The First Few is a series where we take our raw first impressions of the game and write down exactly what we think within the initial hours of it. Whereas a review covers the experience as a whole, The First Few focuses on the opening act of the title or more commonly known as the “hook”. We released a video for this First Few which you can check out here!
The First Hour: That Olde RPG Magic
RPGs may just be my absolute favorite genre. I can’t identify exactly what it is about them that gets my blood boiling but I think it’s a combination of character progression and intricate storytelling. The way characters progress through an RPG is extremely special to me. Whether it’s through their own melodramatic back stories or learning new skills as they gain battle experience, the characters become more realized as you dump hours into raising them. In some way, I suppose this fills the paternal part of me that wishes to protect someone. But instead of doing it in real life, I devote that energy to my in game team, my friends I’ve never met, the children I’ll never have.
I Am Setsuna was like a call back to JRPGs of yesteryear when I spotted it on my steam page. Created by the Tokyo RPG Factory, I was expecting an almost by the books playthrough but as I fired it up for the first time, I was met with a poorly designed (and unskippable) configuration screen. But once I got past that, the real magic began.
From what I understand, I Am Setsusna is a mix of Chrono Trigger and older Final Fantasy games. So as I began to play, I could immediately see those influences as the typical “already on a mission” scenario began. Later, I was informed that I was part of the mysterious “masked tribe” that happened to be composed of only mercenaries. I’m a pretty big fan of Grandia II so this story felt familiar as I continued forward with the tutorial.
Surprisingly, they kept the old school naming / renaming system from the voiceover less RPGs from the SNES era. With the chance to rename my character, I decided to follow Hapsper’s lead and name myself, Japspr. I mean, we’re from the same tribe so… yeah.
After giving myself an amazing name, I faced my first enemy, the evil walls of text. This is something I’ve always hated since instead of teaching me how to play or even an annoying person yelling in my ear, you give me half a novel to read to get acquainted to “attacking”. I did welcome it when it explained some of the later mechanics but for an opening act… it immediately slowed down my interest.
The story of what I now understand was the prologue for I Am Setsuna caught some familiar beats as I continued forward to complete my job. Suddenly, Hapsper had to head out so I was left alone where right on cue a mysterious person appeared to tell me of my bigger quest.
As usual, I guessed it would be to go to a special place and protect a maiden or something…. Or not…. They wanted me to kill her. Hmm.
More Than One Way To Kill A Girl
So, an hour later and I Am Setsuna has truly intrigued me. From what I thought was a fairly safe and generic trot down memory lane evolved into one of the oddest games of “will they won’t they?” in the world.
Let me rewind a bit. Remember that girl the dude sent me to go kill? Well, turns out her name is Setsuna (yeah I know) and my job was to kill her before she was sacrificed to protect the World (Yeah… I know). However, her bosom buddy Aeterna and her father stopped me before I could finish the deed. If that wasn’t ridiculous enough, attempted murder of a sacrifice is punishable by death. Well, after some events that I won’t spoil since I find them actually kind of important to begin liking the characters, you’re tasked as her guard to accompany her to the place where she will die instead of killing her yourself.
This lead me to a weird point in the story where I was protecting this girl from dying although the goal is actually to slay her. At least… from the first hour, that’s what I thought my protagonist wanted. It’s the weirdest feeling since you have an obligation to complete your work but everyone around you is telling you how you can’t do it. How you need to stay your own ambitions to help the greater good. It’s rather deep on some level but also…. frustrating. I do understand that the game can’t just end but the swap from my character being a stone cold blade for hire into lapdog is quick and easy with no resistance outside of the silly responses I could pick during dialogue.
Outside of one of the oddest scenarios I’ve ever played through, is a relatively alive world. Every inch of the map seems like it’s something you can actually explore and the graphical style perfectly illustrates the somberness of the situation you’re in. The march to Setsuna’s death in the constantly falling snow is extremely eerie yet you’re supposed to enjoy the journey. It’s an odd little title but my eyes remained glued to the screen far into my last hour with the game.
Addicted To Spiritnite
In my final hour, I embraced the myriad of systems outside of the excellent atmosphere while relishing in the glory of battle and character progression.
Battle is not exactly exhilarating this early on, but most RPGs don’t really ramp up till well into hour 10. However, I can say that it does feel like Chrono Trigger as the battles occur exactly where you bump into them. With no random encounters, it makes it easier to navigate around and prepare for a fight ahead.
Combat is divided into a few different key features. I chose the ATB setting early on so instead of going one by one, the enemies are able to interrupt me if I don’t pick an action quick enough. Naturally, you have access to attacks, special techniques, and items. Outside of that though are two very interesting systems. Combo attacks are (again) similar to Chrono Trigger and allow you to use two or three characters to make unique and devastating attacks.
Momentum is a whole different beast though and perhaps more interesting as well. Momentum points build through actions, healing, or even inactivity. I tried jut not attacking and started gaining points so…. That’s a thing. Anyway, momentum points are used in two ways from what I could see. You can tap a button right after you choose to attack to add extra damage or tap that same button after casting a heal to add an effect like ATB boost or remove debuffs. After enough uses, you activate a singularity which… I don’t know exactly how they work. Is it a passive? Do I need to push another button? I don’t know. It doesn’t really explain that too well but I’m thinking it is a benefit of some kind.
Experience is a rather skimpy affair so instead, you’re able to temper your weapons as well as purchase spiritnite. Spiritnite is very similar to magicite and you have to equip it to your accessories to gain access to it. What the spiritnite does is give you more techniques and thereby more combo moves for your characters. Getting the spiritnite however comes at a cost similar to how you had to buy spells in the original Final Fantasies. Unlike those games though, you instead trade the merchant items that he pays YOU for. After you’ve traded enough, you can obtain a spiritnite so it’s a pretty beneficial system to the player. Weapons and accessories seem heavily priced so this may just be a way to balance the two.
As I wound down on I Am Setsuna and began to close in on my final hour, I believe I had played enough to understand the game as a whole. The characters, design, combat system, and a lot of the themes remind me of some of the greatest JRPGs ever made. Throwing them all together into one game is certainly a safe way to do things but at the moment, I’m not sure if I am Setsuna is a game that can stand on its own, or if it will forever be compared to its predecessors.
Platform: PC (Steam)
Control Method: Xbox 360 Controller
Time Spent: 3 Hours
Andron (or Ace as he likes to call himself) is the so called "Head Honcho" of Bombchu.com. He has a deep passion for video games primarily RPGs, Fighting or Adventure. When not gaming, he's furiously typing on his keyboard or coming up with new schemes.