Nearly half a year after its launch, I Am Setsuna remains as the only JRPG available for the Nintendo Switch. The game was moderately well-received on other consoles, and it is considered by some as the closest to a new Chrono Trigger we’ve ever had. A bold statement given that the game is considered by many to be the best RPG ever made.
Sadly, this game is nowhere near as good as Chrono Trigger. Fear not, though. This game is still very good. Flawed, but very good.
I Am Setsuna features a beautiful story that lingers on the depressing. It’s definitely not a joyful adventure like many of the more classic JRPGs, and it is about escorting a girl to her death as a sacrifice, but it didn’t feel like I was playing a video game equivalent of Schindler’s List. I Am Setsuna features engaging characters, for the most part, with the exception of the monkey kid and, sadly, your grumpy mute protagonist. The story can be summarized into moving from town to town solving whatever problems you find there, usually ending up on a boss fight. Do that and you can move to the next town. Rinse and repeat. Sounds boring on paper, but the engaging story makes up for it.
Now, the one area where Setsuna is reminiscent of Chrono Trigger is in the combat. Dare I say, it’s basically the same, with the same active time mechanic, lack of random encounters, combo techniques, you know the drill. It’s not an overly complicated combat system, and it surely deserves credit for it. What’s really problematic in this combat is how unbalanced it is. Overworld enemies aren’t anything else other than fodder for you, being completely harmless and underpowered. If you approach them from behind, you’ll immediately earn an attack for each one of your members, which nearly always results in an instant victory before any baddie can even touch you. The boss fights, on the other hand, are much more difficult. You might be thinking to yourself “well, duh, that’s how a boss fight should be,” but given how braindead all overworld enemies are in comparison, it makes the combat completely unbalanced, as farming for experience isn’t even enforced.
To finish it off, I need to point out one awesome positive and one very underwhelming negative in this game, both being attached to its art department.
Setsuna‘s soundtrack is, simply put, perfect. It’s mostly performed by a single piano, but basically all tracks share the same level of beauty and sadness that will easily stick with you after you turn the game off. On the other hand, the game isn’t very visually impressive. It does shine in a few aspects, such as some beautiful hand drawn landscapes, but it gets visually repetitive pretty quickly due to certain reasons. First of all, everything’s snowy. Everything. Is. SNOWY. This game manages to be less environmentally varied than the Mad Max game from a few years ago, and good lord that thing was set in a post-apocalyptic Australia. Finally, its characters aren’t exactly that interesting to look at. With the exception of bosses, most enemies are bland critters. And human characters have this weird super-deformed style and no feet for some bizarre artistic reason.
Overall I Am Setsuna features some infuriating flaws like its astounding lack of environmental variety and unbalanced combat system, but it’s pretty hard not to enjoy its engaging story, very traditional overall gameplay, and amazing soundtrack.
It’s far far far from being the “new Chrono Trigger,” like some may have said, but it’s definitely not a bad JRPG, and definitely not a bad first JRPG for the Switch.
I Am Setsuna is also available on PS4, PS Vita, PC.