There were many AAA titles released in 2016, especially as the year became marked by shooters as it progressed. The summer release window is typically filled with very few titles as most developers and publishers prepare for the fall and winter push. At the end of July, Square Enix released a digital only title on the PS4 known as I Am Setsuna. This oddly named title harkens back to the turn based JRPGs of the 1990s. Despite this, it carves its own niche into the RPG landscape with its laid back piano soundtrack, crisp sprites, and snow aesthetic. After I finished this game, I realized not only had I fallen in love with the game somewhere along the way, I was immediately craving a similar experience. With more and more games doing away with turn based combat, I Am Setsuna was a breath of fresh air this past year.
It proves difficult to talk about this game’s story at any in-depth length without going into spoiler territory. Some may find the story generic, but I was captivated by the character interactions and various twists and turns the entire way through the experience. The main character is a masked man shrouded in mystery known as Endir. Endir is a mercenary and he accepts a job to assassinate a young red-haired girl by the name of Setsuna. However, as Endir is preparing for this nefarious job, he learns about her unfortunate circumstances in being a sacrifice to keep the monsters at bay. Armed with this information, Endir is unable to kill her and instead becomes a member of her guard, tasked with protecting her until she reaches her final destination. Along the way, the party increases in size, and the entire cast is a likeable bunch, void of any standard JRPG party annoyances such as a talking animal character. Interestingly enough, there were a lot of comparisons between I Am Setsuna and Chrono Trigger leading up to its release. However, while that may be true of the battle system, this is certainly not the case for the story. If you have ever played Final Fantasy X, then you may think about some similarities between the two games when it comes to story. For the most part, both games hit many of the same thematic notes, and both games boast a strong cast. What elevated I Am Setsuna for me were the character interactions. With such a serious story, some comedic elements are necessary to alleviate the tension. It is able to provide those by having some witty, banter filled interactions between the cast members, and everyone feels alive as a result. I have always been of the belief that characters are as important to the story as the story structure itself, and I Am Setsuna proves this beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Story and gameplay are two halves of the same coin, and the battle system will undoubtedly remind you of Chrono Trigger if you have ever played that game. In simple terms, the game uses a turn based combat system. There are no random battles. All enemies appear on screen and you initiate a battle by running into them. A team in battle consists of three members, and when the wait gauge fills to the maximum for two or three members, they can perform a combination attack that will usually deal more damage than if they were to attack individually. These combination attacks can only be performed by the characters if they have certain abilities equipped, which are known as Spiritnite in I Am Setsuna. After battle, there will be a loot screen detailing all the loot you obtained from defeating enemies. Enemies do not drop money in this game. Instead, you can sell the materials you obtained to a merchant, who will give you money in exchange. Furthermore, by selling these materials, you will increase the merchant’s wares. You can obtain Spiritnite, or abilities, based on what items you have previously sold. There is no additional charge to receiving them, and you can simply do so by pressing triangle on the controller, provided all materials are present in the merchant’s inventory
There are other wrinkles to the battle system that separate I Am Setsuna from other games. There are things known as Singularities and Fluxes. Singularities are special circumstances that can happen in battle, such as boosting critical hit rate, that last for a limited duration of time. Singularities have a chance of happening after a player has used Momentum. Momentum is a glowing point that can be attained (maximum of three) during battle after enough of a separate gauge has filled up. When you attack, you can add a single point of Momentum to your attack or ability which will add something to it depending on the type of attack or ability it is. Fluxes on the other hand are an occurrence where one ability’s effect can be added to another after battle has concluded. They occur randomly, but you can obtain various items and food throughout the game that will increase the chance of a Flux occurring. These terms and conditions may seem daunting and confusing to someone who has never played I Am Setsuna. While I will say that they become easier to understand after actually playing the game, one fault of the game is that it does a poor job at explaining the deeper mechanics. Fluxes in particular are something that are included for players that want to grind and max out their party’s fighting potential, but the developers created a game that could be explored and completed without ever bothering with them, unless you are interested in trophies.
Perhaps the game’s largest strength is its soundtrack. It is composed entirely of piano melodies ranging from the battle music to the town music. It is without a doubt the most relaxing video game soundtrack I have ever had the pleasure of listening to throughout my gaming life. It may seem that a score composed entirely of piano melodies may be lacking in variety, but that could not be further from the truth. Each theme is appropriate for the circumstances in which it is used, but at the same time in soothes the nerves in a way that only Nier’s soundtrack has rivaled. Even if the game does not sound appealing to your sensibilities, you owe it to yourself to give the soundtrack a listen and judge its merit for yourself.
I Am Setsuna was a captivating game. I was hooked the entire way through the adventure. The game’s cast and story were endearing in a way that gave the game a unique charm and identity. I felt at peace when I played I Am Setsuna, and I can’t say that about too many games. The turn based battle system was a welcoming sight considering there were few turn based titles released in 2016. The game has its share of flaws, most notably a series of confusing deeper battle mechanics, but they do very little at hampering the overall experience. The game’s soundtrack is the perfect antidote to stress and a bad day at work. With a $40 price tag, well under the normal price for most games in today’s market, I Am Setsuna is worth your time. It will etch itself into your JRPG heart, and be present with its positive qualities for a long time to come.