Tokyo RPG Factory are a company whose name is firmly taken from the Cuprinol school of thought. They’re a studio with a clear mission statement in their name, and I am Setsuna is the first fruit of their collective labours, set to evoke both warm nostalgia and heartfelt glee amongst fans of classic RPGs. You take control of Endir, a mask-wearing mercenary from a tribe whose skill with a sword is only matched by their willingness to do anything for the correct amount of money. You happen upon a mysterious man who tasks you with travelling to Nive Island, wherein lies a small village where there is a girl who is about to turn 18 – you’re asked to kill her.
You soon discover that once every ten years, a sacrifice is chosen and sets out on a journey to the Last Lands to fulfil her duty, and it’s this girl that the man has asked you to kill before she can do so. As any good mercenary would, you set sail immediately without thinking too much about the moral dilemma, but things don’t occur quite as you planned and ultimately you find yourself on the road with the sacrifice, the titular Setsuna, as you help her try to achieve her destiny.
There are definitely shades of Final Fantasy X at work here; a young magic user who is tasked with making the ultimate sacrifice in order to keep her world safe sounds uncannily familiar. Indeed, the game feels very much like a missing Final Fantasy title, sharing distinct DNA with such classics as Final Fantasy VII and XI, though it is certainly its own beast.
Combat is a relatively traditional turn-based affair, with the Active Time Battle system’s action gauges slowly filling before you can take your turn. You can have the action pausing while you make your decision or opt for the slightly more frantic Active setting which sees time continue to flow freely. In my experience the action felt fraught enough without adding in this extra wrinkle – you already can’t see your enemies action gauges filling so you have no idea when they’re going to attack – but it’s a great boon to have the option of both.
Extra layers of depth are added by Momentum attacks which task you with a well timed button press as an attack lands in order to cause more damage. You can only perform these by filling up a secondary gauge, both by sitting with a full ATB gauge to charge it over time, or by earning a chunk of momentum with each action. Coupled with these attacks are Fluxes, which are extra boosts gained from your Talismans that activate when Momentum is used. There are also Singularities that activate bonus status effects for your whole party, such as improving your chance of critical hits to more easily inflicting status effects.
You’re granted a pleasing level of stat tinkering, with your abilities held within an element called Spritnite. The materials you discover on your adventure are redeemable for other Spritnite that’s imbued with new abilities or passive character boosts, making them essential as you progress. On top of that you can purchase new weaponry and talismans which all help to improve your character while providing a distraction from the main action.
The visuals are undeniably charming, channelling RPGs of yesteryear while boasting various effects to keep the modern gamer happy. From the perpetually snow-strewn landscape where you make permanent tracks in the deep snow to the beautiful character portraits, you can’t help but admire the work that’s gone into the game.
Despite the possibility that I am Setsuna could be slavishly rifling through past classics of the genre, it doesn’t feel tired or beholden to anything else. The dialogue is well written and manages to stay away from being overly twee or obtuse, which helps the narrative scamper along while keeping the player’s attention.
The soundtrack also helps to carry the momentum and mood extremely well, which is remarkable as it is provided by a solo pianist. Shifting between melancholy and thoughtful through to courageous and hardy, it makes the most of what many could expect to be a limited creative palette. Sometimes it can feel a bit too sparse mind you, and at times there’s a whiff of electronic keyboard to the instrument’s tone.
Despite the potential for a misty-eyed love-in, I am Setsuna is not perfect, and in emulating a forgotten style of RPG they’ve also brought back elements that could have stayed in the past. There’s only a limited journal of your past deeds and no map or waypoints, so you can often find yourself wandering about aimlessly as you try to find where you’re supposed to go. If you miss a crucial piece of conversation, you’re in real trouble, and at times the locations don’t boast the greatest diversity to help you intuitively find your way.
You’re limited to only saving your progress at save points, which are at times too sparse during your adventure. While this is a tried and tested formula – and let’s not forget that you can suspend your PS4 at any point – I still resorted to slogging through sections in an effort to make sure I had saved my game. That’s combined with the old favourite of making you backtrack in order to report your findings or other menial tasks, which robs some of the drive from the narrative.
I am Setsuna is a love letter to JRPGs of the past, and while it offers a style of play oft forgotten by the modern age, it is an exceedingly well crafted and thoughtful journey that should make you wonder whether the genre’s progress is necessarily all it’s cracked up to be.
Version Tested: PS4