“Just off the coast of the mainland there is a small isle, and on that isle there is a small village… In that village, there is a young girl who shall turn 18 years old this year. My mission for you, Endir… is to kill her.”
It is a dark moment that opens I Am Setsuna, when, after rescuing a young girl from the clutches of a marauding monster, Endir accepts his next mission from a mysterious man that appears soon after.
Hailing from a masked tribe of people who make their living as mercenaries, he has become widely known for his exceptional skill as a swordsman, as much as his desire to see any mission through no matter how arduous it may seem.
Endir soon sets sail to Nive Island, forever contemplating the mission that he has been tasked with. Nive Village is known as “the village of sacrifice,” where once every ten years a sacrifice is chosen that sets out on a journey to the Last Lands where they give their lives in order to protect the world. It was not that long ago that a girl was chosen to be the next sacrifice, and she has unknowingly become Endir’s target. That girl is Setsuna.
Warmly welcomed, the villagers soon turn against Endir when they realise the true danger that he poses. But, while he lies restrained in a nearby house, Setsuna pleads that he be spared despite having openly threatened her life. When the village is beset by monsters Setsuna sets Endir free, and, after they are slain, she requests that the village chief allows him to join her guard. For if she completes her duty as the sacrifice, he will also succeed in his mission. And so, the sacrificial pilgrimage begins.
I Am Setsuna is a classic in every sense of the word. It is the first game from Tokyo RPG Factory, a new studio established by Square Enix that will specialise in Japanese RPGs. With an aim to recapture “the narrative depth, impactful storytelling and masterful character development inspired by the golden era of Japanese role-playing games and bring them to current hardware and technology,” away from the sorrowful story the battle system looks to Chrono Trigger for inspiration.
It is the art direction that will first enchant, the player wandering snowy landscapes that would send a chill down your back if it weren’t for the wondrously warm, watercolour aesthetic that envelops them. It is a perilous journey that you are on, but one that is made all the more memorable by the characters you meet and villages that you visit along the way – all set against a melancholic soundtrack composed by Tomoki Miyoshi, which is nearly all hauntingly performed on solo piano.
While you will intently watch at how I Am Setsuna‘s sad premise plays out, away from the unfolding narrative it is in battles that players will spend most of their time. These encounters will occur when you move within a certain distance from a marauding monster, your party soon thrust into combat.
If you approach enemies from behind, their guard will be down and you will then start the battle with full Active Time Battle (ATB) and Special Power (SP) gauges, opening a chance to make a preemptive attack. The ATB system will be familiar to those that regularly invest their time in the genre, each character in your party having their own gauge at the bottom of the screen that, once full, will allow you to choose what action to perform from a command list.
I Am Setsuna‘s quirk in battles is Momentum mode. This centres upon the SP gauge, which will fill when your characters perform actions, take damage or when their ATB gauge is full. Every time that the SP gauge is filled, the character will receive an SP point and these can be used to trigger Momentum mode, performed by slamming the Y button at the right moment when attacking.
This will become increasingly important to activate especially in tougher boss battles, letting your party deal additional damage, generate critical hits or inflict status ailments when attacking, or to recover additional HP and MP, increase range or increase the duration of status effects when using support techs.
These techs are made available to your party characters by equipping Spritnite, stones that have been imbued with magical energy. There are two types of Spritnite: Command Spritnite that will unlock different techs that you can choose to use during battle, and Support Spritnite, that will grant their effects automatically. These are purchased from the Magic Consortium, travelling merchants who will reward you with techs in exchange for monster parts and ingredients.
Certain Spritnite combinations can allow multiple characters to perform a Combo, fearsome attacks that will expend both of their ATB gauges as they unleash their collective might on the foe that you are looking to topple.
Combined with Momentum mode, techs can soon sway a losing battle in your favour. Repeatedly using Momentum mode can also result in randomly activating special bonuses that will benefit your entire party, referred to as a Singularity. The more that Momentum mode is used, the chances increase that Singularity may occur – meaning that it becomes particularly helpful in lengthier battles.
Your party will become more stoic over time, mainly as they level up after being victorious in battles. But, other than this, players can turn to blacksmiths to purchase more potent weaponry and talismans, which will allow you to equip more Spritnite at once. The apothecary will supply items to keep your party in good health, while chefs will sell you food that can benefit your party in their next battle – the player required to unlock recipes by gathering ingredients on their travels.
Metals can be gathered to use as tempering items to strengthen your favoured weapons, while equipping a talisman with a Flux bonus can result in Fluxation occurring. This will see Spritnite stones randomly become permanently powered up in battle whenever a tech or combo is used, seeing them increase in power, have the MP required to use them reduced or another bonus, which can be permanently added to the Spritnite after battle if you wish.
Saving often will be key to seeing the 20-hour pilgrimage through to completion, seeing as the game does not save automatically. Whether that be at glowing rings of light that emanate a faint magical energy or whenever your party wanders the world map, I Am Setsuna could have done with providing more opportunities for the player to do so – protecting you from losing hours of progress if you forget.
There is something inherently magical about I Am Setsuna. This throwback to the past is a memorable one, that, despite the game’s simplicity, Tokyo RPG Factory’s reliance on traditional design results in an experience that rediscovers an age-old mastery in the genre.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Square Enix