The launch of a new console is always a chance for new games to shine, or in this case for older games to get another look in and while I Am Setsuna is not going to showcase the Switch hardware in any form, it is a game that stands out as one of the launch windows best.
The game starts with your character making their way through a snowy forest on a mission to save a women kidnapped by a monster and upon defeating the beast, you are approached by an unknown man, who offers you your next job, to kill the young girl named Setsuna. After accepting the quest, Endir, the main character, unless you choose to rename him, heads for the Last Lands, where Setsuna lives and upon his arrival and subsequent finding of said character, it is discovered that Setsuna is set to die in a matter of days as a sacrifice to keep the monsters at bay. You are then asked if you would help Setsuna fulfil her role on the island and when you do, you are joined at first by Aeterna and then others down the line.
Setsuna knows what her role is and while she understands that her sacrifice will help protect the people of her village, she does seem to struggle with it for most of the game. Aeterna is the first to join your party and she does so, specifically so she can keep Setsuna alive and while she does not trust you, because Setsuna believes you can help, she agrees to help you out. As you progress, more and more characters will join your cause and while each has their own reason, they all feel grounded and help the story progress. While the increase of characters could be a hindrance, each of the characters from Kir to Fides, offer something to add including the abilities they offer in combat.
Speaking of combat, you will be doing a lot of it here, the game attempts to keep things fresh, by offering you a hint of classic gameplay, but still adding in touches of the modern. The games overworld, while interesting enough, thankfully does not contain any enemies to encounter, in fact every enemy you can fight, you will see before you enter combat, giving you a chance to try to avoid them if you want to. Even approaching enemies differently can have different results in combat, approach them head on and they will see you, which loses your advantage, but if they are looking away from you, you can sneak attack, letting you deal a little more damage before the battle starts for real. Once you are in combat though, things will likely feel like games from the classic era, with players locked to their space until they attack, once they attack, they will move around the fight for that purpose, then remain still again.
Each character in your party has their own benefits in a fight and while characters like Setsuna are better at healing, the depth of the combat comes from the Tech system. Techs are gained by obtaining magical stones called Spirtnites, which are them inserted into special talismans and each one will grant a character a special power. The first one that you will obtain is Cyclone, which you can use to deal damage to a bunch of enemies within a given space, but should you keep searching you will obtain more, which can impact the game in some very powerful ways. While there is a limit to the number of techs that you can have active at any given time, some of them are so powered up that if used correctly, you may find yourself destroying some enemies in single attacks chains.
In addition to the tech system, the game also gives you Momentum to help you in combat and while the game does not do a great job of explaining it, it took me far too long to understand the system, it does allow for some stronger attacks. You have a power gauge that slowly fills up over time, during a battle and if you press the right button at the right time, you can trade your stored momentum in for a much stronger attack. While the system took me a while to adapt too, it came in very handy for some of the boss fights that I had, as dealing extra damage in a single attack is always welcome. The best news is that you can stack the power ups, so if you don’t use it right away, the bar starts to refill again, giving you a second or third boost, something that again is welcome. The game however has one major issue with its world, its connected in a way that makes travel a bit of a chore, given the lack of fast travel or world map even, you will spend a lot of time walking to and fro, with the worst scenario being that your adventures might often see you searching a space for the exit you need to find, but worse than that though, is the limited save points, which combined with the lack of map, has you searching for them more than anything else.
Perhaps where the game shines the most and also is dimmest is in its presentation, getting the good down first, the game is visually amazing. Walking around the world, discovering the caves, forests and few towns the game has, shows off a wonderful art design, with characters and locations all looking incredible. Endir and Setsuna have a very distinct look to them, which allows for quick recognition, but it also helps break the standard roles that one might try to fit them in. Setsuna has a giant metal ring in her hair, which could be explained away as just decoration, but she will actively use that in combat, which was something I did not expect. The towns have this lived in feel and thanks to the constant winter setting, all show off small touches, that help to sell the world, foot prints in the snow, the breath of people, getting caught on the wind and so on.
Sadly though, this is where things can get a little strange, the entire game is set in Winter, which means each of the locations you visit, excluding the underground parts, are all going to stay stuck in winter and as I stated above, there is nothing wrong with that, it looks really nice, some variety would have been very much welcomed. Seeing the forests as Winter ends and the snow starts to melt could have provided such amazing colours and sights and when combined with the games art style, well that would have been a sight to see. The other issue I have is with the character models, at least their feet anyway. Almost all the games characters have the same design in that their legs taper down to points, you know, where their legs would change to feet and while this is not game breaking in anyway, it feels cheap and hurts the rest of the visuals.
From an audio perspective, things are much more balanced, the games characters only speak in grunts and groans outside of cutscenes and while they do speak in full dialogue in those cutscenes, it’s an option that you can turn off if you don’t like it, I myself turned it on and then off and then back again, quite often actually. The world sounds alive, from the rustling of the trees, to the crunching of the snow under your feet, when the music dies down, the game still sounds great. And speaking of the music, it is truly wonderful to hear, the melodies are simple, yet they stuck with me, long after a session in the game had ended. The only concern I have with the soundtrack is that they rely a lot on the piano and while there is nothing wrong with the melodies, given that the piano is the forefront the music, it tends to feel like the music is blending all together in how it sounds.
I Am Setsuna on Switch is a great game, while it won’t be winning any awards for using the tech to its fullest, it does deliver a game that contains a great story and interesting characters, all wrapped up in a wonderful presentation. The lack of map or the limited save points drag the game down and given the large amount of back tracking, what sounds like a non-issue, will end up frustrating players more than anything.