I Am Setsuna was a noble attempt from Tokyo RPG Factory to recapture the halcyon days of JRPGs. We reviewed it last year upon its PC launch and while we felt it didn’t quite hit every note it was certainly worth a look. It seems only right, then, to visit it once again with its placing as a launch title for Nintendo’s newest console - the Switch.
For the uninitiated you take on the role of Endir, a mercenary tasked with assassinating Setsuna, a young maiden chosen to travel to the Last Lands to end her life to appease the demons that plague their world. However, rather than simply ending her life, Endir decides to join her pilgrimage. While this will ultimately fulfil the contract it is perhaps not done in quite the way he first envisaged. It’s a story of a hopeful sadness. Setsuna is aware of her fate and as your journey reaches its climax her selfless nature continues to shine despite the bleakness. This is a constant theme throughout, though it’s not surprising given that the game’s title is derived from one meaning of the Japanese word "Setsunai" meaning sadness. There are light spots dotted around, mostly in the dialogue, but overall things are generally melancholic. Thankfully you do not journey alone and along the way you can recruit others into your party each with their own story which, if you so wish, you can explore further. Whilst the game is linear in many ways its soft approach here allows you to decide whether or not you wish to explore the world a little deeper. We implore you to do so as there’s more to many of the characters than what you see at first glance.
The bleakness continues in the art style of I Am Setsuna as our protagonists inhabit a world of perpetual snow and ice. The lack of colour or change of terrain perhaps emphasises this emotion a bit too much but at the same time it’s strangely calming. It does, however, look great on the Switch’s 6.2 inch screen and upscales beautifully when docked. We didn’t notice any slowdown or issues in either situation though we played it more in the handheld mode than anything else. As a side note given that I Am Setsuna is a worldwide release on the Switch it somewhat makes up for the fact that the Vita version was never released in the west so at least now we can play it on the go.
One thing we love about I Am Setsuna is that it feels so much at home on the Switch as, much like Zelda: Breath of the Wild, it can played in small chunks or in one long session. This is especially handy if you’re a father of two small children who can’t quite understand that, whilst daddy is playing a game, he is also working. In addition, playing with the Switch undocked allows you to use headphones which we highly recommend. That’s not to say the game doesn’t sound great through your TV as it sounds just fine, but headphones do seem to be the best way to experience it. It’s perhaps mostly down to the soundtrack, whilst simplistic in nature, is piano based soundtrack and as such the range is in the mids or highs. On any decent set of cans it sounds wonderful. It really gives a sense of atmosphere and pulls you in further as you play.
We quite enjoyed the active time battle mechanics of I Am Setsuna. On one level it’s simplistic: wait for your bar to fill and choose between attacking, using an item or a special attack attached to the character. Things can then get a little more complicated when you add in things such as momentum which, if done correctly, can create a singularity which offers up a bonus effect for your whole party. There is also the ability for characters to combine in combo attacks and how, when and with what you take out your foe with has a direct effect on the loot it drops. However, while there is lots you can do generally, you’ll find yourself mixing things between using your character’s abilities and using potions to keep them in tip-top condition.
To some this may seem a missed opportunity but equally it keeps the game accessible on one level whilst at the same time allowing those who wish to add more nuance to their battles the ability to do so. If you do manage to gain a good understanding of how everything fits together there are side-bosses away from the main storyline which do offer up a good challenge. Interestingly the Switch is due to get an exclusive DLC for I Am Setsuna in the form of the wonderfully named Temporal Battle Arena. Available for free in April, the format allows you to upload your party’s battle data and download others to battle against in an AI form. If you win you can obtain spritnite (magical items) so it’s not entirely pointless either. It sounds like a great little time sink and another reason why the handheld ability of the Switch really enhances the appeal of I Am Setsuna.
I Am Setsuna feels more at home on the Nintendo Switch than probably any other format, save perhaps the Playstation Vita. However, as mentioned, it was never released on the Vita in the west so realistically this is its biggest release on a handheld platform. Its pickup and play nature just fits the form factor beautifully, making it perfect for that daily commute. With the additional lure of exclusive DLC, I Am Setsuna is a great game to have and it's great to see it being given a little love as opposed to just being directly ported. It’s a tight and well-told story which, while linear, will almost certainly pull on your heartstrings towards by its climax. Given the limited number of titles currently available for the Switch, if you’re at all interested in the genre and have or are thinking of picking up the console then I Am Setsuna should be an instant purchase.