In a weird way, I Am Setsuna is the JRPG I’ve been waiting for. The pedigree, the style, the look, it all harkens back to an era of 1990s JRPGs that were on top of the world, and I finally got to sit down and play it. Even though I didn’t really learn what the hook here is, I know that Setsuna is exactly what it set out to be, and I’m so excited for something like this to exist again. It’s been so long since the 16-bit top-down JRPGs ruled over the market as some of the biggest games, full stop, and even if this isn’t the one to bring that all back, it’s a loving addition to that roster.
For those unfamiliar, Square Enix internally formed the Tokyo RPG Factory with external developers to work on a smaller, tighter project that would release in a shorter amount of time. The result is I Am Setsuna, an old-school style JRPG that takes after Chrono Trigger, citing it as an inspiration for almost every aspect of the game. Sitting down, actually playing it, it honestly filled me with so much nostalgia I could feel Setsuna creeping into my heart already. It’s beautiful, with a water-colour style and adorable characters reminiscent of the Final Fantasy IV remake on DS. The world is drowning in snow, and the music that serves as a backdrop it all focuses in on sad and melancholy tones, conveyed through slight twangs on piano strings.
It’s worth taking a moment and just saying: the music here was incredible. The convention floor is always loud, but I was grateful for the noise-cancelling headphones sitting at the booth when I played, because the sound just sucked me into the world. From ambient noise to sharp hits on the keys when the snow fell, and even an aggressive swell of sound when the boss arrived, the music was maybe the best aspect I saw (heard) here, and that’s in regards to a game that looked and felt like Chrono Trigger, which is to say high praise. I’m a sucker for the simple and reserved tone of a piano echoing through silence, but it sets a very sad mood for the whole world.
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The team behind Setsuna has said in the past that the theme behind I Am Setsuna itself is “sadness”, and it’s evocative of that style elegantly. The world building shines between the heavy snowfall and the NPC characters in the small military base I explored, who seemed irritated and concerned. There was a drowning feeling of the map, where the whole world is covered in snow, that reminds me of the saddest moments in Chrono Trigger, with the use of style and music.
Combat wise, enemies congregate in small groups as you explore, and when you run close enough to them, your team of three jumps into position. From there, it’s that same positionally-aware ATB combat that you know from Chrono Trigger—to a T. The abilities are even labeled Techs! And if you have multiple characters ready at the same time, you can do combo techs between them, and yes, two of the characters could do an X-slash. Yeah, you can just straight-up X-slash in this game. I don’t know a thing about the story, but if this turns out to have some weird Bioshock-like connection to Chrono Trigger, I’d be incredibly excited.
It seems like you’ll be able to slot in new tech-abilities and create new combos, but the menus were a little off and even cumbersome, and with zero context, thrown into a pretty high-level demo, I didn’t have much time to explore them. The UI appeared more suitable for something like the Vita or a handheld, but the Vita version of this game was abandoned, so I don’t think that was intentional.
Regardless, when I beat the boss and ended the demo, I just wanted to turn the game into my Sunday-afternoon sleepytime game. It’s beautiful, plays great, and above all has just stellar world-setting music. It’ll be out July 19th in North America, and I cannot wait.