Originally announced as Project Setsuna at E3 2015, Square Enix’s announcement of a brand new internal RPG studio called Tokyo RPG Factory and their new IP came as a shock. After years of nothing but Final Fantasy XIII sequels coming from Square Enix’s internal studios, the announcement of a brand new IP that looked to tug at the heartstrings of fans of old-school RPGs was met with palpable excitement. I Am Setsuna wholeheartedly embraces the conventions of old, creating an experience that is reminiscent of earlier Final Fantasy titles, but its relatively limited scope and low budget hold it back from being an amazing experience.
I Am Setsuna follows the titular Setsuna as she embarks on her journey to save the world from the hordes of monsters that are gradually increasing in number and aggression. The big twist here is somewhat similar to that of Final Fantasy X; Setsuna doesn’t plan to kill the monsters, but instead follow a long running cycle and tradition by offering herself as sacrifice to placate the monsters. However, the difference is that you know from the beginning that Setsuna is marching to her death. It creates an interesting dynamic, where every success brings you closer to the eventual death of the character that you are growing fond of over time. The story focuses on Setsuna’s strength and courage as she marches to a death that she believes will save the people that she loves, and also gives you glimpses into how this affects the people around her. It’s a strong story that is helped by being kept tight and focused, avoiding an overly long game time to instead ensure that the story doesn’t overstay its welcome.
The other strength to I Am Setsuna’s story is the characters that have been created by Tokyo RPG Factory. The cast is kept relatively small, with the main characters being the only real constants throughout the story. Each character has a unique personality, from the stoic Setsuna who pushes through everything towards her goal, to Kir who has abandoned millennia of tradition and artificially shortened his life so that he is able to assist in the pilgrimage. Nidr, is extremely reminiscent of Auron from Final Fantasy X early on, but his character gradually evolves to become something more than Auron ever was. The depth to these characters, and the way they interact with each other during story sequences, is one of the biggest strengths of I Am Setsuna, like Kir’s constant jibing of Nidr.
Continuing the throwback theme in I Am Setsuna, combat follows the turn based ATB system that was made famous by the Square Enix games of old. However, Tokyo RPG Factory have borrowed the much-loved Combo system from Chrono Trigger to keep the combat interesting. The Combo system means that party composition has a massive factor in battle, beyond just the states of each character. I found myself frequently using the combo of the main character, who I called Pickle, and Nidr despite them being the same class because I could use some excellent combo moves with them.
The other twist to combat is the momentum system, which effectively works as a secondary ATB system. Once you fill your ATB meter and it becomes your turn, but before you select a command, the momentum meter begins to fill up. Once full, you bank up to 3 momentum points, which can be used to add additional effects to your commands. This can range from certain commands getting additional damage, to giving characters’ stat boosts and additional healing. It leads to a combat system where going for quick attacks isn’t always the best option, especially in boss battles where the additional boosts from momentum attacks are necessary for victory. Overall it’s an interesting system that evokes the feelings of old, but also brings something new to the table to keep it fresh.
Speaking of ‘fresh’, that is exactly how I would describe the weather in I Am Setsuna and the resulting style of the environment. I Am Setsuna is set within a world and environment that seems to be perpetually filled with snow. While it’s fun to wade through waist high snow, it does get old after you’re going through your tenth environment that’s covered in snow. Coupled with that, the game also feels highly linear, with you being funneled between dungeons and towns without any real exploration on the world map. I understand that this is a lower budget and more focused title, but the highly similar environments and world map get boring and uninteresting after a while.
The other place you can see the lack of budget is in the character models, which are overly simplistic when compared to the rest of the art. The characters in I Am Setsuna use the same art style as Bravely Default: Flying Fairy, with colourful character models that are deliberately simple and have no feet. Don’t get me wrong, by no means do the models look bad, but I personally feel that they lack in detail. There is also a distinct lack of variety in NPC and enemy models. NPC models are reused in most towns, with many villagers looking the same, and NPCs that sell items almost all looking exactly the same. Enemies also suffer from the lower budget, as many of them are simple recoloured models of earlier enemies. The lack of variety and simplistic models detract from the overall beauty of the rest of the game.
Additionally, while all of the music in I Am Setsuna is high quality and sounds amazing, there isn’t enough of it. Tunes repeat frequently throughout the game, which led to me later not paying attention to music that is absolutely lovely to hear. The score largely focuses on slower piano pieces, backed by ambient noises and the occasional additional instrument. It helps convey the feeling that the land within I Am Setsuna is sparse and unforgiving, and adds weight to your shoulders as you walk towards your death. It really is lovely and compelling; I just wish there was more it.
I Am Setsuna is an excellent first game from Tokyo RPG Factory and fills a niche that has been long neglected by the company that made this style of RPG famous around the world. The combat is interesting, if somewhat easy at times, the story is touching and the characters are multifaceted. It’s hampered by a lack of variety in enemy models, as well as a limited musical score, and a 3D art-style that doesn’t translate to a big screen as well as it did on handhelds. Overall, I Am Setsuna is a compelling experience that all RPG fans should try, just be aware that it’s a more personal and linear experience, as opposed to an epic adventure around the world.
Compelling characters and story
Interesting battle system
Not enough music
Lack of variety in models
Highly linear world map