Nothing about these mechanics struck me as particularly outstanding or new, but the game has mastered the kind of simple, easy-to-understand, well-balanced RPG combat that is too easily underestimated. Most fights in I Am Setsuna consist only of the basics — attacking, healing, monitoring status effects like poison and so on — and yet they were some of the tensest and most satisfying battles I’ve had in ages. The boss fights, in particular, rest on that razor-thin border between requiring smart use of all resources and just being a frustrating pain in the ass. It’s been a while since I’ve had an RPG remind me of how good that feels.
the boss fights were some of the most satisfying battles I’ve had in ages
Other reminders of Square Enix’s output over the last 10 years are less welcome. I Am Setsuna has a few underexplained and seemingly undercooked systems, such as momentum, which adds an element of timing to attacks in order to achieve extra damage, and singularities, which are random effects that can trigger for a short amount of time during battles. These mechanics, and a few others in the game, are confusing at their best. They’re also entirely unnecessary to completing or enjoying the game, so I mostly ignored them.
The lack of environmental variety in I Am Setsuna is harder to handwave away. As previously mentioned, the game’s world is covered in snow in all directions, so every town and outdoor field has the same frigid feel. That’s well enough, but this extends to dungeons as well. The game boasts a grand total of maybe three or four dungeon “types” — an icy cavern, a treacherous mountain path, a strange, technologically advanced tower. These templates repeat several times, as do the handful of enemy types within them, draining the game of a sense of discovery and wonder.
Still, even when I was exploring a setting I was already overly familiar with, the presentation is gorgeous. I Am Setsuna‘s stylized characters and artsy world design sets it apart from the average, cheap-CGI look that many RPGs share. The art direction is aided by a lovely, piano-heavy soundtrack that really sells the game’s melancholy tone.