I Am Setsuna, the latest video game from the publisher behind such titles as Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy, and Chrono Trigger, marks a return to Square Enix’s JRPG roots. Nostalgia runs deep in the single-player game, which pays homage to the 16-bit era of the Japanese role-playing game but ultimately may fail to engage the modern gamer.
Developed by Tokyo RPG Factory, Setsuna features a diverse cast of characters, an intriguing art style, an enjoyable story, and plenty of combat, and the game is accessible to both new and old players. The story follows a young woman named Setsuna who is chosen to sacrifice herself to keep the monsters of the world at bay. Gamers play a mercenary named Endir, who is originally out to kill Setsuna but ultimately joins her on her pilgrimage. The overall plot recalls Final Fantasy X, in which Tidus traveled with Yuna and her guardians to defeat Sin, but Setsuna, while captivating, lacks the depth and complexity of its predecessor. Yuna’s journey was paved with questions of morality and of the religious establishment’s sacrificial ways; multiple characters weighed the worth of one life when the fate of many hung in the balance. Setsuna offers only brief forays into an ideological conversation that its well-developed characters clearly deserve.
The gameplay itself also delivers on the nostalgia, but falls short of delivering a challenge. The game developers were tasked with drawing in new players who are accustomed to a modern gameplay style while also creating a familiar experience for 16-bit fans. Ultimately, Setsuna rides the middle ground too closely, providing an experience that is neither challenging nor memorable. The battle system, for instance, maintains the classic turn-based system of Final Fantasy, allowing players to plan their next move against an enemy in real-time. Characters earn experience in battle, leveling up their stats and earning different materials that can be used to create talismans, spritnites, and other equippable, stat-boosting items. But though these customizable components are the heartbeat of JRPGs, Setsuna‘s are too easily mastered, giving players the upper hand in every battle. The system of creating talismans and spritnites is nicely paced out for players — likely to acclimate newcomers to the genre — but it never gets more advanced, and those familiar with JRPGs are left wanting more.
All of this takes place in a wintry setting of fallen snow, a bleak world devoid of color. And for a story filled with strife, with creatures running rampant, the game’s look feels calm and cold. This artistic choice works well in several instances of the game but wears out its welcome after the first few visits to the overworld map, as does the game’s piano-driven score; while it’s truly beautiful, it can at times feel more like Peanuts gang music than referential to the JRPG.
Setsuna touts itself as a return to the days of Chrono Trigger. And though it missed the mark on bringing the JRPG into the modern gaming world, its story, art, and gameplay all have solid attributes. While the negative aspects of the game are apparent, ultimately they don’t ruin the experience. Instead, I Am Setsuna feels like a dream that doesn’t add enough of a punch to wake up the player. B-