Being the nerds we are, we all remember the glory days of Square and Enix. We’ve all spent countless hours with one or more of their classic RPGs, ripping through hordes of slimes in Dragon Quest/Warrior, discovering the secrets of the Lifestream with Cloud and the other members of Avalanche in Final Fantasy VII, or traveling throughout time fighting against the apocalypse itself in Chrono Trigger.
As memorable as these adventures were, they were all quite some time ago. In more recent memory, Square Enix, henceforth known as Squeenix, has moved farther away from those grand adventures, spending more of their time publishing titles from old Eidos properties and putting
out more experimental entries from their own classic lines, such as the massive online Final Fantasies XI and XIV, or the multiplayer focused mobile release of Dragon Quest IX. Throughout all of it, though, it was obvious that people yearned for the days of yore, and Squeenix was not deaf to the cries of their fans.
More and more they’ve been working on rereleases and updates of their older titles, culminating in the upcoming remake of Final Fantasy VII. Along with this nostalgia driven initiative, Squeenix announced in 2015 the establishment of a new studio known simply as Tokyo RPG Factory, alongside the announcement of their first game, known at the time as Project Setsuna.
Now, just over a year later, we get to see the fruits of their labor with the release of I Am Setsuna.
I Am Setsuna: Chrono Trigger‘s Influence
The most obvious influence in the design of I Am Setsuna is Chrono Trigger. The character design shows some of this influence, as one character actually wears a jacket with a frog’s head as the hood, but that is the only overt callback as far as the party’s look is concerned.
More than anything, the core of the gameplay is almost an exact copy of Chrono Trigger. The characters travel around an open world as giant sized avatars of themselves, the three current chosen party members walking in a line behind whichever character is in the prime position.
No fights occur in the overworld, though there are some items to pick up, represented as small motes of light on the ground, so it’s not completely uneventful. When loaded into a town or dungeon, the monsters can be seen walking around on the map, allowing players to attempt to gain advantage in an encounter by sneaking up on a foe, or even entirely avoiding a fight by skirting around the edge of a monsters patrol area. Within the fights, just like in Chrono Trigger, positioning is important when it comes to AoE spells and attacks, even though the player has no direct input over where their characters move.
Each character has their own unique spells and abilities, and multiple characters may combine specific abilities with each other to perform combo maneuvers. In fact, in the most direct reference to Chrono Trigger of the whole game, the very first combo you gain access to is X-Strike. While it’s not an entirely original system, the combo maneuvers do allow for a wide variety of tactics to be employed in combat, especially when combined with the various passive abilities you can equip on your characters.
I Am Setsuna: What Sets It Apart
While many comparisons may be drawn between I Am Setsuna and Chrono Trigger, there are some big differences as well. In I Am Setsuna, what abilities you have access to and what passive skills you have active is determined by equipment called spritnites, supposedly some sort of small stones charges with magical energy.
The equipment in this game is simplified when compared to some of the older JRPGs, as each character equips a weapon to attack with, a talisman which grants passive buffs and slots for spritnites, and then the spritnites themselves. This means that early on you may have to make some hard decisions as to which abilities you want to take into battle with you, as you will not have enough slots to take everything you have found. This is less of a concern later on, as late game talismans tend to have more slots, and characters also gain more slots permanently just by leveling up.
Also, while each character has completely unique spell and ability spritnites, you will also want to use some of your slots for the universal support spritnites, which grant various passive buffs such as increasing magical attack damage or allowing a character to regain HP or MP when defeating enemies. All this works together to allow for a fun and varied combat system. Unfortunately, that is about the most variety you will find in this game.
I Am Setsuna: Final Thoughts
I Am Setsuna starts with real promise. It opens on your main character Endir, a masked mercenary, fighting in a snowy wooded setting. After dispatching some small enemies, you are approached by a mysterious figure who hires you to go to small northern village and kill the person known as “the sacrifice”. It seems like a nice change of pace for a seemingly traditional JRPG, letting you start in a more villainous role.
Of course, within five minutes, you meet her, end up saving her village from some monsters, change your mind about your job, then travel along on a merry adventure to get her to some mystical land so she can sacrifice herself to stave off the monsters assaulting people around the world, building a band of colorful misfits along the way.
One thing that doesn’t change, however, is the snow. One of the most memorable parts of Chrono Trigger is the wildly varying landscapes you visit as you travel to different periods throughout time. In I Am Setsuna, it’s always snowing, all the time, everywhere. Even when it comes to the dungeons, there are about 3 tile sets repeated over and over again.
As if that weren’t enough, right before the end of the game, instead of making more dungeons with the same tile sets, you are forced to backtrack to the last 3 or 4 villages you visited for various reasons before you can progress. Of course, this then leads you to get *SPOILERS* your airship *SPOILERS* so you can fly across the whole world map, confirming that yes, it’s all just snow.
I don’t want to put down the game too much. I did enjoy the time I spent playing I Am Setsuna, other than the uneventful walking back over the world map during that backtracking section.
The combat system was wonderfully put together, though by the end I had figured out the right combo of passive abilities and spells to allow me to use a single combo move to wipe out every single normal encounter in one shot and get back all my MP, which made for easy grinding for experience and materials.
The characters are well realized, if a little stereotypical, and their designs are well varied and quite detailed. I also did enjoy the way that you always know when somebody will become a party member, because as soon as you meet them you get to decide if you want to change their name or not, a feature lost to JRPGs with the dawn of full voice acting.
This game felt like it would be a good single world in a larger Chrono Trigger type adventure, and whether or not that’s worth $40 is up to the individual. I’m glad I spent my time on it, and who knows, it may make it onto my top 10 list at the end of the year. We’ll see how the Fall and Holiday seasons go.