The bond between JRPGs and the players who prefer them above all other genres is a unique one. For some, games like Final Fantasy or Secret of Mana reshaped the way we viewed gaming. Not everything had to be an action-packed shooter or a nerve-wracking platformer. There was a certain allure to taking your time to piece together your ideal party, gather information from a town, and exploring every deep, hidden secret the game had to offer. Furthermore, there was a majesty to the rich storylines that trumped seemingly every other game on the market.
In more recent years, the genre has bowed down to more progressive incarnations of the RPG machine. Games like Skyrim, Fallout, as well as various MMOs are what capture the imaginations of more modern gamers. Some of us, however, still live for the exterior simplicity and deep gameplay complexities of classic (J)RPGs. Sure, there are games series like Tales of… and The Legend of Heroes that pump out quality games, but to play a game that can transport you to a time when you were grinding away at Chrono Trigger is a rare and completely welcomed feat.
I Am Setsuna was released by Square Enix towards the end of July and while many sites have released reviews on the game already, I promise this one is different. I only aim to tell you why you should play this game instead of the reasons it may not be for you. My only target is that tingling feeling in your gut when you’re reminded of a happy time in your life when you played a game you truly loved and my arrow will attempt to strike true.
The scenery in the gaming is striking, beautiful, and haunting all at the same time. Square managed to successfully build nostalgic scenery within simple towns and challenging dungeons while still invoking the power of modern graphics engines. Each snow-covered village retains the same wintry feel from one from the next, while still exhibiting unique qualities that make every inch worth exploring. Internal views of homes are detailed with books strewn about, active kitchens, and welcoming townspeople willing to make conversation (or show you how to cook a recipe or two).
While the architecture of each settlement is certainly noteworthy, there is one aspect of geography, as simple as it is, that will capture the hearts of loyal fans everywhere. That’s right, the world map is present in all it’s glory, allowing the adventurers to freely explore the world between missions. What’s more, there is eventually an airship available for quick exploration throughout the planet.
The Chrono Trigger influence is especially heavy and apparent in the game’s battle system. Rather than be warped into a random encounter every few steps, enemies are seen in the player’s path while traveling and encounters begin as soon as you engage the enemy. Active Time Battle (ATB) is still the system of choice as each character’s personal time bar must fill up before they may attack or cast. What the game adds, however, is what gracefully sets it apart from its predecessor.
The Momentum feature allows the player to build momentum (weird, huh?) up to 3 times. Pressing a button right as the character attacks will wield a more powerful hit, add elemental damage, buffs, heal, or any other various status effects or damage enhancing spell that could exist within the game. Momentum keeps the game more interesting than simply picking your attack and waiting for the next turn. In another callback to its major influence, all special abilities are labeled as “Tech” and can be learned through purchasing Spiritnite Stones from a member of the Magic Consortium.
The game’s major triumphs come within its cast of characters and its haunting story. To put it bluntly, your merry band of adventurers are leading Sestuna to her demise for the sake of the planet. Yes, she is a sacrifice to the “monsters” plaguing the towns of the world and her giving her life will curb their attacks. The story still possess many light-hearted moments, but the over-arching subject matter always seems to poke its head through even during feel-good moments, reminding players of the gravity of the situation. Overall, there is enough of a balance between some of the more depressing aspects of the game and the levity that relieves it to keep players emotionally invested.
I Am Setsuna is not perfect by any stretch. It may not win any game of the year titles or even be remembered much beyond its release year, but I believe the game opened up some new doors for a genre whose classical form has fallen by the wayside over the years. Setsuna is a beautifully imagined game with strong gameplay and an engaging enough story to immerse you in its winter-bitten world. If you are or ever have been a fan of JRPGs, please, pick this up and remembered what it was like to experience the joy of the genre so many years ago all over again.