I Am Setsuna (Switch) Review

Winter is Coming

If you’re a fan of old-school Super Nintendo RPGs, then I Am Setsuna may have caught your eye at least once. RPG juggernaut Square Enix formed the studio Tokyo RPG Factory, specifically to develop throwbacks to that era, and I Am Setsuna is its debut project. While there are clear comparisons to the time-travel classic Chrono Trigger, this game manages to stand out from its inspirations, but not necessarily in the best way.

Here is my video review for your viewing pleasure!

The story follows the mercenary Endir, who is tasked to kill Setsuna, a young woman destined to save the monster-infested world by acting as its sacrifice. As events unfold, you find yourself in the band of heroes who will assist Setsuna on her journey to the Last Lands. The story might sound familiar if you’ve played Final Fantasy X, but this tale is a more somber take, removing the lightheartedness and whimsy of Square Enix’s classic titles and replacing them with dreary dialogue and gloomy characters. Though there is a place for melancholic storytelling, the game overemphasizes it, making the experience somewhat depressing. Though the core characters are pretty likable, we rarely get to see their personalities aside from their militaristic attitudes towards completing the mission.

I Am Setsuna Review Setsuna Dialogue
She said the thing!

At least the gameplay, which borrows heavily from Square’s classics, is more enjoyable. Once you’ve received your assignment, you set out and journey through the snowbound land. Matching the melancholy tone, the environments are completely covered in snow, and the lack of distinctive locales make the world feel smaller than it is. The world map is devoid of enemies, but enter an area and you’ll find foes out in the open, ready to fight.

I Am Setsuna Review World Map.jpg
The World Map is pretty big, but there isn’t much to see.

As soon as you come into an enemy’s range, you begin the battle then and there. I Am Setsuna uses the popular active time battle (ATB) system, first introduced in Square’s Final Fantasy series. Each party member has his own gauge that fills during battle. Once filled, you can perform an action, whether attacking, using special tech abilities, or casting support magic. Additionally, party members can combine their techs to execute combo attacks that look cool and deal significant damage.

Not only is time important, but also space. If you can launch a sneak attack behind your foes, you start with a full ATB gauge, ready to go. During battle, character positions matter. If your enemies are bunched up together, you may be able to swing your sword widely enough to hit multiple foes at the same time. Likewise, stand close to your own party members to heal them with one spell. Though you can’t manually move your characters, paying attention to what attacks shuffle your enemy and party positions adds an extra layer of strategy that most RPGs don’t take into consideration.

I Am Setuna Review Combo Tech.jpg
Dual and Triple Tech Combos work wonders.

Though veteran Super Nintendo RPG fans are likely familiar with the tried-and-true battle system thus far, I Am Setsuna sets itself apart with new mechanics that are honestly hit or miss. For instance, you can build “Momentum” by remaining idle instead of instantly attacking when your ATB gauge is full. When you attack, a glowing light will momentarily appear, and pressing the Y button during that time will grant special bonuses like additional damage or added status effects. Unlike Super Mario RPG and other games that utilize timed button presses, you can easily spam the button here; as long as you hit that critical window, you’ll activate the effect, removing the depth that could have been there.

Additionally, activating Momentum will sometimes randomly trigger “Singularity,” a temporary interval when a single bonus is always in effect. For instance, during a 30-second period, your attacks may cause all kinds of elemental damage, or your characters might be impervious to death. Though these boosts sound phenomenal, the limited time period is very short and the chances of activating Singularity are entirely luck-dependent, so it’s not something you can plan a strategy around.

I Am Setsuna Review Tech Battle
Special effects happen when you can use “Momentum.”

Winning battles and tougher boss encounters nets you experience for leveling up, though that’s not the only method for strengthening your characters. You can also sell materials to forge Spritnite, mystical stones that you can use to customize your characters with magic, special abilities, and passive power-ups. Though each character has a limited inventory to hold Spritnite, you can also equip Talismans to give them more slots.

In addition, Talismans offer special permanent bonuses to your Spritnite called “Flux,” but this only occurs when you can activate the button press timed Momentum. Again, though it’s great to wield permanently buffed attacks, the random element means that you’ll have to grind for any desired powers. Additionally, it’s a confusing process that requires several looks at the tutorial page.

I Am Setsuna Review Boss.jpg
The bosses are large and impressive.

The journey takes about 20 hours, and a few sidequests and world exploration can raise that number. Though it sounds short by RPG standards, it’s pretty on par with SNES playtimes. As a Switch game, it works well as a handheld experience, though you’ll have to utilize Sleep mode since you can only save at designated areas. Regardless, doing a little exploration or a few battles is great for a break or commute. The game is fairly linear so it’s easy to make progress. As far as replay value goes, there are no deviating paths or a New Game+. Though honestly, I’d be hard-pressed to play it a second time due to the overall depressing tone.

The wintry world is bleak, and the environment is a little boring to look at. You are limited to exploring snowy areas, caves, and towers; so areas start to look the same, making the game feel more tedious than it actually is. The presentation is reminiscent of a slightly better looking SNES or early PlayStation-era RPG. At least the artwork and character designs are gorgeous, even if the visuals are bland. In contrast, the music is one of the best parts of this package, with beautiful, soft piano melodies perfectly capturing the mood for both adventure and somberness. The developers were very careful to effectively sync aesthetics with tone.

I Am Setsuna Switch Review Banner.png
And you are?

Conclusion

I Am Setsuna does a fairly good job fulfilling the role of a throwback Square RPG. The overly melancholic tone of the game and completely snow-covered world work to tell a somber tale, but it lacks the quirky fun of the classic RPGs that this game tries to spiritually succeed. Though the base active time battle system it borrows from established games is solid, the random elements added to the table aren’t as fun or well-executed. Despite these hiccups, I enjoyed my playthrough. If you’re looking for a great Square RPG, I’d sooner direct you to the SNES classics than Setsuna. But if you desire something new and have a lot of nostalgia for those old RPGs – particularly Chrono Trigger – and you don’t mind some hiccups in the presentation and mechanics, then I Am Setsuna is worth a try.

Score: 7/10

What are your thoughts on I Am Setsuna? What are your favorite classic RPGs from the Super Nintendo/PlayStation era and why? What kind of gameplay would you like to see the developers at Tokyo RPG Factory tackle next? Please share any thoughts you have in the comments section below! Thank you for reading!

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59 thoughts on “I Am Setsuna (Switch) Review

  1. Love your review! I am Setsuna is different from what I initially expected. I guess I was expecting it to be more like Final Fantasy, which it certainly has similarities to. I haven’t played SNES RPGs, so the style is a bit different from the more modern Squre Enix RPGs I’m used to. The world and characters certainly are beautiful, but I did find the ever-winter setting a bit dreary (It’s always winter but never Christmas. Any Narnia fans out there?). It would’ve been nice to have more levity and humor throughout the story. I’m also a little disappointed there’s no English voice acting, but since there are no actual cutscenes, it doesn’t really matter. I love ATB, but all the extra combat mechanics made no sense to me. I’m glad you explained it, because I couldn’t digest everything after a skimming a brief tutorial page. I haven’t beaten game yet, but I’m guessing a light-hearted romp through flowery fields doesn’t await me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks a bunch, as always, for your support and encouragement through this! 🙂 It’s certainly not a bad game, but I think I did expect more from this. It has the look and feel of those classic SNES RPGs down, but it’s not as enjoyable to go through, probably because of the constant winter and somber story. I do love the music and battle system though, at least the part borrowed from Chrono Trigger, haha. Yea, I didn’t mention, but there’s no English voice acting and the Japanese voice acting in there is very light. It’s good for what it is, but I suppose having no voice acting makes it feel more retro. There are sort of cutscenes, but nothing like even the elaborate ones in VI. The combat mechanics are indeed confusing, and it doesn’t help that the tutorials aren’t easy to access. Sometimes, they even disappear, never to be seen again. I’m glad that it wasn’t the case for the Flux ones because those rarely happened for me. Hope you enjoy it when we finally do go through the whole thing together! It’s at least fun, I swear! Thank you again! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I feel Square Enix is one of those companies whose worst mistakes tend to be the result of experimenting too much, so playing it safe by making these throwbacks is probably their best course of action. That said, from what I’ve heard of this game and also from what you’ve had to say about it, I get the vibe that it’s not quite in the same league as Bravely Default, which was a successful throwback while also, for the most part, being forward-looking with its game design choices. At the end of the day, I feel the best works out there have a good balance of tones; when it’s unrelentingly depressing, it gets tedious very quickly. If you weren’t interested in conducting a second playthrough, I think it’s safe to say this one will get a pass from me.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Bravely Default is a superb example of throwback RPG done right. It was also risky with its design decisions, but it worked and brought an interesting battle system with it. I Am Setsuna plays it pretty safe, though I would have actually preferred the battle system to be identical to Chrono Trigger’s as opposed to adding random complex elements. I would also say for RPGs, it comes down to tone, story, and gameplay. All three have to support each other and drive players to finish. Setsuna only had barely enough of story and gameplay to keep me going, and the tone was its death bed to ensure that I didn’t replay it. It’s not a horrible game, but I can’t recommend it without letting you know what you’ll be going through. Thanks for your insightful comments!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. It was hours long! Oh well – they’re still Square Enix, bless ’em. Unrelated but also related – have you played Final Fantasy XV? What were your thoughts on that? In one sentence: beautiful world with a fun team dynamic but shallow story and NPCs with an abrupt ending. Still fun, but had its flaws.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Haha, oh Square Enix. As for FFXV, I loved it for its characters and battle mechanics, but Zelda: Breath of the Wild showed me how much better an open world could be done.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I don’t have the energy to write a whole blog post on how wonderful Breath of the Wild is, but I am going to do a post about selfies in games later this week, including some from there of course.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so thankful for your comments both here and on the channel! I’ve said it there, but it means the world to me that your first YouTube comments have been on my videos! 😀 I’m so happy you enjoy it! And haha, it snows and gets cold here often too, so I’m so used to dreary winter that I don’t necessarily want to live it in game. I kid though – it’s the somber overall tone more than anything. Pokemon Platinum was also covered in snow, and it was a happy-go-lucky game. I wanted more lighthearted moments here too, just like there are in the classics. Too much of a dreary atmosphere isn’t good for you. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  3. While I really enjoyed Setsuna, I think they shot themselves in the foot with the marketing. This game was never going to live up to people’s memories of Chrono Trigger, but it’s still a fun JRPG. Great review, btw!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks a lot for your kind words! I think if I didn’t know it was going to be like Chrono Trigger, it would have hit me within the first 10 minutes. The style is so reminiscent! That said, even if it wasn’t trying to be like Chrono Trigger, where it hiccups most is in its story and how it doesn’t evolve much over its predecessor. I’ve already talked a lot about the story, but for the latter’s case, I Am Setsuna is trying hard to be like Chrono Trigger, but ignoring the fun settings, characters, and subtle nuances that made that game a hit. The dual techs are really cool here, but it’s almost wasted on humdrum characters here. I know I’m down on the game, but I did like it enough to finish it, honest! Haha!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t know why but despite all the lukewarm reviews I see for it, I fully intend on buying I am Setsuna one day. Your review gives me hope that it won’t be a terrible game by any means. I’m waiting for like 50% off sale though. Great write up.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I Am Setsuna is not a terrible game at all. There are parts that are hard to get through, but it’s overall a good game to play and the battles are pretty fun. If you’re set on getting it and you like what you hear, then I think this will be a good experience! A sale would be nice. I ended up getting the digital for full price on the Switch’s eShop, though for that price, I wish I had imported the Japanese physical version. Thanks again!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I don’t know if you remember, but you already know how I feel about the game :). I am Setsuna is average at best to me. I just didn’t enjoy it at all. The gameplay is nice, but everything else is… meh at best.

    Great review dude.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much man! Means a lot to me! 🙂 I did remember that you didn’t like the game so much. And now that I’ve played it, I can see why. It’s just not that fun to go through. I agree that the gameplay, mostly copied and pasted from Chrono Trigger, is nice. But it was everything surrounding it that wasn’t so enjoyable. It was decent enough for me to finish it, but I don’t think I could replay it. Glad to see we share similar thoughts on this game. And thanks again man!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I think that we see pretty much eye to eye on this game. My aggregated score was 7.5 and personal score was 8. I highly enjoyed it but felt the storyline meandered (strange since it’s so linear) and there weren’t many great character moments or loose ends tied up. I too loved the visuals and the soundtrack, and caught the FFX reference. I’d like to see its take on the ATB system and its gameplay additions refined in a second game. Thanks for the read, Pandu! I remember I suspected you’d like this game and your scoring is spot on.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank YOU, my Well-Red Setstwin! It’s nice to see we overall agreed on our thoughts about this game. I love the ATB system, and it’s always good to have it back. I also enjoy FFX’s story. Yet, a game with both of them together didn’t work. Perhaps this is the true reason why FFX didn’t use ATB. Haha, but seriously, the story did meander, and the characters felt underdeveloped. I liked it overall, but not enough for it to be an instant classic or recommendation from me. Thanks again! 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes, “instant classic” are strong words. I look forward to future projects by Tokyo RPG Factory and I hope they use Setsuna as a crude launching point. These brief RPGs could find a niche audience granted they can refine them and their basic ideas about them. Did you find the hidden developers’ village? Really made me think of Chrono Trigger.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I do look forward to seeing what Tokyo RPG Factory does next. And honestly, I wouldn’t mind them go in a Bravely Default route that felt similar to older RPGs but came up with a new, modern take on battles. They’re on the right track with Setsuna. It just didn’t hit home for me, and a lot of that came from the game’s overall tone. It’s also hard to ape a game like Chrono Trigger and be well-regarded. But it followed that game’s formula too closely, but missed the quirky aspects that made that fun. That said, I need to go to that CT-esque hidden developers’ village. By the end, I just wanted to beat it and didn’t go all-out on the sidequests. Something to look forward to should I boot it up again though!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I agree. There are some gameplay technicalities that step right out of CT but the tone of that original adventure is completely different. I wish they hadn’t evoked CT’s name at all. Yeah if you do boot it up again, there are some character beats in the sidequests and some tying up of loose ends but not everything turns out satisfactorily story-wise.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Yes, though I feel like if they didn’t say anything about CT, it would feel more like a ripoff as opposed to what is intended to be a spiritual successor. Even then, the company missed some big key aspects about CT though like different endings and New Game+. Also, the ability to beat the game whenever. Those kinds of touches that made CT special are missing here. Such a case of taking a skeleton and forgetting to put some good meat on those bones. I did some sidequests, at least, and they were somewhat interesting, like Setsuna’s. But I eventually got bored of doing them and just decided to finish it. Nothing like CT’s compelling time-travel sidequests.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Appreciate the candid review. When they first advertised this as being a spiritual successor to Chrono Trigger, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. Of course, Chrono Trigger is my all time favourite SNES era RPG, so that would be tough enough as it is. When I started seeing these lackluster reviews I decided to stay away. Looking forward to following your reviews, Mr. Panda!

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Thank you very much for your kind words! 😀 I was so excited for this game too as a fellow fan of Chrono Trigger! Although it’s not my favorite RPG, I respect it a lot, and it clearly inspired the developers of I Am Setsuna. These were definitely tough shoes to fill, and by aping the battle system but missing the point of what made CT so charming, it fell short. Even then, if it used a completely different battle system, I still might not have enjoyed it due to its story, so there were issues all around. I still expect good things from Tokyo RPG Factory in the future, but I hope they try something new instead of trying to copy the classics. To move forward while retaining that retro feel, they should innovate, only using the older games as muses. Thanks for your insights!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I hope Square persists with making more retro style RPGs even if this one wasn’t my up of tea. The combat system didn’t click with me so I never got round to completing Setsuna. Maybe it would have held my interest for longer if the characters weren’t so bland. The snowy locales are pretty at first, but after a while I was hoping to see more varied landscapes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed, Tokyo RPG Factory is still around and they’re likely working on something. So hopefully it’s of a better quality while retaining that retro style. The battle system is one of the parts I enjoyed but only because of its similarity to Chrono Trigger. I agree with you though about the bland characters and the overabundance of snow. I was hoping the game only started out on a snowy area, but then it kept going… Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Even with its faults, it’s good to see Square Enix making games like this and being the first project of this new team, I expect to improve in the future. Watching your video review right now.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Exactly! I think establishing Tokyo RPG Factory was a great move on their part, and even with I Am Setsuna’s faults, it’s a great first game to have under their belts. I look forward to seeing what’s next.

        Awesome! Thank you! I hope you enjoy it! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I am so alienated from the RPG world that I had no clue Tokyo RPG Factory existed and that it was a Square Enix branch created to develop throwback RPGs. I love the concept!

    A snow-covered world sounds awesome, and the game does look great, but – as you mentioned – it may make things look a bit too repetitive or smaller than they actually are. Nevertheless, it looks like a fun game.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love the concept of I Am Setsuna and Tokyo RPG Factory too! Even though my feelings of the game are mixed, it’s an overall solid game. Though my complaints with the story and setting aren’t big issues in most games, it mattered here since it’s an RPG. The snow would be fine if the settings at least felt different, but they’re all so very similar.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! And yes, that wannabe Bowser is quite the boss. The soundtrack to this game is very pretty and catchy, and I feel like I don’t hear enough catchy tunes in games anymore. It sort of reminds me of Breath of the Wild’s piano music, except in Setsuna’s case, it’s always playing, ohhhhh!

      Like

  9. Amazing review!! Especially the video review!!

    I was so hyped for this game being a huge Chrono Trigger fan but sadly have still not gotten around to playing it as yet. But its definitely on my must play list!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Awesome! Thank you so so much! I’m so happy you enjoyed the video review!! 😀 I hope you enjoy it more than I did when I played it! I love Chrono Trigger, and although I Am Setsuna doesn’t come close to the classics, it does a great job copying the general structure and battle system. I’d love to know what you think when you get around to it! Thank you again! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ll definitely keep you posted. It’s on my to play list for this year so I’m really hoping to get to it sooner rather than later. With so many great titles releasing and that have been released its becoming more and more difficult to find the time to play all these amazing titles. The curse and gift of a back log.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It’s definitely a good thing for there to be so many games! More variety for everyone. Sure, there’s a backlog, but I’d say it’s more of a gift than a curse. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  10. I’ve been umming and ahhing about picking this up, but I don’t think the price tag warrants it at the moment. There are plenty of cheaper indie RPGs on Steam which are better, so I’ll wait for a sale. Innit, yo yo.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Definitely wait. I’m sure there’ll be a sale at some point, seeing that this is Square Enix. Alternatively, you can always wait for Lost Sphear in January for Switch. It’s also by Tokyo RPG Factory, and with any hope, they’ve improved since I Am Setsuna. I’m definitely looking forward to that one! Thanks for your comments!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Still haven’t got myself the Switch, this game would most probably on my list to play!

    My favorite classic from the Playstation era will most definitely be Suikoden 1 & 2. I am a fan of collecting games (ie Pokemon) so Suikoden was a blast..I get to recruit characters and put them in formations.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comments! I Am Setsuna isn’t only on the Switch, but a current sale is happening for the game that may interest potential players. This is a good game to have on your list either way! I’m also excited about Lost Sphear, which is another game by the same developers that is also coming to the Switch in January!

      I haven’t played Suikoden, but I’ve heard great things about it. That’s the game with the 108 stars, correct? I love games that have a lot of characters, especially Pokemon. So the game has always intrigued me. Do the many characters get a lot of character development or is it just some of the main characters that do? I recall playing Chrono Cross, which had about 50 characters, but most of them didn’t matter. Great recommendations!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Definitely checking out Lost Sphear now.

        Unfortunately only the few main characters has character development. Most of them join by doing a sidequest, (some even through just 1 quick conversation) and that was it. Of course, a few of them have backstory or lores that exists in the Gaiden games (visual novel style) or additional novals/manga but those are still untranslated. Maybe they have fan translations by now..I should google it up hehe

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’m excited about Lost Sphear, even though I know nothing about it. I hope Tokyo RPG Factory has only improved since I Am Setsuna, but we’ll see. I’ll be checking it out (hopefully with a physical version) either way.

        It’s a shame that most games with huge casts don’t have a lot of character development outside the core group. I understand why, but then it just seems like they are merely extra “robotic” characters that don’t do anything to advance the plot. Then again, most Pokemon have zero character development, but I don’t mind as much with the monster-collection games. They’re meant to be partners that you form your own stories and developments with.

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