Last July, Tokyo RPG Factory released their debut JRPG on the PS4 and PC with I Am Setsuna. I missed out on it back then, but was pleased to get a second chance to try out the game on the Switch. The game is the same as it was previously, although the Switch version is getting a free DLC update next month called the Temporal Battle Arena that allows players to combat NPCs and other gamers online to earn Spritnit, the material that enables special powers in-game. It seems like an odd DLC direction to take the game having now played it in its native single player mode, but for the price of free it’s hard to complain.
The story of I Am Setsuna has players taking control of Endir, a young man who is part of tribe of mercs. One day after a successful mission that acts as the game’s opening sequence and combat tutorial, Endir (a name you can change by the way, as well as those names of all special NPCs when you first meet them) is offered a new contract job. His mission is to kill a young girl named Setsuna. Endir accepts the job, tracks down Setsuna, and is just about to commit the act when he pauses and soon takes an interest in Setsuna and agrees to become part of the sacrificial guard. You see, Setsuna has been chosen to be the next in a long line of annual sacrifices that a small town makes in order to keep the monsters appeased. It’s a ritual, a journey, that Setsuna and those before her go on as they leave this town, travel to The Lost Lands, and meet their ultimate fate in order to keep their people and town safe from monster attacks. The journey there can be perilous, hence the Sacrificial Guard, which is meant to keep the Sacrifice safe until she can carry out her purpose.
It’s a pretty sad story, complimented beautifully by the constant cold, snowy, and icy world that you, Setsuna, and your party traverse. Personally, I found the snowy art direction really interesting and welcomed. Where I am physically at, this has been a ridiculously warm and unusual winter. But the cold, snowy art direction in I Am Setsuna was fitting, and I found it a really nice game to lay down with, docked or not, and just relax to. The near complete lack of dialog, the old school graphics, and the excellent soundtrack that is entirely performed with a piano made this game one I could sink into for a few hours at a time and enjoy. It also helped that the game is not too hard; I typically don’t play JRPGs anyway, and it was also not a genre I spent any time with growing up. So playing a modern game that is basically a throwback to those old school classics and even borrows gameplay design from them is a pleasant treat for me, and all the more so that the game is forgiving and not too difficult either.
Gameplay is therefore pretty straight-forward for anyone with much 16-bit era JRPG experience, and even if you don’t have much of that, it’s pretty easy to get into, which I can’t say for all JRPGs. The battle system design is always crucial in a JRPG, and Tokyo RPG Factory went with a ATB (Active Time Battle) system here. That means that your party members have individual gauges that are visible on screen showing their readiness state. You can execute attacks, tech (use special powers that consume MP), or use an item for each character. It’s turn-based, but, you can also use multiple characters at the same time for a Link attack if their readiness states match up and you choose to do such an attack (which can deal a great deal of damage, but consumes MP). While you cannot see the readiness gauge of the enemy, its also being filled up and used at their will, so there is this neat, intuitive gameplay mechanic in which you have to decide if you want to use your character’s gauge immediately, or wait a few more seconds to link up with another character (but risk taking an extra hit from the enemies). Additionally, another gauge, that you can fill up to three times, is for Momentum, which gives your player a extra buff of damage to an attack if you press Y just after pressing A for attack. Sometimes, these Momentum attacks can unlock certain positive battle conditions for you to help you turn the tide. Overall, the combat is smooth, easy to learn, and not too difficult, but it’s not always a walk in the park, either.
Battle encounters are also all intentional, or said better, you won’t have any random battles. As you roam the game world, going from forest to town to town and so forth, you can see the enemies on screen. Often times, there is enough room to avoid them if you choose to, and if you approach them from behind you will get a small offensive boost. I liked that there were no random battles, that battles loaded up immediately, and that there was enough spacing in between enemies that you weren’t constantly fighting them. My interest in JRPGs is in the characters and the story, finding or crafting cool items, not so much in combat, so I Am Setsuna’s approach worked very well for me.
That last statement actually bears true for the whole of I Am Setsuna. Everything from the length of the game (around 25 hours), the battle system, difficult, art, music, characters — this has proven to be a treat of an experience for me and one I would happily recommend to any Switch owner.