I am Setsuna is a passionate love letter to classic JRPG’s such as Chrono-Trigger, but it’s not just a carbon copy. In-fact, this game oozes with personality and I think it’s important to explore how playing it gives you an experience you can’t get from many other games at all.
My first thoughts upon stepping in-to this game was just how marvellous it looked, and how that, for some reason, tied so well into the piano only sound-track. It was a bleak looking world, with inches of piled up snow everywhere and monsters all over the place. And yet, the sound-track and characters had a warmth about them to contrast against that. The phrase I think I could attribute to this theme being harsh, yet beautiful.
At the same time, however, I think it’s important not to sell the game short and just say it’s pretty visuals with a relaxing soundtrack. Everything the game does, it does to emphasize the overall theme, not just the snowy environment and piano in the background.
The story, although from an overarching sense might not be perfect, has so many different elements that help tie everything together into this beautiful world. The characters are constantly struggling, yet are strong and friendly. The antagonists and monsters are not inherently evil – no matter how cold the world gets, every last living creature has some sort of warmth inside of them. Hell, the journey itself starts with what could have been a cold-blooded murder, but gets warmer and warmer along the way as characters get to know each other.
Although the game play might take a slight back-seat, it’s still nothing short of elegantly designed. Despite being semi-turn based, combat is always flowing. Defeating large amounts of enemies at once is rewarding, grinding is done in a way where it’s hard to notice that you’re actually grinding at all, and difficulty is increased up where it needs to be. Let’s just not talk about those snowball enemies mind you – trust me, evasion is not a fun stat in any RPG.
Not to mention the perfect use of a world map. The game is, technically open world, but levels and dungeons are interconnected in a way where, without having to use quest markers or obnoxious hint boxes, the player can usually know exactly where to go to progress.
But the thing is, it’s not the story or game play that I’ll remember. I’ll remember games like “Mario” and “Legend of Zelda” for incredible game play mechanics. I’ll remember games like “The Last of Us” for story. But I am Setsuna is what will come to mind when I’m thinking about great experiences when playing games. And, I think, it proves just how much having a strong theme and sticking to it really does mean in the grand scheme of things. In fact, I’d argue it matters just as much as brilliant writing or incredible game play.
It’s difficult to describe the exact experience that this game gives you, but if I were to compare it to anything, playing “I am Setsuna” gives me the same sort of warm feeling that sitting inside with a cup of hot chocolate whilst rain taps against the side of the windows gives me. A sense of warmth in the cold and the feeling I get from almost everything in the game: from the snowy environment and touching sound-track to the heart capturing characters – and it’s all due to the strong theme. Sometimes I even wonder whether the devs felt the same way when they were writing the story, it’s nothing out-standing but there are certainly a lot of moments in which characters appear warm and friendly in cold and harsh situations, even when facing those who wish for the destruction of the world.
A thematic masterpiece, and with it, an experience I simply can’t get anywhere else. And for that, I will always remember “I am Setsuna”.