I Am Setsuna could be seen as a welcome relief for anyone waiting for more Switch content until the big guns of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Splatoon 2 arrive. It’s also a JRPG that has a classic SNES-era feel with a modern shine. So is it worthy of a place on your new Switch? What I will say up front is that there is a lot to love about I Am Setsuna, especially if you’re a fan of the genre.
Let’s start with the obvious: this is a stunningly beautiful game. It has an old-school feel to the set-up, from the top-down perspective to the world map, with a modern sheen over the top. The game is set in a bleak yet beautiful world with snowy landscapes that are simply breathtaking. When it snows here, the flakes fall elegantly across the screen – not enough to distract, but enough to make you feel just a little chill as you journey through the world. It’s all very atmospheric.
The game’s soundtrack is exceptional, but may not be to everyone’s taste. The music is composed entirely of eerie, piano-based tunes. It suits the scenery perfectly, and is an absolute delight to listen to. On the slightly negative side, it does become a little repetitive eventually. An oddity in the audio department is the mumbled voices of your characters that speak at the end of every battle. It sounds like it’s in Japanese, but it adds no value whatsoever and only detracts from the experience.
The story is a compelling one, and hooks you in from the very start. You play the role of a mercenary initially named Endir (you can rename any of the main characters as you encounter them). Endir, a member of the masked tribe, is a strong warrior known for seeing his missions through to the end. His latest mission involves his recruitment to kill a young woman named Setsuna. The engaging story is very dark, involving the sacrificial pilgrimage of Setsuna in order to keep the monsters of the world at bay. Setsuna and Endir embark on their epic journey together, with several others joining your party along the way.
There aren’t many negatives to this game, but a few minor sticking points detract from the overall experience. Firstly, there is no ‘run’ button, meaning you have to walk at the same pace through the world. It’s especially irritating on the world map, where nothing much happens – it’s not like we’re dealing with random encounters here – and the characters seem to move more sluggishly than usual. To be fair, it does make you feel like you’re trudging through actual snow…
Another minor complaint is the lack of a save feature unless you’re on the world map. Even though this is more in line with old-school JRPGs, this is a modern touch I’d prefer included, particularly when I’m playing on the go and have to stop suddenly. These are all minor issues though, and I’m being picky because this is such a high-quality game – it deserves to be perfect.
With that in mind, I’ll wrap this up with another positive aspect. I’ve mentioned the great visuals, audio, and story, but without good gameplay, none of that matters. Thankfully, the combat system is well done and reminiscent of Final Fantasies of old, yet somehow enhanced. With no random encounters, you can pick and choose your battles and, if you sneak up on enemies, you’re guaranteed the first attack. You’ll have to wait for the timer to fill before attacking again, though you can choose to wait even longer for a stronger attack. Another nice touch is that when you strike an enemy close to another enemy, you’ll hit them both, adding some strategy to the way you fight.
Overall, I really enjoyed I Am Setsuna. The glorious scenery coupled with the creepy tunes sets an atmosphere to lose yourself in. The characters and story are deep and engaging, and keep you hooked. With only a few minor flaws, I can easily recommend this game to any fans of the JRPG genre.