Still not reading much (though follow me on Goodreads to see when I do post the occasional review) but I did just finish playing through I am Setsuna, a JRPG recently released for the PS4 and Steam so I wanted to share some thoughts. Is this worth the $40 price tag?
First off, if the phrase “Chrono Trigger meets Final Fantasy X with the materia system from Final Fantasy VII mixed in” doesn’t mean anything to you, I’d say just go spend your $40 on the Final Fantasy X/X-2 remaster released last year. It’s a much better introduction to what JRPGs can be. But for those who do know, let’s take a deeper delve.
This game takes the vibe of the SNES-era games and gives them a watercolor makeover to beautiful effect. It’s a lovely game. There’s some especially nice snow-work, where your characters create paths as they move through snow and those paths disappear as you move along. That said, everything in this game is in the snow. Everything. Even when we get some color in the form of a sunset after you’ve defeated the final boss, there’s still always snow. So while it’s lovely, it loses some of its effect over time. Some variety would have been nice, is all I’m saying.
Music & Sound:
This game is notable for its piano-only soundtrack. While the piano does fit the somber mood well, after a few hours I was killing for a violin, a cello or some other string work to offset the piano. It just becomes monotonous overtime and I’m not convinced this was the right way to go. It would have been just as easy to keep the mood but go from a soloist up to say, a quartet for some variety. I absolutely love instrumental scores, but now that I’ve finished, I’ve no desire to go figure out how to pull the soundtrack that I got as a preorder incentive off my PS4 to listen to elsewhere. The rest of the sound work is fine, nothing to write home about. You’ll probably want to turn off the voice clips though. Though in Japanese, they get no less tiresome when you hear a character repeating the same phrase for the thousandth time.
I love me some active turn based battling. I’m actually sad that the FFVII remaster is doing away with it. I like having some time to plan, and by having it active it means you can’t take forever lest the enemies get their shot at you. And at the core, the system works just fine. The additions to the system – momentum and fluxes – are questionable at best. The momentum is definitely helpful (basically get your timing right and you can add bonuses to your moves), but fluxes are so confusing (and so poorly explained) that I still can’t explain it to you and I’ve defeated the game. There’s a very non-helpful explanation in one of the vendor screens, but that’s it. You can safely ignore it and not be hurt by it. The bigger issue lies with the spritenite/techs and it’s twofold. One: there are way, way, way too many of them. Dozens upon dozens. Your eyes can glaze over the list and still keep scrolling. It’s just way too much, even more so when you realize that outside of a few bosses (more in a minute) the battles in the game are just too simple to even need a fraction. You’ll settle on the handful you’ll use per character rather quickly and stop even looking into new one for one simple reason:
The gameplay balance is horribly off. There’s a specific double tech and a triple tech that essentially break the game. You can use the double tech to wipe out mobs in one go, and the triple tech to out cheese the cheesy bosses at the end game. While you can avoid using them during play to not just sail through the dungeons, they become vital at endgame.
Case and point: the dungeon with the final boss is essentially a five-part fight, no saving in between. I was appropriately leveled for the area, but kept wiping at some part within the four sub-bosses. I did a quick search for a strategy guide and saw the rec for the triple tech. I went ahead and got the spritenite needed for it, and I was able to beat the whole final boss fight in one go.
Grinding isn’t even a viable alternative because stats are based on weapons more than anything. Why waste hours and hours and hours grinding for incremental gains when a couple of choice spritenite can save you the frustration of throwing your controller at the wall over cheap difficulty spikes? It’s just not worth it.
The gameplay isn’t awful by any means, but I don’t think Tokyo RPG Factory brought anything new and worthwhile to the table, and it certainly isn’t going to make you want to play through again to try and play with the builds. There’s no reason to.
Oh, and finally, save points are FAR too sparse in the dungeons. You can go an hour between finding one, which is a pain in the ass. The lack of an inn system is an odd omission and the vending system desperately needs a way of selling items in bulk. These aren’t deal breakers, but in the 20 years since these came out, these kind of things have been perfected, so the choices here just seem to be here to be different, and it hurts the game.
So what about the story? It’s….there. It’s watered down Final Fantasy X. Ndir is an Auron clone, but 1/3 as interesting. Setsuna is the Yuna analogue but way more naive and still so ridiculously optimistic and positive that it’s absolutely grating. Endir, a cipher for the player has no real personality at all, and his part in the story isn’t really explained once you get the exposition as to what’s actually going on. Some other stock characters round out the party, but none stand out all that much. Even more baffling, right after you defeat the second-to-last major boss fight you get one more character to join your party. Why? I don’t know. He doesn’t add much of anything to the story, and because of the aforementioned issue with the spritnite, his being over leveled compared to your party is meaningless. I used him for a few trash mobs and on one of my failed boss run attempts, but you could easily never use him in battle at all and still beat the game. He’s just there. I will also say the ending is quite divisive and a lot of players don’t seem to like it. It doesn’t bother me as much for a reason that I can’t give away, but the story leading up to that point is so basically predictable that as you finally get to the final reveal (which is very slowly dragged out over the last major dungeon in the game) you just aren’t surprised. I kept waiting for some interesting twist to the story, and well, don’t get your hopes up. It’s all very trope- filled and lacks any of the nuance or depth of Final Fantasy X. All in all, this is pretty standard stuff, and if you’re looking for the richness that Square Enix can bring to its games, keep looking because you’re not going to find it here.
If it sounds like I’m down on this game, it’s because I kind am. I love this old-school style and was very excited for this game to release. My excitement died quickly though, and we’re just left with a slightly above average game. I don’t think I can recommend it for $40 when the inspiration games can be had for the same price (or cheaper!) on PSN, Steam, or various handhelds. Look there first instead. Otherwise, if you are a JRPG fan, I’d try and pick this up for $30 or less, I just think $40 is a bit overpriced.