A long time ago, civilization had reached its peak but then the world was brought to ruin by monstrous beings. Now, with the world gripped in a perpetual winter, a once generational sacrifice has been sent to the Last Lands to appease the monsters and keep their blood lust at bay. Nobody knows exactly what happens to the sacrifice or if it even works, but the fear of another large-scale attack prompts this generational cycle to keep in motion.
The story in I am Setsuna follows Endir. He is a man from a mysterious clan of masked mercenaries who are known for their ruthlessness in completing any job they are hired for. Endir is hired by an unnamed man to assassinate a young woman named Setsuna who has been chosen to be the next sacrifice. When you find Setsuna, you are given the choice to kill her or stay your blade. This leads me to my first small issue with the story.
Your Dialogue Choices Don’t Matter
Every time Endir speaks, you are given one of two dialogue options. Generally, these will have minor differences and just give you a little more control over the dialogue. Occasionally, you will be given choices about whether or not to take certain actions. However, if you choose the option which does not fit the predetermined story, then your choice is shrugged off by the group and ignored. Whether it is choosing to kill Setsuna or to leave a person being attacked to their fate, you are simply unable to progress with the “bad” option. Everyone will ignore you, and the story carries on as normal. This really just detracted from the experience and would have been better had these dialogue choices simply not been included in the game.
Sadness Is The Theme
Regardless of your choices, the game consistently follows one theme: sadness. This is even from the first meeting with Setsuna where it is revealed that Endir’s new goal is to escort this young woman to her death. In most RPGs, your goals are always clearly hopeful. There is always an end goal and you rarely feel as though you are actively trying to put someone in jeopardy. Yet, here is a bright young woman who is kind and caring for everyone she meets, and at the same time she has resigned herself to her own impending fate.
As you progress through the world, you will constantly find people who are dealing with the harshness of the land. Everywhere is cold and the land barely supports life. Even the sacrifice doesn’t stop all monster attacks. Some villages have even been recently destroyed as the monsters grow more confident. The people are even named using adjectives to describe their personalities and emotions. In some cases, these names show how desperate their lives are.
A Piano-Exclusive Soundtrack
The composers made an interesting choice to focus solely on the piano. The soundtrack features no other instruments. The composer plays wonderfully off the strength of the instrument to convey a serious undertone while also elaborating on a sense of beauty and at the same time desperation.
To my knowledge, there are no other games like it where the music is focused so entirely on one instrument while still featuring a wide variety of songs eliciting different emotions ranging from sadness to excitement. The only other game even remotely like it which I can think of is Deemo which is a rhythm game featuring only the piano. The soundtrack, while limited in its range of potential sounds, came together in a fantastic fashion. The music absolutely stood out to me and was one of the most memorable aspects of the experience.
No Voice Acting Except In Battle
The devs of this game aimed for it to look and feel like a classic JRPG, and they decided to follow suit with this concept in terms of voice acting. Aside from while you are in battle, there is no voice acting to be found here. When you start the game, you are also given the option to turn that off if you want a purely classic experience. Additionally, you can leave all of the other characters voices on and turn off Endir’s voice in the menu if you want to follow the classic theme of having a “silent hero”. However, be aware that there are no English voices. Even if you turn on the voices, you will have to simply listen to battle Japanese voices with no subtitles.
Visuals & Performance
Top-Down 3D Graphics
The graphics in this title won’t blow you away. While they look nice and pay homage to classic JRPGs while rendering the characters and world in 3D, many of the designs don’t get a chance to stand out because the camera is somewhat removed from setting. It remains set in an angled top-down perspective and scrolls along with you as you move. You will be unable to manipulate it to get a closer look at particular things. This doesn’t hurt the experience, but it didn’t really help in in any way other than appealing to my nostalgia. As a fan of classic JRPGs from the NES and SNES era, I quite enjoyed the visual design, but it certainly won’t appeal to everyone.
The world in I am Setsuna is a bleak one. The entire world is frozen and harsh. There are no other kinds of environments to discover in this game. While this may appear to be lazy and feels somewhat repetitive, I understand the concept the devs were aiming for. This world has suffered a catastrophe, and the people are suffering and desperate. The design of the landscape reflects that entirely and very effectively.
This game was originally released on the PS4 then was ported to the Switch. Fortunately, the Switch version stands up exceedingly well to the PS4 version in almost every way. While docked, this game runs at a locked 1080p and, of course, 720p while in handheld mode. However, the devs opted to reduce the frame rate from the PS4’s 60FPS to 30FPS on the Switch. This in no way hinders the experience, though. Turn based JRPGs are somewhat slow experiences, and a fast frame rate doesn’t necessarily improve a game of this nature. (Most of the information was learned from Digital Foundry’s analysis of this game)
Exploring the World
There is a world map to be explored, and its style will look very familiar to fans of classic JRPGs. In fact, it is almost identical in style to Chrono Trigger except for this being in 3D whereas Chrono Trigger was 2D. Your characters roam on an over world with a top-down, isometric camera perspective. You simply walk around on the map looking for towns, caves and other explorable areas. When you find one, you just need to press A on it to enter after its name appears on the screen.
There are no battles to be fought while exploring the world map, so you are able to explore the world at your leisure. However, there are a few inconveniences regarding this. For example, there is no run button while on the world map. You will occasionally have to walk back and forth across fairly sizable islands, and this can be a cumbersome task while walking at a leisurely pace. Additionally, there is no separate screen you can check to look at the overall map of the world. This will be an inconvenience to you later on in the game where knowing your relative position to other parts of the map would have been incredibly useful.
Turn-Based ATB Battle System
The battle system in I am Setsuna will be familiar to most fans of classic JRPGs. You control three characters at any time. You wait while a meter referred to as the active time bar (ATB for short) fills up. Once it does, you may select an enemy to attack, to use a technique or to use an item. Perform your move then wait for the ATB bar to charge again. Rinse and repeat. There are a few ways that this game separates itself from others of this genre, though.
A Battle System Reminiscent of Chrono Trigger
You can get into battles while in caves, villages and other areas which can be entered. The monsters roam on the map, and you will engage in battle with them if they see your or if you get too close. You can initiate a preemptive strike if you approach them from behind which will grant you a full ATB bar immediately as well as one SP point for each character. I will elaborate further on SP points a little later.
Battles take place directly on the map. There is no separate battle screen in this game. Your characters and the enemies will simply take a place in the battlefield and you will immediately start. The enemies will be running around as well, and their position is of great importance as most attacks have an area of effect. If you time certain attacks properly while the enemies are in the idea position, you will be able to maximize the effects of each move you make.
Your characters also have the ability to attack together for double attacks and triple attacks if you have the correct techs equipped. For example, having Cyclone equipped to Endir and Charge equipped to another character named Aeterna will allow you to use the double attack called X-Strike. You can only do it when both Endir and Aeterna have fully charged their ATB bars, but the attack is significantly more powerful than either one of their techs when used separately. It also grants a different area of effect for the attack than their separate attacks would have.
I loved seeing this battle system return in this game. Shamefully few games have used this battle system since Chrono Trigger. Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled on the DS was one of the last which I am aware of to do it effectively. It is an absolute treat every time we are shown that these companies haven’t forgotten about this system entirely.
Momentum Mode and SP Points
Each character starts a battle with an empty sphere next to their information. Once their ATB bar charges, you can wait a little longer. If you wait with a fully charged ATB bar, this sphere will begin to fill. Once it does, a small dot of light signifying one SP point will appear at the top of the sphere and it will begin to fill again. Also, whenever you perform an attack, this meter will gain a small charge. If you have at least one SP point when you perform an attack, then pressing Y at the correct time will activate momentum mode. When you do this, you will gain various temporary effects such as recovering HP or dealing additional damage.
Momentum mode adds a lot of strategy to this game thanks to how you will have to weigh when to attack or heal and when you will be able to let one character sit there to charge up a momentum strike.
At random points in a battle, an event called a singularity will occur. These are not very well explained in the game. Essentially, what these singularities can do is give you effects such as doubling the charging speed of your ATB bar or significantly increasing your damage. Obviously, gaining an effect like that could turn the tide of battle in a difficult fight.
While you have no control over what type of singularity you get, you can increase the odds of getting one. Basically, all you have to do is use your momentum attacks, spells and combo attacks as frequently as you can. By doing so, the odds of a singularity occurring drastically increase. You shouldn’t go into a battle planning on a singularity you need occurring, but it can certainly be a life saver if one triggers in the right place at the right time!
Your special combat abilities can be equipped via a special item called spritnite. Spritnite comes in two varieties: combat and support. Your combat spritnite are labeled in menus and in battle as techs. These include physical attacks, damaging spells, support spells and healing spells. Support spritnite are passive abilities which provide a continual effect in battle.
Many of the techs you will find share an identity with techs in Chrono Trigger. They will frequently feature the same name and effects as their CT counterparts. For example, Cyclone is a circular attack which hits multiple opponents, and Aura is a healing spell. You can even rename any spritnite or weapons to anything you wish provided it isn’t profanity.
When you start the game, your characters will be able to equip just one spritnite. You will acquire more spritnite slots as you level up. Also, you can find talismans which are equipment with passive effects which also sometimes allow you to equip extra spritnite.
Spritnite slots come in three categories: A, C or S. If it has a C, then you can equip a command-type spritnite there, and S stands for support-type spritnite. If it is an A slot, then you can equip either a command or support spritnite there.
New spritnite can be purchased in villages by finding a hooded man called the magical consortium. Here, you will have the option to sell material. These are items which you will find after battle and occasionally laying on the ground as sparkling points of light. You will just want to sell every one of these items. This will yield you a fair amount of cash for buying weapons and will allow you to obtain new spritnite. Don’t worry about these materials as they don’t serve any other purpose. Just sell them all every chance you get.
Once you have sold all of your materials, select Obtain Spritnite. Here you will find a complete list of every spritnite currently available to you. In a box on the bottom-right side of the screen, you will see a list of materials, the number required and the number sold. Provided you have sold enough of those items, you can acquire that spritnite. This is essentially a bartering system in which you also make money for these items by selling them before trading them for spritnite.
I had mixed feeling on this system. While it was nice being able to simply buy my techs when I had the items, I felt like this was a little too reliant upon RNG. I would have liked the option to also grind for experience to learn these techs in addition to being able to buy multiple copies of them for the sake of customizing them with flux bonuses.
This is another feature not very well explained in the game, so I will try to explain it here briefly as I understand it.
As you find talismans, you will notice that they will sometimes also have a Flux Bonus feature. This allows you to customize your spritnite in a variety of ways by simply having spritnite equipped to a talisman with a flux bonus. You can activate the flux randomly in battle by using your momentum attacks. If the flux bonus is activated, then your spritnite equipped to that talisman will gain the effect. After that, when you use that tech in the future with a momentum attack, it will have that effect. You can gain multiple flux bonuses on each spritnite as well allowing you to customize each one greatly.
This game will take you roughly 20 hours to beat if you just follow the main story. Compared with other JRPGs, it is a somewhat short experience, but I appreciated how much this game respected my time. It didn’t distract me with a lot of side quests and minor events. The game constantly leads you from one important segment to the next as you progress through its story to the conclusion. There are some additional dungeons you can find, but those don’t add a whole lot of playtime. Also, after completing it once, I did not feel much need to return to it. I got the most out of my experience with a single play through, and there wasn’t any kind of new game plus feature to encourage me to play it a second time.
However, the story is satisfying and well worth experiencing at least once. The game is fairly pricey for its amount of content at $40. This price might be asking a little too much of people who don’t have a predisposition for this type of JRPG. However, if you are a fan of this kind of game, then I do think it is worth considering.
The game is also available on the PS4 and on Steam, but it costs the exact same price. The featured graphics are almost identical and the halved frame rates do not affect the experience negatively. As such, I feel that the Switch version, which offers both a home console and portable experience, is the version of this game which offers players the best value for their money.
- Recommended 70% 70%
Contemplative and Beautiful Piano-Themed Music
A Touching Story
Battle System Inspired By Chrono Trigger
Little Variety To Environments
Short and Little Replay Value
A Little Expensive