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CONSOLE: PlayStation 4 DEVELOPER: Tokyo RPG Factory PUBLISHER: Square Enix
// review by SoyBomb

I Am Sure You Are.

The name "Tokyo RPG Factory" sounds like a grizzled gray edifice in the industrial section of town where a long, heartless conveyor belt that rolls out banal role-playing games and dumps them into a giant bin labeled "PRODUCT". Nothing could be further from the truth, despite the name's implications. Tokyo RPG Factory is a subsidiary of Square Enix whose prime focus is creating RPGs that evoke feelings of nostalgia from the "golden age" of RPGs, which include classics from the Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and Breath of Fire series, but most particularly Chrono Trigger, in the case of I Am Setsuna, their freshman title. Culling staff that truly harbour a passion for the genre, they set out to create something epic. Did they?

You start out as a mysterious hitman for hire. (The default name used is "Endir", but that's not a very Endir-ing name.) Tasked by an unknown force to murder Setsuna, the upcoming sacrifice to keep monsters away and maintain peace, he soon finds himself conflicted between whether to complete his task or join Setsuna and help her reach the end of her journey. Naturally, he goes with Setsuna to escort her to the Last Lands to fulfill her mission. If he had chosen otherwise, the game would be undoubtedly shorter...and worth about twelve cents. In typical RPG fashion, Setsuna and Endir will not be alone for long, as additional members of note in the world join their crusade. The story and the dialogue work hard to It's a shame the ending is rather dissatisfying, though it does act as an unexpected tearjerker.

The first thing you'll notice in this game is the snow. There's a LOT of snow. In fact, all the islands that make up this world's entirety are snow-covered. That was either a) a stylistic choice, or b) a budgetary choice. I'm not sure which is which, but whichever the case, having a full-on winter wonderland combines simultaneous sentiments of beauty and sadness. I Am Setsuna prides itself on rarely being a happy-go-lucky romp. Instead, it relies heavily on the heavy weight of anguish, the feeling of desolation in the world, and the desperation of civilization to push itself forward.

For its lower price point from the fingers of Square Enix, you get what you get. I Am Setsuna doesn't feel like a fully-fleshed RPG, pushing closer to an impression similar to that of a mobile game. Though graphically and stylistically sound — all character/enemy models and environments are rendered in crisp 3D, which really shouldn't surprise anyone in 2018 — models are small and kept relatively simple. The focus is more on the story and battling than on visual bravado, and that's clearly intentional.

That may explain why some people are absolute chatterboxes: as much as I enjoy a solid story in my RPGs, sometimes I wish scriptwriters would really work their magic a bit more succinctly and evenly. The writing, I feel, is where I Am Setsuna stumbles a bit. As hard as they nudge us to love their characters with ample amounts of palaver, there is absolutely nothing to the main character. We know so little about him; he has no history, no enthusiasm, no moxie, and nothing is ever done to exposit Endir to the point of making us connect with him or even give a damn. Sometimes we are given the option to be him and choose from several responses to someone's inquiry, but the choices are inconsequential, and we still get little insight. I still don't even know his motivation for doing anything, and the game is over. As such, Endir is not so much an unsung hero as he is an unknown hero, despite him being our eyes and ears for 30 hours. As well, the final hour of the game really throws a lot in our face that could have been more spread out; instead, we're provided with too many cases of "why did that happen for no reason whatsoever" and "why is the plot twist here" moments. Were they extremely pressed for time in the writing room? Did they run out of money at the last minute to expand the plot a little?

Frigid environments match frigid scriptwriting.

On the upside, those seeking a classic back-to-basics battle system will not be disappointed. The age of old-school brawling has returned with the Attack/Special/Item menu system. I Am Setsuna employs an Active Time Battle system, similar to that of games such as Chrono Trigger or various Final Fantasy entries, in which enemies won't wait for you to strike before they do. You have to watch a meter fill up and max out before you can choose and take any action, a contrast to older games where enemies would patiently wait for you to choose to stab them in the eye. The only addition of note is the use of Momentum, an additional slowly-building meter that, when it peaks, allows the user to press the Square button (how fitting) to amplify the effects of their attacks or magic.

There are other aspects of the game that either seem silly or shoehorned in. The fact that you don't earn any money whatsoever from fighting hit me the hardest; you only earn cash (which IS needed) by selling off the items won from battle. I wasn't told that and simply assumed I'd be very, very broke for a while. Some of the items you find can be given to town citizens where they'll use their own personal recipe to create special items for you. Bit of a waste of time, this, as the items aren't that useful in the long run to your success. Working your butt off to gain an item that increases your experience received for a single battle hardly qualifies as "worth it".

Meanwhile, other items that you sell to the Magic Consortium (which is really just a random fellow in a dark cloak) can be transformed into Spritnite (not "Sprite-nite" — that's a soda-based evening bash sponsored by Coca-Cola), which is then equipped and used in lieu of actual magic. You never learn magic, you only buy it, similar in fashion to games like Final Fantasy V. Characters can also use items, but they're surprisingly expensive, so a little budget planning goes a long way.

Coming back to presentation, the music here is impressively fitting and either uplifting or discouraging, depending upon the situation. More impressive still, almost the entirety of the game's soundtrack is done via piano and nothing else, composed by Tomoki Miyoshi, a relative greenhorn in the industry whose most notable previous work was the soundtrack to Soul Calibur V. The songs are generally effective in eliciting emotion, and the sharp strikes of the piano closely match the chilled scenery.

All in all, I Am Setsuna isn't a bad game by any means. It does indeed hearken to a simpler age of RPGs. Yet the feeling of just being a step above a modern mobile Kemco RPG never failed to escape me. The genre isn't pushed, it's relived, complete with a trope-filled storyline and a battle system that plays it safe. And, aside from a couple of disgruntled bosses, the quest isn't significantly difficult once you learn basic enemy patterns. Chrono Trigger fans will lap it up, but even they might be disappointed by the lack of depth. I Am Setsuna is a good first try from Tokyo RPG Factory, but I hope that factory upgrades its equipment in the future.

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