was used. Sadly, these buffs were just another layer of complication that ultimately felt pointless because the effects were minimal.
In the end, I Am Setsuna is just a competent JRPG. How could it not be, considering how much it liberally lifts from its betters? Looking at it with a purely analytical eye, this Frankenstein’s Monster of a game has haphazardly pieced everything needed to make it stand among the giants it aspires to be, except the most critical of requirements—a spark of life.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Tokyo RPG Factory and published by Square Enix. It is currently available on PS4, Vita, and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 30 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E10+ and contains Snow, Fantasy Violence, Snow, Alcohol References, Snow, Mild Language, and Snow. In my opinion, there isn’t anything objectionable here, but as always, I suggest watching an hour or two of the game with your children to make sure it falls within your boundaries.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: There are items that can be picked up which are invisible except for a small flash on the ground and a noticeable audio cue. If you are unable to hear these cues they are much easier to miss, but not impossible to get.
Remappable Controls: The controls are not remappable on the PS4.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.