I’m a few years late to I Am Setsuna, originally released in 2016 for the PS4 by Tokyo RPG Factory. In fact, I’ve been sitting on this game for nearly two years since it launched on the Nintendo Switch. Ok, here’s the honest truth: I started the game shortly after it came out for the Switch (early 2017), played a few hours, didn’t love it, and put it down until recently. I gave it another chance, pushed through the beginning, Googled things I didn’t understand, and ended up hooked. I Am Setsuna is a game heavily inspired by “Chrono Trigger”, but with a very different premise, landscape and story.
Story & Setting
Maybe it is because I played I Am Setsuna during the winter that I fell in love with its setting. I hope you like snowy trees and landscapes with peaceful piano music in the background, because that is roughly 90% of the game. If you go into the game expecting this, and don’t let yourself be disappointed when the scenery almost never changes, you’ll do fine. However, it is some of the most beautiful, peaceful, snowy scenery you will get in a JRPG. In fact, I’d wager that I Am Setsuna is the most peaceful JRPG I’ve ever played. Time and time again I would just stare at the snow falling across the forest/mountain landscape and listen to the beautiful piano play, until I realized I need to keep moving to finish the story.
Now for the story and characters. It’s good. Without too many spoilers, your group of travelers ends up together with the mission of taking Setsuna to the Last Lands as a sacrifice in order to reduce the amount of monsters terrorizing the world. Along the way, you will end up doing a number of quests and missions you’ve probably seen before in other RPGs. I don’t think the story ever does anything unique or wild with its somewhat predictable structure, but there are a few twists along the way. However, the character development ends up being very good, with each of your party members coming from a distinct background and history. You will care about them and their relationships all the way to the end.
The game plays in a mostly top-down view of your party and the world, without any issues. Menus are well done and easy to transition between. Battles are turn-based with ATB gauges and commands are to the point. It feels a lot like playing Chrono Trigger, and you’ll find some items, weapons, and techs have the same titles as Chrono Trigger’s own. Your party members get access to Techs via Spritnite and can even do them in combination, both double and triple, just like Chrono Trigger. Some of the combos are very powerful and useful throughout the game. There isn’t traditional equipment to manage, just weapons for your party and Talismans and Spritnite.
Here’s where things get a little confusing, though. On the surface, the battle system appears to be simple and straightforward, until you start trying to figure out how Talismans, Spritnite, Momentum, Fluxes and more all work together. The game presents you a few short tutorials at the very beginning and lets you loose. It wasn’t until near the very end of the game that I felt like I had a little bit of a grasp on what I was doing with it all. The lack of explanation really hurts the game. However, when you get the hang of it all you end up with a pretty good battle system, with a lot of depth and experimentation. I don’t think I can even explain how it all works in this review, honestly, but the trick to a lot of it is hitting Y when you have momentum built up.
I had to go and Google a number of times to understand what a specific talisman or Spritnite did, how to use it effectively, and what I should be doing to progress through the game. If you don’t like to do that while you play a game, you may get frustrated here.
Overall, the story takes you through the game in a pretty linear fashion, so you can’t really get too lost. If you have played Chrono Trigger before, you will catch a lot of items, techs, and details that are certainly inspired by that title, even appearing as straight rip-offs in a few cases. I’m not complaining though, as Chrono Trigger is a personal favorite of mine (as I’m sure it is with most RPG lovers).
Graphics, Performance & Sound
The game is very pretty and runs well on my Nintendo Switch Lite. Loading screens aren’t too common, and I have only experienced a few framerate drops during my entire play-through. Sound effects are okay and are implemented well as a part of the battle system, but I ended up turning them down a lot. The soundtrack of the game is absolutely fantastic, if you like straight piano. Just like the setting, the soundtrack never changes beyond piano, but it’s very well done and fits the atmosphere perfectly.
Obvious Omissions & Frustrations
As much as I enjoyed I Am Setsuna, it isn’t perfect by any means, and can be downright frustrating, at times. First off, there aren’t any Inns in any of the towns you visit. This was terribly inconvenient, because you don’t earn money in a traditional sense. So, to heal your party, you have to use a Tent or Cabin, which you have to buy from the apothecary at a town. To buy though, you need money, which you get by selling items to the Magical Consortium. You earn these items from battle and from “shiny spots” all over the game. However, you do earn EXP if you find all of the shiny spots in a region, and it all applies to your “Snow Chronicles” if you are into 100% completion of a game. So after a bit, I learned that I needed to keep a lot of items on hand to keep my party healed up. I feel like as Tokyo RPG Factory tried to build a JRPG with so much nostalgia, including an element like Inns was just a no-brainer.
Ok, how about this? Imagine your party is level 10 or so and you’re going through an early area in the game and you go left instead of right and run into monsters that look almost just like the ones you were just fighting, only just-slightly bigger. You start the battle only to get completely wiped out in the first turn and sent to GAME OVER. Welcome to “Spritnite Eaten Monsters,” enemy variants that are placed all over the game in the same areas as regular monsters. I never saw much of a point to these creatures, because in most cases, they are far too powerful for you to defeat, even with their increased EXP and item drops. They always drop 1000 EXP, but by the time you are strong enough to defeat them you are near the end of the game where the regular battles earn you more or almost as much EXP as the Spritnite Eaten ones. However, there are some leveling guides that will help you to use these baddies as a way to gain levels quickly, some of which I followed towards the end.
Throughout the game, you’ll come across two types of chests: ones you can open and ones you can’t. These locked chests are everywhere and it isn’t until the very end that you can go back and open them. I found this to be annoying, because I really didn’t want to be pushed back through the entire game to get these chests, but it’s the only way to obtain the items within. This is a task truly designed only for the patient player.
Finally, these last two details are minor gripes, but would have been nice. First, more monster variants would be good. By the time you are 2-3 hours in, the enemies you fight will be the same ones you fight for the majority of the game, only with different palettes. And lastly, I wish a world map had been included somewhere. Because everything looks the same, when you can finally travel freely, it’s easy to get lost. It would have helped with the immersion of the game, as well.
I Am Setsuna is a beautifully peaceful game that oozes nostalgia in most ways, with some small, sharp flaws. It takes its roots from Chrono Trigger with techs and combos set within a fairly complicated and confusing battle system. You will care about its characters and world as you progress through the story, but don’t expect anything wildly different or ground-breaking.