'I Am Setsuna' offers old-school fun

'I Am Setsuna' offers old-school fun

“I Am Setsuna” is a traditional Japanese role-playing game.

If you’ve played a few of these, you know what that means: an epic quest to save the world from seemingly insurmountable evil; a heroic team of misfit toys, some of whom are hiding “shameful” secrets that turn out to be no big deal; countless hours of gameplay; and an adventure that starts out as a linear progression from one place to another, until just before the end, when you get an airship that lets your traverse the map at will — so you can hunt for secrets and power up before trying to beat the game.

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Despite the title, the central character you’ll control is a mercenary swordsman named Endir, who has decided to escort Setsuna, a young girl who must journey to the near mythical “Last Lands” as a once-a-decade sacrifice, in order to save humanity from the growing hordes of monsters.

If the idea of a sacrifice sounds a little hinky, well, most of the game characters aren’t too certain how it all works either.

Of course, the journey doesn’t go completely as planned, and you’re stuck traversing from town to town, dungeon to dungeon, through the snowy wastes of a frozen world. “I Am Setsuna”
is lavish in its visual depiction of soft, fluffy snow, with characters plowing a trail wherever they go.

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Along the way, you’ll fight monsters, fight monsters and fight more monsters. Yes, it’s almost completely a combat-based game — no puzzles to solve, no crafting worth the name. Just one real-time slobberknocker after another.

To put it succinctly: You’ll try to approach monsters from behind to get an advantage once battle commences. You’ve got a team of three to work with, and you can decide if a character will attack normally, use a special power or consume an item when a special gauge indicates they’re ready to go.

But the battle doesn’t pause while you’re picking what they’ll do, so you can’t take too much time or you’ll be hammered by more than indecision.

You’ll fight to survive. You’ll fight to level up. And you’ll fight to gain the items you need to unlock the special powers needed for success — usually after realizing you can’t progress against the boss monster who has killed your party repeatedly unless you load up that last save, backtrack an hour and farm hexagonal pendants so you can buy the “dispel” ability you hadn’t noticed before.

Item farming is something of a minigame in itself. Items drop from monsters depending on how they are killed, and the system is a bit complex. For instance, those hexagonal pendants only drop if you hit certain winged creatures with an “exact kill” — the damage done is almost exactly equal to their hit points.

Completely different types of item will drop if you do a little too much damage or way too much in proportion to their overall health. Results also vary if you kill something with fire or water, the monster is debuffed, etc.

Figuring out the various monster drops takes work — or a trip to the internet. Seriously, games like this were so much harder before the internet. But I digress.

“I Am Setsuna” is, in many ways, kind of basic. A throwback. Old-school. But it’s fun. An excellent time-sink.

The characters aren’t terribly complex, the story isn’t especially convoluted or even all that engrossing, and yet, it’s still a game where I find it hard to put down the controller.

And that’s something to cherish.

"I Am Setsuna"
PS4, PC (Steam)
E10+ for Everyone 10 and up.


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