To the Past, From the Present, With Love: I Am Setsuna

I Am Setsuna is one of those new but retro JRPGs: made in the style of the 1990s, but with lovely graphics and gameplay that to me feels undeniably modern. Games of this type have a strong nostalgic appeal to Gen-X and Millenial gamers who remember playing RPGs in the 90s, and really, by now this type of game shoud be recognized as a subgenre of its own: the new nostalgic, the neo retro, the old fangled. The classical. 

Enter: I Am Setsuna. The game came out in 2016; it was the first game developed by Tokyo RPG Factory, a Square Enix subsidiary created with the purpose of making videogames in this new retro style.

Well, I loved RPGs in the 90s, and I am happy to find that new games are being made in imitation of them! 

These new games are traditional in the ways that matter, while adding some unique elements. I Am Setsuna features “momentum,” a type of charged attack which adds oomph! to your punch when a gauge is filled.  And then there are the talismans, accessories with slots in which to equip magical elements called spritnites. And using momentum with a spritnite equiped may cause a random flux occurrence, which will permanently attaches the attributes of the spritnite to the talisman. It’s… interesting and, well, it’s fun when you get used to it. 

But interesting though it is, the battle system is secondary, because I Am Setsuna is really about story and atmosphere. 

The story unfolds in a landscape of grim, perpetual winter, and the world is filled with monsters. In order to manage the growing dangers, the inhabitants of this world have come to practice a ritual of periodic human sacrifice. This time, the 18-year-old Setsuna is chosen, and the story is about her journey, with her bodyguards, from her village of Nive to the Last Lands, where she is to sacrifice her life to keep the world safe for a time. The atmosphere of the game is haunting, serious and sad from the opening scene to the end credits. The piano soundtrack that is the background music for everything is pleasant but not memorable. 

There is little variety in the scenery. There are no real cities, only small, sparse villages set amid snow-covered fields and icy waters. Dungeons are of three types: mountain caves, mountain trails, and the ruins of some ancient civilization. There is no advanced technology in this world, though the ruins suggest a mysterious and tragic history in which technology played a greater role. And as Setsuna’s story unfolds, some of this history is revealed. 

RPGs are my absolute, hands-down, number one, top favorite genre of videogames. All of the games that I love are RPGs, or have strong RPG elements. But I will tell you the truth about something: I don’t always love the endings of these games. A lot of these games have endings that go off the rails. Ending segments that fly in out of nowhere, or that are plain silly even for me. Endings that stretch my suspension of disbelief past its willing limits. But that is not the case with I Am Setsuna. The ending does have a twist and a turn, but the twist makes sense, and the turn brings the story full circle. Want to know what I mean by this? I’m not telling. Play the game! 

If you are a fan of old-school PRGs, you might enjoy this game. Is it worth paying the full price of $40? Well, that depends on the buyer of course, but I’ll admit that I did pay full price for the digital game, and I was SO MAD two days later to see it on sale for 50% off. It’s now months later, and I’m still mad! So my advice is: Be patient and wait for a sale. Because on sale, it is definitely worth it! 

Trailing Sleeves gives this game 7.5 / 10 bowls of soup.

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