QCF: I Am Setsuna

he status quo of the modern-day JRPG is getting more, and more polarizing by the year—and a lot of that has to do with the two very distinct audiences that the genre has gradually come to cater to. The term “JRPG” generally triggers thoughts of nostalgia for the genre’s heyday on the original PlayStation and SNES in the nineties, but lately, the definition has expanded into different territories that are now more synonymous with the style, with conventions like relationship building, and permanent character deaths.

There aren’t many earnest options around for the old camp of fans these days, and that’s what makes the original JRPG giant’s attempt to recapture that magic with I Am Setsuna so intriguing, and maybe even a little admirable in some aspects.

The new game from Square Enix is one that spares little time in chasing a legacy that most considered long forgotten, and while some of its methods used to deliver that experience are a bit rough, it still manages to be a memorable love letter that charmingly romanticizes the charms that defined what the genre used to be.

That sentiment really extends to just about everything offered out of I Am Setsuna, boiling into this strange dichotomy where most of the game’s biggest strengths can often be construed as some of its biggest flaws as well—mainly because the title just has no subtlety in every single thing that it does.

At the very start of the Adventure, you’ll come across a plethora of clichés that work to set the stage of the plot, as if almost done transparently to hammer the point of the presentation across as early as it can. The first hour alone works to throw you into the role of a mysterious warrior who works as a mercenary for hire, and is tasked with a mission to kill a chosen one by a secretive client, leading to contracting a case of amnesia when encountering said chosen one, leading him to join her on her pilgrimage instead. I mean, the fan service isn’t exactly offensive, but it a bit pandering at times, and can get especially obnoxious during certain points of 20 hour or so campaign.

Unfortunately though, that’s not where the presentation of the game is at its weakest, no, that distinction goes to the inconsistent visuals and graphical performance. To be clear, I want to specify graphical performance and not graphical design—the art direction in I Am Setsuna is downright astonishing at times, which is all the more reason why the visuals are so disappointing whenever players are subjected to the fickle execution of the shoddy effects that animate it.

Most of the settings in the game are snow-capped environments that almost cover the entire screen in a soft pastel white, and while the color palate is pleasant to look at still, in motion it’s nothing short of gross, and unsettling. Similar to the deceptive techniques used in old 32-bit JRPGs, I Am Setsuna forgoes active lighting dynamics in favor of pre-rendered screen filters for the shadowing and gradation of the graphics on display—but the filters aren’t subtle by any means, and practically stick out like some schlocky overlay. I’m not one to play a game where the graphic output is set at the default gamma let alone low gamma, but raising the brightness even a smidgen out of the standard setting will just make these lazy fixtures of the visuals stick out even more.

No game, especially one that’s way less demanding on a technical level than any other contemporary title out there that runs on the same hardware, should ever pit you into deciding between having to adjust for a darker display, or settling for a flawed, but brighter one. The issue is further compounded by the lack of variety in the game’s environments and color palate; these soft pigments work more to exploit the issues that make I Am Setsuna appear ugly at various points of its expedition.

Flippant presentation notwithstanding, the gameplay here is an entirely different story, playing it much safer with familiar mechanics and systems that far from groundbreaking, but enjoyably more competent in comparison; of course, not without its own flaws though.

Borrowing a lot of elements from the iconic Chrono Trigger, battles are done in an active system where there’s a “momentum” meter that steadily fills up for a character to make their next move. Once full, players can then direct that specific character to take an action, whether it’s an attack, special attacks, guard, or item use, and continuing the homage to the legendary Square RPG is the ability to combine attacks with two party members who are compatible with one another.

Parties can have three characters active in at any time, and these optional team-up techniques add an extra layer to strategies that make combat more rewarding when you come across a combo that’s particularly more successful than any other line-up that you’ve experimented with. The other major dynamic to battling is pretty half-baked in its design, and usefulness though, being the “singularities” that each character possesses.

As turns continue to pass in a fight, you’re able to build up a meter that will activate a passive buff, or modifier that offers an additional advantage to the scuffle, and they’re mostly negligible in the grand scheme of the combat. There is an option to equip relics that can change, or alter these effects, but I found myself not caring enough to invest any effort towards the option, and it didn’t feel like it really took anything away from the experience of gameplay, which just feels like a waste when you really think about it.

When it comes down to it, I Am Setsuna has no delusions over what it’s trying to be, embellishing in the comfort food that it clearly is, and that’s what I wanted out of it—I’m just a little sad that it fails to live up the nostalgia that it’s clearly meant to satiate at times.

The price tag is a little too high for my comforts (especially when its Vita counterpart didn’t make stateside, missing out on a potential Cross-buy bonus) but the package has its merits, and you don’t necessarily have to look to hard to find them either—just be prepared to temper your expectations is all.

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