I am Setsuna (Switch) Review
I am Setsuna is a sad game. That’s the whole thing, it’s just a sad story, in a sad setting, with a sad soundtrack with some sad characters. Obviously, there’s a lot more to it than that, but if you were hoping this was going to be a fun romp through a winter wonderland, well, I have some sad news.
That’s not to say the game is bad, not at all. I am Setsuna is a really clever and faithful recreation of many, many SNES era RPG games- making its appearance on Nintendo’s newest console even more fitting. At worst, this insistence on staying this faithful to the top-down view can at times detract from the dialogue and emotion of certain scenes, especially when many of these cutscenes take a fair while to move through. Ultimately it’s a minor issue, especially because the whole game is just a love letter to the genre, flaws and all.
I am Setsuna is set in a snowy world, full of mountains, forests, and even caves made of ice. The cold, snowy setting is an apt backdrop for the story and characters in the game. The main character, Endir, is a mercenary who is basically roped into escorting Setsuna to a faraway land to ensure her sacrifice, in order to spare the world from monsters. It’s a tricky premise to summarise without getting into details and spoilers, but all you need to know is that the tone of the whole game is set upon that premise- you’re helping a girl get across the world to, well, die to save the world.
Along the way, you meet many characters with their own motivations and backstories. Given the tone set in the previous paragraph… none of these stories are really uplifting at all. The writing works well enough to help you relate to these characters, and understand what makes them tick, but the top down, disconnected camera really stops you from having too deep a reaction to it all. Being so far up above the characters means there’s no focus on facial expressions or body language, the emotion is mostly done via the written dialogue. Only upon reflection after play sessions did I really understand just how deep this game can be.
That’s just the general theme of the game- there’s a fair bit going on in the gameplay department too. None of it is really too complex in the heat of battle, with all the attacks and actions happening alongside timers like earlier Final Fantasy games. Each encounter will happen among areas well spaced out for battles, with enemies laying in wait, so no random encounters! But the thing I quite like about the battles is how the characters and actions use the space provided.
If two enemies are close together, a swipe of the sword will probably hit them both. If they’re in a line, thrown weapons or charge attacks will also hit along the line of attack. Some abilities will even move your character to new places on the field, or knock enemies around like a pool table, letting you set up some cool combos. It feels slightly physics engine based, though, so it’s as much luck as it is premeditation.
Outside of battle, you have a fairly large, but mostly linear overworld, with villages and places of interest to explore amongst it all. The typical RPG fare can be found in most of these places, with weapons, stat boosting items, potions, and skills/spells. The way you learn new spells is interesting, being based on selling vendor trash, and converting them into certain items that you can equip to characters. It’s probably the most complex thing in the game, which is not a high bar to begin with.
One of my favourite things worth mentioning about this game is the soundtrack. It’s entirely piano pieces, with varying tempos for various situations, like exploring the overworld, or fighting in a battle. If you have Spotify, the soundtrack is on there, I highly recommend giving it a listen!
Okay, the elephant in the room… the price. In Australia, it’s about $60, which is much pricier than most of the other digital-only games, but still cheaper than most of the retail games on the eShop. Even though I’m really enjoying I am Setsuna, it is tough to recommend for the price. By no means would I call it a rip-off, but I feel it might appeal to a subset of gamers, and even a subset of JRPG fans. If you love classic RPGs, old school Final Fantasy, or just have $60 and not many Switch games, definitely consider it!
- Captures a lot of classic, 16-bit era JRPGs
- Gorgeous, sombre setting and art style
- Simple and haunting soundtrack
- Probably appeals to a small subset of gamers
- Top-down camera detracts from emotion of cutscenes at times
The Japanese retail version includes the English version on the cartridge for those considering importing. I’m happy to pay $60 for a retail release, but there’s no way in hell I’d pay $60 for a digital-only game (at least not of this calibre).