For the past few years it has been said that the era of classic RPGs has slowly been coming to an end. Despite these claims, Tokyo RPG Factory shows that with its old-school turn based battle system and typical RPG adventure tropes, I Am Setsuna proves that it still has what it takes to contend with the big boys. A new development studio from Square Enix, Tokyo RPG Factory’s I Am Setsuna is the developers first IP that embodies the great RPGs the 90s and tries to keep the tradition of these emboldened mechanics and narrative tropes alive and well. Truly a surprise on every front, I Am Setsuna managed to be a familiar experience with some modern elements mixed in as well.
You assume the role of Endir (or whatever you decide to call him), a masked mercenary who is hired to kill a ritual sacrifice on an island that is done keep the monsters of the world at bay. Endir soon encounters the sacrifice, Setsuna, and finds himself unable to complete his mission. After being subdued by her guardians, Endir decides to accompany Setsuna on her pilgrimage, traveling the world and gathering more allies on her quest to sacrifice herself for the greater good.
If reading that brought you some nostalgia of Final Fantasy X, you wouldn’t be wrong. From the start, the game isn’t afraid to show you the inspirations from the originals in which it has drawn upon. The deeper you go into the game, the more tropes you find common in the great RPGs of the past. Instead of embracing the tropes and getting serious with it, it tends to turn around and poke fun at them. Some scenes will have you laughing (or rolling your eyes) with how obvious it was.
The glory of I Am Setsuna does not lie solely on its narrative, but on the amazing atmosphere of the world you inhabit. The pilgrimage of ritual sacrifice is a dark and somber one. From the monster infested caverns, to the sad and somewhat dark snow-laden world, I Am Setsuna gives the pilgrimage a sense of greater meaning. To me, the game doesn’t feel like it’s trying out to set a new standard for RPGs but instead, as I was playing, I realized that Tokyo RPG Factory did what RPGs of old used to do – make you reflect on the weight of the characters actions in regards to the bigger picture. It is a personal story, one with laughter, sadness and accomplishment.
The combat in I Am Setsuna is a traditional style that takes its likeness from Chrono Trigger. Characters can run into monsters that are walking on the map either from the front or from the back to gain a slight advantage. The battles themselves are turn-based and while the old RPG mechanics keep things engaging and thought-provoking (unless you’re smacking on weaker enemies that is), the Momentum system adds a bit more interaction with the battles and makes you stay more on your toes.
Momentum is a meter that characters charge as they attack, are attacked, or are waiting for their next turn. Once they are charged, each character gains a single Momentum point with a max of 3, and allows characters to trigger it during their attack by pressing the Square button at the exact moment of being attacked to inflict more damage or trigger an array of special effects. This isn’t only limited to normal attacks, but through skills, magics, and even the ever-so deadly Combo Attacks with teammates. Momentum effects can even be modified by the game’s magic/skill system, Spritnite.
Similar to that of Final Fantasy VII, Spritnite is equipped into slots that are modifiable depending on the accessories one has equipped. So if you have an accessory that gives you two attack slots and one support slot, you can equip which Spritnite that correlates to the slot types granted. When using these skills, you also have a chance to trigger an effect called Singularity, which happens at random. Singularities give your character random buffs and when they are used with Momentum attacks, you are able to “grow” your skill to give it certain effects. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t do a fantastic job at explaining this system to you in the beginning and can be quite confusing when first starting. I honestly didn’t really understand the depth of the system untill the tail-end of the game, which was unfortunate as the system itself is very interesting.
The Spritnite system I mentioned above, is an interesting take on a magic/skill system. Some may say it’s even reminiscent of the Final Fantasy VII materia system. Instead of learning skills outright, they are “learned” by trading in monster parts to a merchant for specific Spritnites. Each monster drops different materials based on how they die, so a lot of experimentation with item and Spritnite combinations go a long way, even if you’re fighting re-skinned monsters over and over again. The further in the game you get, the more materials you are able to acquire, as well as the selection of Spritnites. Each individual character has a set amount of Spritnites that are specific to them. There then is a group of support Spritnites that everyone can use. The combinations are endless and the character specific Spritnites can be hard when choosing which three characters you’ll bring along with you on your journey. Luckily, you can swap them in and out interchangeably, so experiment all you want!
Despite the all the praise I am giving I Am Setsuna, there are still a few gripes I have with the game. First and foremost, the lack of inns and a world map seem like such an odd omission considering RPGs of the 90s had these. Instead of having to use inns to heal up, you’d buy a tent or cottage and heal outside of the map. Honestly, it’s very minor, but can be an annoyance to veterans of RPGs. I also felt like the story, while being terrifically paced, left a lot of room for character development. Each character is interesting, but the lack of background and development takes away from the overall story. The game also becomes insanely easy once you figure out a good combination of skills to use. This was a major downer, as one of the best feelings in older RPGs was the grind for better gear and skills. In I Am Setsuna, finding a good early skill combination almost puts the game on easy-mode. I used the same party setup from about 4-5 hours into the game until the game’s conclusion.
Overall, I Am Setsuna is a true throwback to the glory of the RPG golden eras. In its quest for revitalization of the traditional formula, it has succeeded. From the fantastic visuals, atmospheric soundtrack, well-paced storyline, and smooth combat system, I Am Setsuna is a game veterans and newcomers alike will enjoy.