Platforms: PS4, PC (reviewed on PS4)
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Tokyo RPG Factory
When Endir met Setsuna.
I've long said that Square Enix has lost its way, forgetting what made the name great in the first place, and focusing on graphical prowess and pretty boy aesthetics more than anything else. It's a bad habit that has cost Square Enix a lot in terms of money, brand recognition, and relevance in today's gaming community due to development times and costs that have spiraled wildly out of control. Just look at Crystal Tools and Final Fantasy XV for great examples of my claims.
Fortunately, Square Enix seems to have recognized this, to an extent, and created Tokyo RPG factory. A development studio put together to work on small budget games that call back to the classic age of JRPGs, I am Setsuna is the first product of this endeavor. It's a budget title, with clear direction, a simple premise, and a whole lot of heart.
A pretty world.
The concept art for I Am Setsuna captures the spirit of JRPGs.
I Am Setsune uses simple 3D models and gorgeous hand drawn art to build a world covered entirely in snow. There are no other environments, aside from ice caves and man made structures, as the entire world is suffering from an endless winter. This singularity of theme is also represented in the music, which is composed entirely of piano tracks. The whole presentation is beautiful, but your mileage may vary.
Do you applaud I Am Setsuna's adherence to thematically appropriate sparseness in setting and music, or do you want to see more variety? If you asked me to describe the sound of a piano in one word, it would be the same word I'd use to describe snow: Pretty. Which I feel is perfectly fitting as I Am Setsuna is a pretty game that's full of snow and piano music.
A little bit of Final Fantasy X
Setsuna's first encounter with Endir isn't quite like Yuna's first meeting with Tidus.
The story is simple, and bittersweet. Players are thrown into a world of constant winter and the ever-rising threat of monsters. Here, they meet Endir, a masked mercenary, and Setsuna, the Sacrifice. After plots thicken and plans change, the game becomes about guiding Setsuna to the Last Lands in order to provide the remnants of humanity a brief respite from monster attacks, through sacrificial rites.
Elements of Final Fantasy 10 are borrowed, but with a different tone. The best way to sum it up is if Final Fantasy 10 was about moving on after losing a loved one, I Am Setsuna would take place after the acceptance of loss. Setsuna's journey parallels Yuna's, but the sense of sadness is never quite the same. This is because the characters met along the way and the attitudes they bring aren't as somber. Everyone stays super positive for the most part, and Setsuna and her guard never waver for a second in the face of what their journey's end would mean. There is also no real love story, which is refreshing.
And a whole lot of Chrono Trigger
The influence of Chrono Trigger is pretty obvious.
On the gameplay front, I Am Setsuna is an updated and streamlined Chrono Trigger. The combat plays out the same, with an ATB system, techs, combos attacks, etc. Hell, some of the more famous attacks are still named the same: Luminaire, Frog Squash, X-Strike, etc. There are noticeable differences though.
There is no armor, just weapon and accessories that each have slots that can be filled with Spritnite, which allow players to customize their tech load outs. Spritnite may also be augmented to take on the attributes of currently equipped accessories, allowing for even more customization. Weapons determine offensive and defensive capabilities, fulfilling the role of weapon and armor.
Finally, there's the SP system. SP is accumulated by various means, but the main way of gathering it is to sit on your turn, sort of like adding a secondary cooldown effect that can be stocked. Players can store three SP charges, which are used to enhance techs by various means, including but not limited to: Extra damage, duration increases, status buffs, extra debuffs, and returning a chunk of the ATB meter.
SP effects must be triggered by pushing the square button after initiating any action. This requires some timing, and allows for strategic usage. It's not an understatement to say proper SP management can make or break more daunting encounters.
Short but sweet.
If they tightened it up a bit more, maybe they wouldn't have needed so many (cute) reskins.
I finished I Am Setsuna's story after about 30 hours. Players more familiar with the combat and less interested in fooling around will most likely be able to blow through the game in half that time. I played with various tech combos, farmed up specific spritnites for hunting optional enemies, and found a few special locations that were cute additions to a lovely game before wrapping it up, and there's still a little more to do. Such as finishing my quest to kill all of the optional enemies, create and augment all of the spritnite, and see about different endings.
Forty bucks may seem a little steep for a short JRPG, but I generally feel good about games that provide one hour of fun per dollar, which I Am Setsuna has done with optional content. It also comes with the benefit of supporting a new developer that's bringing old school design philosophy to modern tech.
Personally, I would have enjoyed I Am Setsuna more with some of the filler cut out: Every classic JRPG homage should take a page from Bravely Default's playbook and include fast-forward options in combat and encounter modifications. Being able to speed up character movement in the field and on the over world would have been nice too.
Setsuna's journey is one worth going on.
There are no photo realistic characters or settings, just chibi models and hand drawn art. There are no big money CGI cutscenes, just in-engine character models and text boxes. There are no imaginary dream bishounen fighting god whales, just a simple story about sacrifices and monsters. There is no expensive proprietary game engine that became outdated before it even finished development, they used Unity. The end result was a heartfelt throwback to what made JRPGs great. I'd say that's mission accomplished for Tokyo RPG Factory and I Am Setsuna.