Game Title: I am Setsuna
Developer: Tokyo RPG Factory, Square Enix
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Download: 1.3 GB
Availability: Retail (Japan, English Text Option), Digital Download (US, EU)
Battery Life: 4-6 hours
Supported Modes: TV, Tabletop, Handheld
The Nintendo Switch has opened a lot of doors for handheld gamers with Nintendo games, for sure. The success of the new Legend of Zelda game is more than proof of what kind of console experiences Nintendo’s new system can take on the go. But there are also a lot of third party doors being opened. JRPG fans have Disgaea 5 to look forward to (or for those who imported the Japanese version, they can experience it now since it has an English menu option).
One such JRPG that is sensitive to handheld gamers was Square Enix’s own I am Setsuna game. This is a pretty touchy subject because the PS Vita version of the game was opted out of the Western release. Vita owners were quite upset that the Vita version cannot be played in English. But Square Enix did not leave all handheld owners out in the West.
Having released on the Nintendo Switch on launch day and after I’ve had a lot of time to complete it, here is my review of the Nintendo Switch version of I am Setsuna!
I am Setsuna revolves around a mercenary who travels around the world, doing various jobs for towns. As the game begins, he is given the job of murdering a young woman from a port town, only to find out that she has been chosen to go on a pilgrimage and sacrifice herself to calm the monster threat that is all over the known world. Having second-guesses about his mission, he travels with the sacrifice who calls herself Setsuna, and sees her journey through to appease the monsters and protect the human race.
Setsuna’s story I liked because it is so emotional. The entire game has a really sad tone to it, with Setsuna traveling to effectively commit suicide in order to protect the world. And the further you go, the more you learn about her and the sad state of the entire world. But the biggest thing is the amount of emotional twists in the game. Just when you think you have something figured out and are sure the story is going to play out a certain way, the game throws a tear-inducing plot twist your way. I literally cried after the game ended because of how touching and sad the whole experience was.
I am Setsuna is a turn-based RPG that is a throwback to the Super Nintendo-era RPGs made by Square Enix. You have turn-based combat, a partially-overhead camera view, towns with shops, party members centered around a particular Job, and more. All in all, it’s made to feel like a retro RPG made in more modern times.
Progress in the game is driven by story. As with older Final Fantasy games, you are limited on where you can go on the World Map until a certain part of the story, where your Airship unlocks. Until then, you have a set route on where to go, though you do have a decent amount of freedom in that you can explore optional areas and go back to previous areas if you need.
Towns and Dungeons have pretty basic elements around them. In every town, there’s always an NPC that starts that section’s story arc, and shops. Shops range from Item Shops, Weapon Shops, and Spirinite Shops. Item and Weapon shops are pretty basic, you spend money on items and weapons. The Spirinite Shop is where things get more unique because you can only get money in the game by selling NPCs monster drops from your battles.
Not only does selling these items get you money for items and weapons, but they unlock Spirinite. These Spirinite stones are like Materia from Final Fantasy VII. Equipping them teaches a character a certain skill. But in order to buy them, you must sell certain materials. Kind of like a synthesis system for items.
Now, the final thing and the biggest nostalgic element is combat. Battles don’t take place on a separate screen. When you happen upon enemies, the battle triggers, your party jumps into position, and combat begins. Your overall position affects how you do battle. Multi-unit skills like attack skills or AoE healing skills will affect a certain area around the target. Anything in that area gets hit/healed, but anything outside won’t. So if you have 2 party members together and one not, only 2 will be healed. It is heavily inspired by Chrono Trigger’s combat.
The big thing about combat are boss battles and enemy types. You have certain fights you need certain party members for. Some bosses are incredibly hard for some party formations and easier with others. And you have some story segments where certain characters aren’t around for you to use. The same goes with enemy types. If you’re fighting a dungeon full of enemies that self-destruct when they die, having multiple healers would be more advised than not.
Speaking of that, I don’t consider I am Setsuna to be an overly hard RPG. As long as you fight your battles, you shouldn’t have any problems with most bosses. Though there are a few bosses that are going to give you a hard time regardless, but there’s only really one section of the game where you’d have to grind for levels and even then, you don’t have to grind a lot. It’s a pretty accessible game on difficulty, even for non-RPG gamers.
Now, we get to the biggest thing that makes purchasing this game a debate: Length. I am Setsuna was published by Square Enix, so you might be thinking it is some epic RPG that exceeds 50 hours and it is not. I did about half of the side quests that open up at the end of the game, and I still managed to clear it in a little over 20 hours. That isn’t really that long for a JRPG, let alone one that Square Enix picked up to publish. If length matters to you, think about that before buying.
Game Modes / Controls
Nothing too complicated with the controls. First off, all 3 game modes are supported by I am Setsuna. You can play it in TV Mode, Tabletop Mode, and Handheld Mode, though in the next section, I’ll explain why this game is best played in handheld mode over the others.
Controls are simple. The Left Analog Stick moves you around the map and dungeons and the Arrow Buttons can be used to cycle through menus. The rest is done with the face buttons as the triggers and the Plus/Minus buttons don’t do anything. A lets you choose menu options or interact with towns/NPCs. B cancels a menu option. X brings up the menu when wandering towns and dungeons, and Y lets you organize your inventory from the menu.
Visually, the game looks lovely. There aren’t any jagged edges on the character models and all of the effects look great, from the details of enemies to the snow tracks you and monsters make as you run around in dungeons.
This is why I highly recommend playing Setsuna in handheld mode. In TV Mode, you can’t really see just how much detail is put into this game’s presentation. The first time I switched into handheld mode, I was shocked at just how much detail was thrown in. In my honest opinion, the game actually looks better when played on the go than on the TV.
Sound-wise, it is very nostalgic. There are a lot of tracks that sound very similar to classic Final Fantasy music. But the soundtrack is also really sad and adds to the tone of the game. From the World Map theme to story scene music, it just has a sad tone to it. If you can find the developer village on the map, it even tells you that the composer cried as he made the music for the game.
Performance-wise, I have no complaints. Load Times are slow, and the game runs a steady 30 fps from start to finish. It was ported over quite well.
The only aspect of the presentation I will note is the translation. There are a couple Spirinite Skills that have their presentation written in French, rather than English. This is an issue in all Western releases of the game (PS4, Steam, and Switch), but it’s still there, in case you thought they may have removed/patched it.
Here is where things get interesting. The first Switch game I reviewed was Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which offered an average of about 2-3 hours of battery life, no matter your settings. This game gives you a significant amount more. Here are the Battery Life stats (100% down to 15% where the system tells you it is getting low) for I am Setsuna in Handheld and Tabletop Modes:
• Max Brightness + Wi-Fi – 3 hours, 46 minutes
• Max Brightness + No Wi-Fi – 4 hours, 10 minutes
• Low Brightness + Wi-fi On – 4 hours, 54 minutes
• Low Brightness + Wi-Fi Off – 5 hours, 24 minutes
These are much better readings than Zelda was. You’re getting an average of 4-6 hours of battery life with I am Setsuna, which brings the Switch pretty close to the battery life of the PS Vita and Nintendo 3DS. Considering other games I’ve been testing, these optimistic results may be the range of the norm for most games.
I am Setsuna is an RPG made for retro RPG fans and excels at what it sets out to do. Although the game is a short 20-hour experience and a couple skills are translated in the wrong language, this is still worth picking up for any RPG fan. Across the nostalgic gameplay and touching story, it’s a journey worth remembering.