I Am Setsuna has been out in Japan for some time now, but it’s only reached the Western world as of today for PS4 and PC. For those unfamiliar with the classic JRPG reimagining (because I certainly only started paying attention recently), the game channels the essence of what made old SNES-era JRPG titles so grand. It’s a spiritual successor to Chrono Trigger in a few words, retaining the same type of combat system while being set in a completely new world, and all new characters.
And according to critics, it’s pretty darn good. If not a little too nostalgic for its own good sometimes.
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.
I actually quite like the adherence to nostalgia, as Square is only giving fans with they want after years of complaints that projects like Final Fantasy XIII strayed too far. But by the same token of goodwill, it plays it a little too safe in regards to its at times predictable story, and doesn’t really do anything new that moves the genre forward in any way. Still, if old school is what you want, you’ll get it.
If Tokyo RPG Factory’s goal was to create a sad, stirring adventure that evokes memories of the past without feeling too antiquated, they nailed it, with big assists from Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy X, and even a little Xenogears at the very end. If this is the type of story we’ll continue to get from the Tokyo RPG Factory, then hey, maybe RPG assembly lines aren’t so bad.
I Am Setsuna has lots of nods to Chrono Trigger, from its general combat framework to specific references to skills like X-Strike and Luminaire. However, it doesn’t capture why most players connected to that seminal title. Even though the combat is entertaining, I Am Setsuna’s characters are dull, the environments are repetitive, and the story is predictable. I would like to see more games inspired by the golden era of 16-bit RPGs, but you can’t recapture the spirit of innovation and experimentation that pervaded those titles through mimicry alone.
I Am Setsuna brings to light all the memorable aspects of what made classic games classics. With the good outweighing the bad, I Am Setsuna embodies old concepts and creates a challenge worth undertaking, even if the pilgrimage to the end is as difficult for the player as it is for Setsuna.
So it certainly seems that fans of classic JRPG epics and general Chrono Trigger savants will feel right at home here. It might not modernise this format in any meaningful way, but if it’s a bite of JRPG comfort food you’ve been looking for, you’re probably going to struggle to do much better.
Last Updated: July 19, 2016