I Am Setsuna is the sort of game I wanted to like more than I wound up liking. It’s beautiful and elegiac and I confess to having a thing for brooding, plaintive all-piano soundtracks. It also opens with a promising, grist-ful twist: “You mean I have to make sure someone dies?”
But it turns out to be a veneer of profundity infused with sentimental winks and nods painted over a grinding succession of prosaic battles against lackluster opponents. It’s like getting to play a high-res Super Nintendo game that’s immaculately produced and tonally intriguing, underlaid with game ideas that fail to let you showcase what you’ve learned by letting you tangle with genuinely devious, rhetorically memorable foes.
As I wrote in my review of the PlayStation 4 version (it’s also available for PS Vita and PC):
“There’s a place for evocative retro games like I Am Setsuna in our libraries and conversations about what games mean or ought to be, whether crafted by publisher-anointed studios like Tokyo RPG Factory, or genuine indie outfits like Yacht Club Games. But they need fine-tuning, and at least a modicum of contemporary awareness. I Am Setsuna is visually haunting and whimsical and sometimes even tactically intriguing, but it’s also monotonous and needlessly confusing. Surely we can have these experiences with more of the former, and less of the latter.”
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Write to Matt Peckham at firstname.lastname@example.org