The Japanese role-playing genre has a come a long way since the days of the Super Nintendo. But many consider the games of that era to be the best that the genre has to offer. I Am Setsuna borrows many elements from classic role-playing games, like Chrono Trigger, to create a serene snow-filled world with likeable characters in a grim, yet engaging story. Though the world of I Am Setsuna was cold hearted and dire, I couldn’t stop myself from playing through this tale of sorrow and hope.
The beginning of I Am Setsuna sets up the tone of the story beautifully, with an opening that hints at what’s to come, without being too predictable or cliché. You start out as a mysterious hero given a critical mission related to a young woman named Setsuna, whose quest in life is of great importance to the people of her land. Not everything is what it seems as you learn more about Setsuna and are introduced to other characters throughout the story.
Every character that joins your party has an interesting backstory that in some way relates to main plot about Setsuna and her role in the world. The way each character’s fractured past is inter-weaved into the main plot is clever and well-paced. I never felt I was wasting time learning about something stupid or running through a useless side-quest for only a small tidbit of plot progression.
I Am Setsuna plays very well because it takes a lot of example from Chrono Trigger. As you move around the world, you can see enemies in the distance before engaging with them in combat, giving you the choice to avoid them if necessary. When in battle, you can execute combo attacks, where two characters use up their turns together to deal massive damage working together. I Am Setsuna doesn’t offer anything new to the battle system from Chrono Trigger and instead favors more of a “if it ain’t broke” approach. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, considering the battle system from Chrono Trigger is considered by many to be the best in the genre for being so simple, yet deep and strategic.
The soundtrack is an incredible compilation of piano compositions that compliment everything on screen, making for one of the best soundtracks for game I’ve heard in a long time. The calm and quiet moments are made more relaxing through a fantastic piano that plays as snow slowly falls from the sky during cutscenes. At the same time, the conflict of battles are given greater emotion with a piano that plays melodies that increase the tension and ferocity of each second of combat. The musical scores just work so well with the visuals that it would be almost wrong to imagine I Am Setsuna having any other kind of music without a piano.
Even though there is a lot of white on screen most of the time, I Am Setsuna is still a pretty game to look at. The constant snowfall and subtle movements of snow on the ground as I moved around created a fantastical world that is cold and gloomy, but serene as well. The world map has a variety of locations spread apart that make it feel vast like older role-playing games.
Admittedly, some of the areas you visit can look a bit repetitive in both generic layout and design. However, locations like caverns, ruins, and snowy plains help break up the monotony with areas populated by monsters. The character designs are very reminiscent of SNES titles, with simple in-game models and hand-drawn portraits of characters in menus. A small nit-pick is how the characters in-game don’t have any feet to their models, but it’s not a huge bother especially when moving in areas with snow that is leg-level high on the characters.
If you think of yourself as a Japanese role-playing game connoisseur, then you need to play I Am Setsuna. It takes a lot of inspiration from Chrono Trigger, but does not offer a copy and paste package, but instead emulates just enough to become its own kind of fun experience. The story is emotional, interesting, and never drags on for too long. The soundtrack is superb and one of the defining reasons to download this for your game collection.
This review was based on a digital review code of I Am Setsuna for the PlayStation 4 provided by Square Enix.