Japanese role playing games used to be a common theme in the world of gaming. Final Fantasy was a staple of JRPG goodness even to western gamers, but in the past decade the prominence of these games and the style itself has waned to indie games and small projects, much to the disappointment of fans that grew up with them. Even Final Fantasy itself has moved to a more action-oriented style in place of the turn-based combat we grew up with. When I Am Setsuna popped into existence it gave fans of old school JRPG games something to look forward to once more, with a few hiccups aside, it does not disappoint.
The game follows the story of Setsuna, a young woman that grows up in a village and region where monsters are ever-prevalent. In order to appease the monsters someone must be sacrificed every 10 years. Lately the monsters have grown more and more agitated which has lead the town to offer a sacrifice (Setsuna) sooner than expected. You play as a character (that you can name) from a clan of bounty hunters, sent to kill Setsuna. Once you arrive you get roped up into her story as part of her sacrificial guard, and end up accompanying her on her quest across the world. Overall the story is entertaining, and the characters are fairly well-developed. It kept my attention even with the old-school scrolling text and answer-choosing. I won’t divulge too much more, but the plot goes in a few interesting directions and introduces a lot of interesting characters like most old school JRPGs are known to do.
The gameplay is especially that of an old-school JRPG. It is all turn-based as you’d see in the older Final Fantasy games, but with a few interesting systems on top of the base combat. Once you select an attack a bar starts to fill which stops you from attacking until filled. The enemies have a similar bar (although not shown), so combat (especially in a group) becomes timing attacks based on who has the full bar. Also, when multiple characters have a full bar you have an opportunity to do combo moves for more damage, these can be super effective when going against multiple enemies. You also have a set of special moves that deplete another bar in your hud, these are more powerful moves that do different things depending on the character. Your character has a move that does damage to multiple enemies at once. Setsuna has a powerful healing move. Other party members have moves that do other specialty attacks. The key to the overall combat is timing your attacks, combos, and hitting specials that work best against the enemy types presented. It’s all kind of a symphony when you get it going perfectly. The timer before each move does slow the game down a bit, but I feel it also gives the player time to determine what attack or combo to attempt next. Some people who are used to more modern RPG games may grow frustrated with the turn-based style, but old JRPG fans should feel right at home.
Overall I Am Setsuna is a solid throwback to an age gone by. It’s not the best game ever, but for those looking to relive some JRPG goodness it will certainly scratch that itch. I have some issues with the game in general, such as the time between the only save points in the game (30-45 minutes+ at times) but once I got past that it’s easy to enjoy yourself with the game. The music is incredible and really keeps you going even when the plot isn’t moving as quickly as you’d like, and the battle system lets you incorporate some strategy without overwhelming newer players or making you feel like you can’t properly battle until you’ve studied the system for 10 hours. The experience of Setsuna is one that you will enjoy if you ever enjoyed the styling of old RPGs and games with a catchy story and very good music. It was a game I could easily flip on and sit back and play for an hour or two without getting too deeply involved, bad save timing aside. If you’re looking for a game to fill the summer drought, Setsuna is a solid pick.