A welcome back to times long gone.
There are many things that set I Am Setsuna apart from modern day JRPGs. With advancements in technology, in ideology, in gameplay and game style, even in storytelling within the last 10 years, JRPGs have taken on a strategy that doesn’t always improve upon a classic genre of what makes a huge story with immense gameplay great, but it sure has added a ton of ways to make them even more complicated.
Often times, it’s hard to start a game, take a short game (say a week), then come back and remember all those controls. But, as time goes by so does our memories fade away; those of the games of yesterday: we forget the strategizing of character classes, the mages of black and white magics, the trivial side quests that often lead to nothing so great. And at last, we forget our roots.
We forget them because with time we too have moved on to bigger games, more immersion, more precision, more story, and more gameplay. I Am Setsuna from Tokyo RPG Factory wants us to remember those golden days of our past — they want us to go back and appreciate the genre that has come so far and is still evolving with each new game. Does that mean I Am Setsuna is a stunningly great game brought forward into today’s world? No. Not at all, but it helps for those of us that grew up in the 1990s with classics that Setsuna is trying to reproduce.
I Am Setsuna is set in a forever snowy world where winter has come and stayed. A massive monster roams the great lands destroying everything in its path, with a passion for complete an utter destruction of the world. As the world inches ever closer to its inevitable end, a great sadness befalls over the survivors of this nightmarish winter hell and it’s up to the main protagonist Endir to save the day.
"There are tones of brighter colors within the game sparsely used, and that makes them feel that much more special when you get past all the sadness before them."
Endir is a mercenary who is destined to protect the female Setsuna as she’s set to give herself up for sacrifice, to help end the bloodshed and bring peace back to the world. Now, this may all sound cliché for many JRPGs, especially those found back in the 1990s, and it is. The great melancholy that strangles the planet feels like it was torn right out of a “How to” guide for making a classic RPG. Especially with its isometric angle, and yes, even an airship.
Most modern day JRPGs are beyond gorgeous; what Square Enix does with their Final Fantasy games, or even the vastness of the Star Ocean series, RPGs are about epic proportions and beautiful detail. I Am Setsuna may not be as huge as some past and present JRPGs, but it does give a large enough scale that lets us appreciate the beauty of it all. Its doomsday-style scenario and world setting of relentless snow and ice are extraordinarily cool. The tones Setsuna rehashes and forcibly sets into our minds while playing match the setting quite well. The colors, often whites and grays, are usually offset by a unique enemy that’s modeled in a very old fashioned sort of way. There are tones of brighter colors within the game sparsely used, and that makes them feel that much more special when you get past all the sadness before them.
As the game progresses, you will be joined by other team members, just like in most other JRPGs out there. Each one will be a different class of character, with different HP, MP, Combo attacks, and abilities. Each character carries a story of their own that adds to the world’s tone and their struggles of how they came to be. With that in mind, the battle mechanics are turn-based just like in traditional JRPGs. One hit per character either before or after the enemies’ turn. Nothing unique or substantially harsh about it. This is how I enjoy my RPGs, because as I’ve pointed out before, this is how I remember them. Unfortunately, the game gives off large moments of gameplay instructions without any real examples to show for it. There are moments when I was sitting back and trying to remember a certain concept for what the game was trying to push. And then there are those moments deep in the game where I often forgot about certain moves or ideas that were lightly spoken of early on in the game.
"When it comes right down to the wire, I am Setsuna tries to identify itself as a 1990s love letter to the older fans, and quite possibly people who are just learning of this early-style genre today."
The fantasy setting is a great platform for video game music and I am Setsuna is no exception. Always playing on the melancholy tones while out in the vast lands of the world, there are often hymns of something greater to come. But greater doesn’t always mean good. There are moments when there are tones of greater evil, but there is always a time of hope within the musics fantastical melodies.
When it comes right down to the wire, I am Setsuna tries to identify itself as a 1990s love letter to the older fans, and quite possibly people who are just learning of this early-style genre today. It gets a lot of the elements correct but the lack of momentum at times, and the confusing controls make it not quite as perfect as I’d like to remember my JRPGs being.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
The musical score is a great, along with the style and use of colors. The great memories of times long gone are once again glorified.
Confusing control schemes at some points and moments which just doesn't match the tones. And, of course, the story has been done so many times before.
I Am Setsuna adds a lot of value to our memories and shows us just how far these games have progressed over the decades. But the lack of momentum and good controls hold it back from greatness.