Many fans of Square Enix have been clamoring for a turn-based JRPG in the vein of Final Fantasy games of old. Finally, it seems all our prayers have been answered. I Am Setsuna completes Square Enix’s reintroduction of classic turn-based JRPG’s with Bravely Default, Bravely Second, and now, I Am Setsuna. Tokyo RPG Factory borrows many different elements from Final Fantasy games of yesteryear and classics such as Chrono Trigger to deliver an homage to classic JRPGs.
The mark of a great RPG is in the weight the story has on the game. The titular character Setsuna is given the heavy burden of being the sacrifice for a world riddled with monsters who are threatening the peace of the land. You control Setsuna and her party of guards as they journey across the land to bring Setsuna to the Last Lands, where she is to meet her fate.
As you embark on this high-stakes journey, you are treated to a wonderful game. Tokyo RPG Factory shows its love for the craft of game making in its presentation. The persistent falling snow makes for a beautiful allegory to the overarching theme. From the imprint in the snow where your characters run through to the trees shaking off snow as you brush up against it, the world is truly a winter wonderland. Despite the stunning presentation of the world, it is not the sole provider of I Am Setsuna’s charm.
The game’s pièce de résistance is its soundtrack. A lonely piano plays in the background as you journey across the world whilst the dulcet tones of the piano reflects the adventure, and Setsuna’s emotional journey. Often times, the music felt like an extension of the characters as solemn moments were underlined with a soft and moody track, while battles and light-hearted moments are depicted through happy staccato heavy tracks.
While the presentation is beautifully unique, the gameplay is very familiar and yet unique at the same time. The game is separated into areas that you enter via the overworld, which strangely lacked random encounters. I often thought that this made the game a little empty during these parts, but the hook of the story made me thankful that the monsters weren’t infesting the overworld.
Rather than being insistent on overworld encounters, I Am Setsuna places groups of monsters within instanced areas like dungeons, caves, and forests. The monsters are visible instead of being hidden within tall grass. This allows you to choose between running around the monsters or running into them to level up as much as possible. If you do choose the former option, you run the risk of being under-leveled, which leaves room for bosses to dole out punishment to those who encounter them at a low level. While the game encourages leveling, it doesn’t force you to grind monsters for hours on end. This is welcoming, as the game seems more focused on its great story rather than having to slay thousands of penguins in a forest.
If you do choose to whittle away at the penguin population until extinction, the game offers up a unique but familiar battle system, reminiscent of Chrono Trigger. An Active Time Battle gauge slowly fills up as each character and monster awaits their turn to attack. This is then supplemented by your basic attack, and special attacks known as techs. I Am Setsuna differentiates itself from Chrono Trigger’s battle system by introducing something called the Momentum system. This system is shown by a blue orb located next to the ATB gauge. This orb slowly fills up when you choose an action, take damage, or just wait with an already full ATB gauge. Once full, the next attack or tech that you select will then give a button prompt to hit, giving your attacks a boost. This allows for more strategy in boss fights when selecting your party. You no longer need to bring a dedicated healer in some fights as some attacks are given a healing ability when you hit that “Momentum” prompt.
The game doesn’t shove menus and spells down your throat, foregoing complications. Ultimately, it is up to you to decide whether you want to explore the game’s intricacies, although this is not required to see the end credits roll. The game’s simplicity is evident as weapons are bought rather than crafted, and techs are acquired by selling items and selecting techs from a Magic Consortium member. This means that the game is very lenient on the amount of money that you can get, as you don’t need to spend so much on skills and abilities. Rather, the game wants you to buy better weapons, trinkets, and potions. This does make I Am Setsuna much easier than many of the classic JRPGs, which is one of its few downsides. On the flipside, a bit of sleuthing is needed to further Setsuna’s journey, adding a bit of complexity to a mostly basic gameplay system.