Review: I am Setsuna
Published by Jack Taylor April 10, 2017
"I am Setsuna. And you are?"
Once upon a time, while the majority of Square Enix fans were clamouring for Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts III, a little studio called Tokyo RPG Factory was formed, set up by Square Enix with the aim of creating a role-playing game that was reminiscent of some of the company's classics. That game went on to become I am Setsuna, and despite a few little niggles here and there, it provides an incredibly thoughtful and emotive experience very early on in the Nintendo Switch's life.
I am Setsuna takes place in an unknown world in which Setsuna, a young girl from the village of Nive, is tasked with travelling to the Last Lands to give her life up as sacrifice, thus protecting the world from the danger of monsters until the next time a sacrifice is required. However, your own role is that of Endir, a mercenary tasked with killing Setsuna who ends up accompanying her as one of her guards. Joining you early on is Aeterna, another of Setsuna's guards, and on your journey you'll continue to meet more characters who'll assist and join you as the story progresses.
A key point to make early on here is that the more you play of the game, the more it'll grow on you, despite the slight looseness of the story at times. You'll question a few things early on, particularly a couple of out-of-character decisions that seem to be made purely because it's convenient to the plot, and the game doesn't make it particularly easy to hit the ground running at the start - but characters will soon come into their own, the story will slowly develop and make good on its initial promises, and you'll come across some truly heartwarming and emotional moments, including one or two genuinely satisfying twists.
You'll start off in the village of Nive, and as you begin your journey, you'll cross the world map to new areas in order to move to each objective with the end goal of reaching the Last Lands firmly in mind. It's not an "open" world map as such, as you'll normally only be able to move from A to B as your journey progresses, with not many real side-quests to speak of; you follow the story and that's about it, but it allows the game's pacing to remain consistent and interesting throughout. As the world is currently in the throes of a seemingly never-ending winter, the places you visit will almost all be blanketed in snow; the atmosphere this creates can be gloomy and gorgeous in equal measure, but it's always reflective of the story and the game's central theme of sadness. This is complemented by a beautiful soundtrack, mostly comprised of solo piano pieces, which further conveys the tone of the game and perfectly fits the environments you're in. It's such a good soundtrack that it's easy to forget sometimes that it really is just a piano you're listening to and not an entire orchestra.
As you travel through the many areas in the game, you'll come across items to collect and enemies to defeat. Battle mechanics are reminiscent of Chrono Trigger and use the Active Time Battle system, which allows your party members to move once their attack gauge is full. Once it is, you can attack with the character's weapon, use one of their techs - stronger or magic-based attacks - or use an item from your inventory. Your main party can have up to three people in it at once, and if two or more of them can combo their techs, you can use a much more powerful combo attack, although this uses more of those characters' magic energy. After defeating enemies, all characters will gain experience points - those not in battle will still gain half of this - and when they level up, this will increase their physical and magical attack and defence stats. It's a relatively simple system, which works in its favour, although it can get repetitive when you've been playing a while.
Part of the reason that the battle mechanics remain so simple throughout the game is that, as you'll find the further you progress, most of the developing mechanics exist outside of battle. Each character has their own unique weapons, which keeps things simple, and you'll collect and purchase these throughout the story. If you can't afford a new weapon for someone, you can buy some tempering materials to strengthen their existing weapon instead. You also have special stones called spritnites, which you can equip to party members in order to expand their selection of techs to use in battle, and you can equip talismans to give characters more spritnite slots and other bonuses. You get spritnites from members of the Magic Consortium, who you'll sell materials to (one of the only ways to get cash) in return for the spritnites they can create using them. The great thing about this is that you can just sell all your materials to someone from the Magic Consortium and they'll stay in their stock, so you can sell them all in bulk to get some gold and just get the spritnites you need whenever you need them.
Even though there can be quite a few different mechanics to learn about - and despite the game giving you quite a lot of information to take in at times - the uniqueness of I am Setsuna's gameplay and battle mechanics is great to see. You'll naturally learn about most of the mechanics as you progress, and while you might not make use of everything that's on offer, you can benefit from trying different things, and you're not penalised for doing this. There aren't any random battles as such, since enemies don't appear on the world map - only in smaller areas, and even then they're only in set places. Still, you can revisit areas whenever you need to, and take part in as many battles as you like. In some ways, the relative simplicity of the battle system enables you to focus on the story, which is clearly the main attraction despite the high quality of everything around it.
I am Setsuna provides an immersive story whilst also pulling off the feeling of a classic role-playing game. We'd call it a small-scale RPG, one that'll last you a good while and leave you satisfied at the mix of gameplay and story. While it does have some minor issues - normally where the want of nostalgia replaces convenience - it's an enjoyable and emotional game with some pretty memorable characters, Setsuna herself chief among them. It also makes you think, and while it's all happening in a world we might never see again, it provides fun and well thought-out gameplay and a story that will stick in your mind. Nintendo Switch is likely to see its fair share of RPGs over the next few years, but don't forget about this little gem.
I am Setsuna is out now on Nintendo Switch.
The Nintendo Channel would like to thank Square Enix for providing a copy of I am Setsuna to review.