Monday, July 10, 2017

I Am Setsuna

I found out about this game from a post on /r/chronotrigger.  The game is completely separate from Chrono Trigger, but happens to take a fair amount of inspiration from it, hence it caught the subreddit's eye.

What's the story?  Spoiler-free, of course.  Well, a very wintry world is under constant threat from monsters.  To keep them at bay, every ten years, a sacrificial pilgrimage is done.  A powerful magic user journeys to a place called the Last Lands, protected by a guard.  Once in the Last Lands, the sacrificial rites must be performed for the monsters to be appeased.  This game follows the story of the currently chosen sacrifice, a girl named Setsuna, as she and the members of her guard undertake the sacrificial pilgrimage.

How exactly does the whole "inspired by Chrono Trigger" figure into it?  Most of the similarities are graphical in nature, but there are also tech names and late-game weapons that reference it.

I'm not counting the save system because so many other JRPGs work in the exact same manner.  You know the drill: you can save whenever on the world map, but in an actual explorable area where there's enemies and possibly bosses, you have to find a save point.  It lacks the auto-save of newer RPGs, which might catch some people off-guard, but it's not too big of a deal given that you can save anywhere on the world map.

It's very blatantly not a Chrono Trigger clone, though.  It contains extra mechanics that allow you to formulate completely different types of strategies.  Rather than gaining tech points and unlocking new techs every so often, you simply gain another slot where you can put a tech, and you can customize what your tech list looks like to suit your strategy.  You can also customize those techs slightly with the game's Flux system.  I'm not going to delve too much further into it here, since this is a review, not a tutorial.  The bottom line is: if you try to play this game as you would Chrono Trigger, you're doing it wrong.

I find the Flux system to be very interesting, because it addresses an issue that Chrono Trigger and a lot of other JRPGs have: generally speaking, you want to save your MP for boss fights and go through regular fights with just your regular attacks.  However, here, you actually want to be constantly using techs in order to get Fluxes to occur so you can power up.

One thing that the game very notably lacks: inns.  This is unusual, even for a JRPG.  You basically just have to use a Tent on the world map instead.  NPC dialogue in one town mentions that there used to be an inn there, but due to monster attacks the number of travellers decreased and it went out of business; perhaps this is the reason behind the worldwide inn shortage.

As much as I love the game's beautiful art style, I would really love to see a climate other than "constant snow" done in this same style.  That said, the snow in explorable areas is handled with a reasonable amount of attention to detail.  Namely, as you (and the enemies) move around, you leave a path of trampled snow behind you.  Since the game is constantly rendering snowfall, if you venture away from an area and back, you'll find your tracks have been covered by more snowfall.  It works.

The game's music is rather interesting: the soundtrack is almost entirely piano.  This is a neat stylistic choice that I feel complements the game's setting and story very well.  The piano is capable of expressing a wide range of different emotions, and the soundtrack handles that perfectly.

Enemies move around their "home" areas, and you can use this to your advantage: sneak up behind them and you start with full ATB meter.  If you're strong enough, you can easily use this to finish things in one turn while taking minimal damage and quickly move through an area.

Positioning of the enemies and your party matters greatly, and the game affords you have a fair number of options for adjusting positioning.  One example is the tech Demi, which pulls enemies closer together while dealing damage to them.  Another example is Cyclone, which knocks enemies back a fair distance while dealing damage to them.  Many techs will also reposition your characters in a reasonably intuitive manner: healing techs often have the character run away from enemies for a set distance before the actual casting animation happens, whereas offensive techs could leave a character surrounded if used improperly, or leave them too far away to take advantage of anything that affects close-by party members.

My end-game strategy just sort of fell into place.  I was using Flare, with a support item that restores some of the casting character's MP when they kill things, and then I got Luminaire.  With it, the Luminaire+Flare dual tech, Supernova, opened up.  Combined with a weapon for the character using Luminaire that restores some of their MP when they hit things, and the fact that most battles are against three or four things that Supernova can easily one-shot, and I was moving through areas spamming Supernova, one-shotting everything, and having the characters' MP get completely refilled in the process.  The remaining character was really only necessary for the occasional heal or use of a tech in case Supernova didn't actually kill something.

Overall, the game is really good and I would definitely recommend it.

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