I Am Setsuna

Game review by
Neilie Johnson, Common Sense Media
I Am Setsuna Game Poster Image
Soulful storytelling with steep learning curve.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this game.

Positive Messages

Themes include friendship, loyalty, redemption, self-sacrifice. Also examines questionable value of blindly following tradition. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Characters come in variety of flavors: generous, cruel, quirky, noble. Main character, Setsuna, is basically a saint, ready to sacrifice her life for good of humanity.

Ease of Play

Combat can be turn-based or real-time depending on settings, but complex equipment system could be hard for young kids (and some adults) to understand. Spikes in difficulty mean sequences of tedious, repetitive combat. 

Violence

Combat is near-constant but features no blood, gore. Graphics are cute, childlike; defeated characters, monsters simply fall down, vanish. 

Sex
Language

Occasional use of "hell," "damn." 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Players can visit taverns.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that I Am Setsuna is a Japanese role-playing game with Japanese dialogue and English subtitles. Though the storybook graphics imply a younger audience, the subtitles, complex equipment system, and cumbersome combat could frustrate players under 10. Combat is 90 percent of the game (the rest being exploration and conversation), but no blood or graphic injury is depicted. The story revolves around a noble group of friends and one saint-like girl but includes scenes with children in jeopardy and whole villages destroyed. Players can visit taverns, but nothing is shown, and mild language such as "hell" and "damn" is occasionally used.

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What's it about?

I AM SETSUNA is about a young girl whose destiny is to save humanity. Centuries-old tradition dictates that she travel to a distant land and willingly sacrifice her life to prevent human villages from being overrun by monsters. The journey is perilous and she needs protection; ironically, she turns to the very man who's sent to murder her. Though Setsuna is a willing martyr, along the way she and her friends discover the monster problem is much more complex than previously thought and that humanity's salvation might not be as simple as fulfilling their quest. Players who embrace Setsuna's mission are in for hours of exploration and party-style, turn-based (or real-time, depending on the setting) combat. They're also in for a lot of reading -- both subtitles and lengthy gameplay explanations.

Is it any good?

Patience is the key when it comes to enjoying this complex Japanese RPG. Though it's easy enough being pulled in by the pretty watercolor graphics, sticking with it long enough to understand what's happening takes a good amount of work. Contrary to what the title implies, I Am Setsuna isn't about one girl; it's about a group of friends, all with different skills and personalities. That means you don't have to learn to control one character but many. You also have to learn how to combine these characters to best strategic effect, and this is where the difficulty lies.

The problem stems from absorbing the Momentum system, which provides all manner of combat bonuses if you can figure out how and when to use it. This aspect isn't demonstrated very well, and minimal on-screen feedback leaves you wondering if you're doing it right. In addition to that, the equipment system is absurdly complex. It slams you with an exhaustive list of abilities that can only be bought if you have the right combination of about a million materials (things you find while adventuring). Once you've bought these abilities, you then have to figure out what the heck their so-called benefits mean by interpreting a host of acronyms. It all makes sense eventually, but you have to be willing to play long enough (say, six hours) for it to sink in. Once you get it, though, the game becomes highly rewarding, thanks to a sensitive, thoughtful storyline that celebrates friendship and loyalty while questioning the wisdom of following convention for its own sake.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how I Am Setsuna relates to the phrase: "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few." Do you agree with this? Why?

  • Discuss the meaning of sacrifice. Have you ever given anything up to help someone else? 

  • Talk about the value of tradition. When is it good to uphold tradition? When should tradition be ignored? 

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