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I Am Setsuna Review

  • First Released Jul 19, 2016
  • Reviewed Jul 18, 2016
  • PS4
Chris Damien on Google+

What's old is almost new again.

There are times when I Am Setsuna's mimicry is too obvious for its own good, when you immediately recognize that it's a deliberate effort to trigger nostalgia for classic Japanese RPGs. But these moments don't tell the whole story. Poignant events and some delicate writing lend distinction to the otherwise archetypal cast, and you grow to appreciate how tenets of the genre are ignored in favor of trying something new. The juxtaposition of I Am Setsuna's numerous inventions and references make for an eye-opening examination of Japanese RPGs, and a satisfactory debut from developer Tokyo RPG Factory.

In a world blanketed in snow and overridden with beasts, young Setsuna sets out to reach The Last Lands. It is there that she will fulfill her duty as a human sacrifice--a ritual held every decade to keep wild threats at bay. With the help of like-minded adventurers, you accompany Setsuna through caverns and forests, fending off creatures and thwarting--or recruiting--humans that try to stand in your way.

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Setsuna would be the first to admit that her fate is tragic, but she remains ever steadfast and resolute in her charge. You can say the same for her companions, some of whom face very different but equally somber realities with grace. I Am Setsuna expresses occasional jocularity through a corny joke or quippy NPC dialogue, but its story is dominated by hardship. Forget the perfunctory villains and other tangible obstacles that come up; it's the emotional baggage that your companions carry that's notable. There are secrets to keep, actions to regret, and bad luck to accept. Clocking in around 20 hours--moderately short by RPG standards, it's unfortunate that I Am Setsuna doesn't allow more time for backstory and character development, because there are a few moments that are begging for more attention.

The majority of your adventure is steeped in combat, which is almost identical to Chrono Trigger's battle system and, thankfully, every bit as enjoyable. There are no random encounters in I Am Setsuna, and no enemies on the world map; battles begin when you bump into enemies visible in dungeons. When combat kicks off, enemies and your party members are arranged in starting positions. Different skills and attacks change your position on screen, although you never actually have control over movement – enemies are also in a constant state of motion. Positioning can be important when using certain skills or weapons that have areas of effect rather than single targets. Waiting for enemies to wander into an ideal arrangement can pay off, but it potentially comes with risks depending on which version of I Am Setsuna's turn-based combat you choose to play.

Active mode allows each character's active time battle gauge to fill on a constant basis; when the ATB gauge is full, a character is able to act. Active mode brings the added challenge of time management, where you need to make a move quickly to avoid wasting time in menus--take too long and an enemy can potentially sneak in an extra turn. If you choose to play in Wait mode, all ATB gauges stop charging when you're picking an action from the command menu, affording you more time to plan your next move. Choosing between one or the other is an easy way to make the game more challenging or forgiving, but most common enemies rarely pose a threat. The only time you may desire to play in Wait mode is during some of the game's boss battles, where the difficulty abruptly spikes.

Each character has an inherent strength, weapon type, and selection of skills, known as techs. Techs are a product of spritenite--magical stones slotted into talismans, I Am Setsuna's secondary equipment. Certain characters can combine techs in combat to dish out a devastating attack or a powerful recovery spell, so long as they both have full ATB gauges. With a limited number of slots, you have to carefully pick and choose which techs to carry. Doing so will help you form a well-rounded team, and ensure the availability of preferred combo attacks, which are tied to specific techs.

When things are left to chance in an RPG, it can feel like all of the effort you put into planning and crafting your team loses some of its meaning.

Every tech can be enhanced on-the-fly during combat when a character builds up enough Setsuna Points to trigger momentum--you earn SP when you attack, take damage, or hold your position with a full ATB gauge. Triggering Momentum bonuses requires you to press a button immediately after a flash of light that occurs just before a character takes an action. Managing your momentum opportunities is the most critical element during difficult fights, as it can effectively turn one action into two. You can occasionally trigger HP recovery after an attack, or spread an action that would typically impact one character to your entire party--or every enemy on screen. Momentum opportunities can mean the difference between a win or a loss, and seriously add to the tension of Active mode's already stressful time management.

Triggering momentum during combat can also lead to singularities, seemingly random events that grant extreme benefits to your team. Despite the fact that you can influence the chance of singularities occurring, it's impossible to plan for them. They are, in effect, bonuses, but they are so overpowered that they can make a challenging battle feel like a walk in the park. It's refreshing to receive a helping-hand now and again, but some singularities limit your abilities in favor of boosting others--Chrono Burst makes your ATB gauge fill faster than usual, but it stops you from using combo moves, which isn't necessarily a welcome surprise. When things are left to chance in an RPG, it can feel like all of the effort you put into planning and crafting your team loses some of its meaning.

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In typical RPG fashion, characters earn experience from combat and level up, but rather than impact every stat, new levels only boost a character's HP and MP. In order to grow stronger and heartier, you have to seek out new weapons, which directly dictate a character's physical and magical strength, as well as both types of defense. Therefore, purchasing weapons becomes a habit the moment you discover a new town. But you can't buy anything in I Am Setsuna until you sell materials--objects earned in battle and found on the ground when exploring dungeons--because currency isn't doled out after fights or found in treasure chests.

While this is a curious and unorthodox approach to dealing with in-game money, selling materials is needlessly laborious. When facing a list of dozens upon dozens of materials--some enemies can drop over ten different resources in a single battle--it would be great to have an option to sell everything at once. In practice, you have to go down the list, one by one, selling each type of material. In addition to earning you money, they end up in the hands of the merchants who sell spritenite, which becomes available for sale once you've traded in the appropriate items.

I Am Setsuna walks in the footsteps of giants, and is thus dwarfed by the memories of games that inspired it.

There's a lot to unpack when discussing combat and configuring your party, but it's not that complex in practice. You grow accustomed to managing your Momentum opportunities and configuring techs across your team. Again, some bosses pose a real threat, but by the end of the game, mobs of common enemies--even strong ones--can't stand up to a well-oiled party, and can be wiped with a single combo move and a little added Momentum. As such, it can feel like you're going through the motions when playing I Am Setsuna. This, paired with obvious references to well-known games, can make the game feel rote and at worst, boring.

I Am Setsuna is an unapologetic homage to beloved Japanese RPGs that plays well but takes few risks. Tokyo RPG Factory has accomplished their implied mission statement: to make Japanese RPGs the way many of us remember them back in the day. As a result, I Am Setsuna walks in the footsteps of giants, and is thus dwarfed by the memories of games that inspired it. There are times when its familiar music and faces feel comforting, like returning to your hometown after a decade away, so as someone who grew up playing Japanese RPGs, I enjoyed my time with I Am Setsuna. It's like any trip down memory lane: it was nice to look back and remember the good times.

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The Good
Combat shines during boss battles
Inventive take on equipment and currency
Tech combos incentivize you to try new rosters
Beautifully tragic story
The Bad
The most promising story beats feel rushed
Overt recreations of beloved characters and music prove distracting
Common enemies are too easy
Random elements disrupt combat balance
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

Peter grew up playing Japanese RPGs in the '90s, and I Am Setsuna triggered nostalgic feelings for him on a near-constant basis. He completed the game, switching between Wait and Active modes on occasion. By the end of the story, his characters were at level 40 and above. He reviewed I Am Setsuna using a copy of the game provided by Square Enix.
116 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
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Avatar image for xianlijun

This is one of the worst JRPG I’ve played in the past few years. Such a low-cost game.

The combat system is barely OK.

The story is so boring - you can see the end from the very begining. Every character is so one demensional - even more one demensional than the traditional JRPGs.

And the game doesn’t have many elements. It’s only one goal - send Setsuna to Last Lands. All the game is surrounded with this single task. Characters running around doing very repetitive things. Give me a break.

The worst thing out of the worst is the game doesn’t even support Auto-Save for some reasons. And it doesn’t provide lots of saving spots to remind you either. This means, every time you die because a boss suddenly jumped out, which happened lots of times in the game, you need to play startover from a save point long time ago. And you die quite easily. The game expect you to save by yourself but when all other RPG game support auto save, people don’t have the reminder in their mind anymore.

All in all, I can’t regret even more for buying this game.

Avatar image for twztid13

After months of trying, I just can't get into their game. Everything is mediocre at best. The combat doesn't remind me of Chrono Trigger for several reasons, and since that seems to be it's biggest draw, I am probably going to end up deleting it to free up some storage. After playing the demo of Lost Sphear, which I thought may be better since it should have learned from this game's mistakes, I think that made me realize it's not getting any better. Seeing the pics of that game and it's beautiful environments, I thought maybe it had what this game was lacking, but it's retailing at $50. The demo was utter garbage, and having bought setsuna on sale for ~$26 probably saved me from spending $50 on that game. Such great potential wasted, at least in my opinion.

Avatar image for juiceair

Picked this up for $20 and have enjoyed every minute of it. Glad I ignored the whiners and took a chance.

Avatar image for James_xeno

I'm an old-school RPG fan. So was really liking the idea of this. But with the overall tone and atmosphere (bleak), along with the indeterminable, nonsensically bad ending.. I really couldn't like this very much, nor could I recommend it.

Endings can kill a good story/game for me. Plus i am more of a "it's the destination, not the journey"

Avatar image for Arachnofunk

I'm getting this for the Switch

Avatar image for lorddaggeroff

If I compare this to ffix or Star ocean two or ff world or breath of fire or suikoden, or grandma this looks bad.

Should I care about this game because it looks bland.

Avatar image for FallenOneX

"While this is a curious and unorthodox approach to dealing with in-game money, selling materials is needlessly laborious."

While I do agree, I find it easier to come to terms with when you know that fact upfront. The first time I can remember a game that implemented this was FFXII. I was used to hording all dropped items, because in past games you usually ended up needing the materials for something.

Avatar image for daiominai

Glad to see the turn based battle system. Everything these days seems like action rpg's. I was pretty disappointed that the new Final Fantasy 7 is ditching its turn based roots.

Avatar image for robbie23

I loved the battle system in Grandia it was very tactical unfortunately we will not be seeing a Grandia 4. As for I Am Setsuna I do not mind this fighting style. I have played many old school RPG games on the SNES and I miss games that use this system.

Avatar image for edinko

Its on steam also which the reviewer overlooked by mistake or on purpose

Avatar image for xantufrog

@edinko: in what way?

Avatar image for koolyoe

Is it worth the $40 or wait for a sale?

Avatar image for heqteur

@koolyoe: Depends. If you're a chrono Trigger super fan, if you totally can't wait to feast on that gameplay and if you intend on doing a "total 100% of everything" save file, go for it. Else, wait for a discount. The game isn't super long and a lot of people may fell like it's a bit expensive for the gametime they will spend on it. The game is really enjoyable, but even I have to admit I'd wait for a sale if I could go back in time.

Avatar image for lionheartssj1

@koolyoe: I would also like to know this. However, given my already considerable backlog and the fact I will be buying on Steam, I will be waiting for an inevitable sale.

Sorry, I know this helps you in no way. Good luck to you.

Avatar image for Cl0ud

all i know is that ps4 owners were bragging for no reason for a good average game. i wanted it to be amazing, but i don't blame them for not taking risks. it's a great way to not make a bad game. i think this means IF there's a sequel, it will be a pretty good game. it seemed like a small studio to me, will get better

Avatar image for Bahamut50

@Cl0ud: For a first effort, I have to applaud them. I think they got it mostly right, and they can only learn from this.

Avatar image for EvSolo

No Vita version, no buy!

Avatar image for sladakrobot

Eh? A homage to old 16bit Jrpgs ? Where are the sprite characters? Tgey had more charm than the boring 3d models.

Avatar image for heqteur

@sladakrobot: It's an homage to old school JRPGs. Not to 16 bits.

Avatar image for sladakrobot

@heqteur: old school jrpgs are 16bit.

They could have done similar like it was done with Pier Solar.

Avatar image for igorfeketija

@sladakrobot: old school jrpg's are NOT only 16bit, best jrpg's are probably on PS1, so they kinda lived through much bigger era.

Avatar image for pondrthis

Useful review. I was considering getting this, then I read "active time battle." This Squaresoft mechanic is possibly the single worst idea gaming has ever had, so I won't look into the game any further.

Seriously, what is the point in the ATB system? Its real-time aspects prevent any tactical use of game theory (as you can use in FF10), but it doesn't take advantage of any action mechanics to justify that sacrifice. At least FF13 gave you the Chain Gauge and high impact, short duration status de-/buffs to give the real time aspect more impact. The ATB system annoyed the crap out of me on SNES, and it still does today.

Just make a turn-based game, for crying out loud.

Avatar image for CyberEarth

@pondrthis: If you bothered to read the article, you'd see clearly that there is a strategic element to the ATB gauge. And it's not simply "wait until your ATB gauge fills".

Avatar image for mysteriona


Literally whining for no reason.

If u don't like active time battle play in wait mode that's what it's there for. Was available in chrono trigger on snes and plenty of other rpg games as well.


"If you choose to play in Wait mode, all ATB gauges stop charging when you're picking an action from the command menu, affording you more time to plan your next move. Choosing between one or the other is an easy way to make the game more challenging or forgiving, but most common enemies rarely pose a threat. The only time you may desire to play in Wait mode is during some of the game's boss battles, where the difficulty abruptly spikes."

Avatar image for sladakrobot

@pondrthis: i agree. I hate atb. Unnecessary feature.

Good thing here you can stop it so you have all the time to think about the next move.

Its not turn based if the enemy doesnt wait for your move.

Avatar image for pondrthis

@sladakrobot: eh, to me it's less about the enemies waiting and more about an opaque turn order among the party. You can't plan out any grand strategies if you don't know how many turns you'll get before the enemy. In true turn based games, there's either a turn counter to consult, or turns play out by team--all of your party, then all of the enemy party.

Avatar image for CyberEarth

@pondrthis: Disagree. Some games obfuscate the turn order (intentionally) and some utilize alternating order based on a statistic.

You're making quite a fallacious statement by saying that it's an either/or or black/white issue.

As for "planning strategies" - do you REALLY need to plan strategies in RPGs? They aren't tactical RPG encounters that can span 20 minutes a fight. These are quick fights that resolve in less than a minute or two.

Avatar image for sladakrobot

@pondrthis: i started to play rpgs back in the late 80s early 90s so yes,i know how true turn based battles has to be and i liked it pretty much.

I am also ok with semi battles like in Grandia or Child of Light where you can see on the turn time bar which enemy would strike as next

Avatar image for keeperoffate

Honestly? I love gamespot, but they've been needlessly harsh on JRPGs for years now. If you're on the fence, go ahead and pick this one up. Square (having only recently realized it's classic fanbase is still there after Radiant Historia) is looking for a baseline to build off of and this is is. It's a solid old-school stylized JRPG that doesn't reinvent the wheel but is nostalgic for those who were long time fans and tells a stirring story. It's really good - just not a genre reviewers are willing to consider worthwhile anymore.

Avatar image for Bahamut50

@keeperoffate: Personally I think radiant historia might not be the best example of a RECENT game that made them realize that xD

Avatar image for keeperoffate

@Bahamut50: Haha. You're right - I mean Bravely Default. My brain just threw in Radiant Historia because it's the other Chrono Trigger inspired RPG that I felt flew too under the radar so it was on my mind.
But thanks for the catch!

Avatar image for igorfeketija

@keeperoffate: exactly my thinking, I agree with you all the way.

Avatar image for Barighm

In other words, in their attempts to make a JRPG of old, they were more focused on recreating those feelings instead of just making their own JRPG.

And fyi, that's why monsters drop gold...or did you guys really think the devs of old had monsters award money just because? No, it's because they figured out the player was just going to sell those resources anyway, so why add the extra headache of selling all those resources? That's why they are legendary devs and we're not.

Avatar image for CyberEarth

@Barighm: Actually, it was a space limitation. You couldn't have tables upon tables of inventory in an 8-bit world, so it was simplified to Gold.

There's other games that do use the tables of useless inventory approach. Final Fantasy XII comes quickly to mind. I think only humanoids dropped actual money, everything else was monster parts you had to sell. Final Fantasy XIII also used a similar system.

What they should have done is create a system of monster parts and an actual economy around those parts. To my knowledge, no game has done such a thing outside of trade simulators or games like Uncharted Waters.

Avatar image for Yams1980

This is too bad. I was hoping for Chrono Trigger 2016.

From the comments i read below, it lacks the things that made Chrono Trigger amazing... the great storyline and the epic memorable music.

Avatar image for cherub1000

@Yams1980: Phwooooar now your talking! Chronic trigger in 2016?! Sign me up!! Imagine though the job devs would have to do it justice, heck, I can switch on the DS and lose myself in that game right this second and all my triple A titles will drown under dust in no time!

Avatar image for xenomorphalien

Looks like there's a lot of negatives for a 7.

Avatar image for RogerioFM

Anyone can tell me how grindy it is? I hate grind.

Avatar image for doc-brown

@RogerioFM: There's almost zero grinding necessary. I repeated a dungeon once, and even then it was just to feel slightly more confident during a boss fight.

Avatar image for RogerioFM

@doc-brown: Excellent, thanks mate.

Avatar image for Quietstormtcb

I am having a Blast with this game!!!! Everything I was expecting and more!!! Glad I don't listen to the whine fest on these comments!!!

Avatar image for cherub1000

@Quietstormtcb: cool, what would you relate it to as I'm curious to pick this up?

Avatar image for deactivated-5b69bebd1b0b6

Been playing it.. still early into it.. Kind of let down so far, I was coming into this expecting this grand epic story about time traveling with all kinds of twists and turns and secrets and an epic catchy soundtrack just like Chrono Trigger. What I'm getting instead is a lot bland dull snowy environments, dull uninspired piano music, a story that feels like it's being ripped out of Final Fantasy X only less interesting. About the only thing that it has in common with Chrono Trigger is it's combat system and even then that's a bit of stretch. I mean, if you're going to make a game inspired by Chrono Trigger at least make it like Chrono Trigger. :\

Avatar image for doc-brown

@computernoises: Nearly! You can't link them :( You can raise spritenite though, imbuing them with stat bonuses after prolonged use, so the comparison is almost true. :)

Avatar image for killstof

The Chrono Trigger style was popular when that game was new and it was the most impressive style for a console RPG available. Trying to mimic that aesthetic in a brand new 1080p 2016 RPG just comes off as awkward.

Avatar image for heqteur

@killstof: aesthetic taste IS a matter of personal opinion, but what's awkward to me si trying to play a game which tried to be photorealistic 5-10 years later. simple graphics/pixel art/anime style are among the best aging art style for video games. I can totally replay very old Mario titles at anytime. I really can't replay an early 3D FPS.

Avatar image for killstof

@heqteur: I agree that pixel art and anime style age better than most styles, but what style is this game? The weird dumpy character models, the recycling of a 20ish year old battle system, The map and camera design decisions based on technical limitations that don't really exist. That might be excusable on a 3DS where there really are technical limitations. This is almost trying to make Chrono Trigger the anime version of photorealistic and it's weird. Go legit retro or go legit modern.

I Am Setsuna More Info

  • First Released Jul 19, 2016
    • Nintendo Switch
    • PC
    • + 2 more
    • PlayStation 4
    • PlayStation Vita
    Journey with Setsuna as she prepares to make the ultimate sacrifice and save the people of her land.
    Average Rating43 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate I Am Setsuna
    Developed by:
    Tokyo RPG Factory
    Published by:
    Square Enix
    Content is generally suitable for ages 10 and up. May contain more cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, mild language and/or minimal suggestive themes.
    Everyone 10+
    Alcohol Reference, Fantasy Violence, Mild Language