I am Setsuna
Not to be confused with the citrus John Robertson
In this era of 4K visuals and elite processing power, many older game ideas are being limited to the regurgitation of conveyor belt that are remasters and re-releases. Why make a new RPG in the classical form when you can simply upgrade an existing classic and sell it to an audience either drunk on nostalgia or eager to play a game that was before their time now that it comes with all the modern conveniences?
The creatively named Tokyo RPG Factory's response is to show just why some ideas have become classic in the first place. I Am Setsuna, the studio's first game, adheres to many of the staples that Japanese-made RPGs of the likes of Chrono Trigger, Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy were built upon. It's perspective is isometric, dialogue is read and not heard, combat is turn-based, a world map must be traversed, and its narrative is one of tragic gravitas. And yet, beautifully, it's an outing that – after three hours of play, at least – feels neither derivative nor clichéd.
Protagonist Endir plays the repentant hero, an individual struggling to understand his place in the world after his understanding of his position within it is suddenly toppled. Setsuna, the titular character, at first seems every bit the weak, helpless female that shamelessly typifies many RPGs, until she reveals a personality of stern determination tempered by empathy even for those seeking to kill her. These entities are framed within a world of relentless snow and ice, forcing a sensation of melancholy and hopelessness that is skilfully coupled with hope through the quality of the narrative design.
It's this fine balance that makes I Am Setsuna such an intriguing proposition, not least because the combat forces a similar collusion of readings. The usual turn-based system of waiting for a meter to build up before you can act is diversified by a 'Momentum System'.
Instead of acting on their turn a character can wait and do nothing, allowing points to build up that can be later unleashed in one go. Use those points during a healing spell and more characters can be patched up at one time. Use them during an attack and you might do more damage, or you might inflict a negative status effect on your foe. There are a multitude of outcomes that can occur, with characters also able to team up to spend their Momentum Points in unison by unleashing 'combos' in which everyone acts at once. The risk, of course, is that you wait so long for that perfect attack that the enemy has damaged you beyond repair. Tempting intelligent use of this risk/reward system is going to be key in making sure that the going remains stimulating throughout what is likely to be an experience that straddles the longer side of normal. From what we've seen and played, however, the potential is here for I Am Setsuna to become one of the sleeper hits of 2016.
SETSUNA REVEALS A PERSONALITY OF STERN DETERMINATION TEMPERED BY EMPATHY EVEN FOR THOSE SEEKING TO KILL HER
Developer publisher platform release Date Tokyo RPG Factory Square Enix PS4, Vita, PC 20 July, 2016
It may look like they're just standing around, but really... no, they are
Brings a whole new meaning to the concept of 'turtling'...