I am Setsuna is a sad game. It’s the theme and emotion hanging over the entire endeavor. Atsushi Hashimoto, Tokyo RPG’s founder and the game’s director, even talked about it in an interview with Siliconera. As dour and melancholy as the game can be, it wasn’t the thing that struck me most about the game as I played. While it is absolutely a game designed to play on your emotions and leave a player in mourning, there are other elements that come through. It isn’t all dark and depressing. There’s light interspersed within.
What first struck me about I am Setsuna is the feeling of knowing there’s something worth protecting. Like Final Fantasy X, this is a game about escorting a young woman with an incredible power on a journey. We follow Setsuna as she goes through the world, knowing that she has to be kept safe to ensure everyone’s survival. That alone would be a reason to look after her, to the point where I was afraid to even let her fall in battle. (She never did.) The game does its best to convince you of her importance and executes this in such a way that it’s easy to believe it.
I am Setsuna even makes us feel like we need to safeguard her, due to her actions and attitude. This is a young woman who genuinely cares for the people around her. Even though she’s the sacrifice who should be cared for, she won’t allow the people who act as her guardians to face dangerous situations alone. She’s determined to reach the Last Lands with them, putting herself on the front lines to guarantee their safety. Her actions and attitude make you want to care and look out for her. We have a duty and, thanks to the situations we find ourselves in and Setsuna’s behavior toward her role and the people around her, it’s easy to feel like this is a sacrifice and job worth doing.
All of this talk of jobs brings up another point. Everyone has their role to play in I am Setsuna. Setsuna is the sacrifice, headed to the Last Lands to hopefully quell the monsters’ anger and save the world. Her guard are her sworn protectors, dedicated to ensuring she safely carries out her duties. Even Endir has his own roles to play. He’s caught up in this whole affair because of his role as a mercenary, ending up with a new obligation. Throughout the game, we encounter NPCs with these same kind of tasks, from a woman training up guards to protect a small village, to a mayor attempting to protect his own town with a sacrificial one. The game presents us with people constantly finding their place and attempting to carry out the jobs assigned them.
I am Setsuna is also the sort of game where you can see the warmth that exists in such a frigid world. Endir is a stranger, and Aeterna begins the game wanting to permanently punish him for his actions. He seems a stalwart and straightforward man. On the journey, we gradually see this change. His dialogue options offer an option to be friendlier to the people around him. A bond forms between Endir and the other characters. People prove themselves and connect, even when there appears to be an uncrossable divide between them.
People soften over time. They change as they’re exposed to Setsuna and carry out their duty. It’s an interesting contrast, considering the game as a whole is set in a cold and wintery world. Things can seem lifeless and dark, but there is a growing light that blossoms as Setsuna and her guard grow closer. People join her party because they’re drawn to her and her attitude. She helps them overcome the tragedies in their past and find redemption. Hearts are opened to the light, even in the world’s darkest hour.
Certainly, there are melancholy overtones in I am Setsuna. The whole party knows the purpose of the journey and what awaits at the end. They play their parts, sticking to the jobs they’ve decided to take and safeguarding their charge. They open their hearts to her and each other, growing in the process. Though sorrow plays a big part in I am Setsuna, it isn’t the only thing you’ll feel as you play. This is a game with many themes, capable of evoking many emotions. It’s more well-rounded than it seems, and people will absolutely pick up on these and other themes as they play.
I am Setsuna is immediately available for the PlayStation 4 and Windows PC.