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[Game Journal] gimmegaming - 2022

I Am Setsuna - Part Five
As the party continued on through the mountains, Endir found himself called away by a mysterious voice and was soon face-to-face with the man who had hired him to kill Setsuna. The man asked Endir why he had not done his job, to which Endir basically said he didn't want to. The man was not unsympathetic, but spoke of his duty towards his own master. Still, he released Endir from his obligation and declared they were now strangers. Strange.

Endir returned to the party, telling them nothing of what had just happened, and they continued on once more. Trouble is always on the horizon for the party though and they soon found themselves at a long stretch of sea ice that would be risky to cross. The party decided not to risk it and instead headed south to a town called Royburg in search of a guide, but found the town deserted but for one kid who was being attacked by monsters. The party saved the kid and he explained that the rest of the village had been taken to a nearby cave by a monster. The party left him to hide and then set off to save the villagers.

The party made their way through the cave, freeing the villages as they went until they encountered the kid from the village who was, of course, actually a bug monster in disguise. He was defeated, although he put up a heck of a fight, and retreated into the cave talking about his mother. The party gave chase and found him in a back cavern with the corpse of a far larger monster. Turns out, he had been collecting the villages because he didn't understand how death works and was trying to make her better. The party were astonished, but left the kid monster alive after Setsuna managed to explain death and mortality to him and learned it was the Reaper who had killed the big bug. With the kid monster no-longer a threat, the party simply let him leave and headed out the cave.

On the way out, we encountered a knight named Julienne (a future party member it seems) who intended to kill bug-kid. She was pretty adamant, but Setsuna talked her down while the kid escaped and Julienne very abruptly changed her mind and offered her help in thanks for saving the village. The party asked her to help them cross the ice flows and she agreed to lend them her aid in doing so once they had rested up... also she casually beat the crap out of a dude who offered to help her with stuff for the slight. Apparently, Julienne wasn't all there... oh and also she's a princess?

Exploring the village, Endir and Setsuna learned that most of the population were descended from an Ancient Kingdom that once ruled the whole continent from their capital in what is now the last lands. They also encountered the man who tried to hire Endir before, learning his name is Cornelius and he works under Julienne, although she was kept oblivious to his mission for Endir so she couldn't be his master. That little discussion was halted quickly though as Julienne put out an order to hunt down and kill all monsters in the area, forcing the party to once again go to the bug kid's defence.

Once the kid was finally safe and out the way, the party returned to the village to find Julienne had completely flipped her shit and was readying to casually murder a bunch of her soldiers. The party managed to stop her and as she raged she was taken back into her house by Cornelius. The party would need to continue their search for a guide and also do something about her. Two-birds with one stone though, a villager agreed to be the group's guide if they could help Julienne. To do that, they'd need to kill a monster to trade for the treatment she'd need from the Magic Consortium. So it was time to head into the snow on a Scarly hunt.

It didn't take too long to find what we needed and get the medicine to cure Julienne. The villager then prepared to take us across the ice, but Julienne intervened and volunteered her services instead. She wasn't that interested in Setsuna's pilgrimage, but felt she had to see the old kingdom in the last lands to discover the truth of her lineage and and what happened to the Ancient Kingdom. So, with Julienne in the party, the group set off once more.

So, the pacing actually felt a lot better here which was nice. The introduction of a benign and sentient monster adds an interesting layer to things too. The combat was also really fun through this segment. I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes from here. Might even play some more tonight.
I Am Setsuna - Part Six
Two updates in one day? What is this madness?!

The party, now with Julienne among their ranks, moved into the ice of the Floeburg Waters. I managed to get lost and have to double back from the entry here which was an oof. I also experienced my first loss... to a giant evil penguin. Bad luck more than anything, my party going into the fight was Aeterna, Setsuna and Kir - the three least tanky fighters. They nearly won still, but they took too many resources dealing with its phase 2 attack which was basically an instant kill to any of them (and maybe even the physically tougher trio). Round two I went in with Endir, Nidr and Julienne and bodied it lmao.

Once that fiasco was done, the party was out of the ice flows and into the labyrinthine Archimell Ruins. The monsters here were much less troubling than those of the ice flows, albeit the paralysis was irritating. More problematic for the party was that the ruins were having a strange effect on Nidr and, to a lesser extent, Endir. Halfway through, they passed out and saw visions of Nidr's past with the previous sacrifice and his wife, the previous' sister. They saw the death of the previous sacrifice and learned that his wife was pregnant when he left never to return. Of course, the kid he unknowingly left behind was Setsuna who grew up believing Raishin was her father. Adds a whole extra layer opf twistedness to the pilgrimage that one. It wasn't a huge surprise or anything, but damn. Endir helped Nidr let go of his past misgivings and they escaped the visions, keeping what they saw between themselves for the time being.

With everyone back on their feet, progress through the ruins continued. Soon the end of the ruins was reached, but the party weren't alone there - Reaper was there too. Purely by coincidence it seemed, but he wasn't going to pass up the opportunity. He started summoning up huge amounts of magic to try and nuke the party out of existence, but Aeterna stepped up and cancelled his power out, even though it took a lot out of her. With his one-shot attempt negated, Endir, Nidr and Julienne leapt into the fray and proceeded to beat the living shit out of him until he retreated.

Not much to add here, but I think Nidr might just be my favourite character. He was already kind of the front-runner there, but I am truly just a sucker for tragedy.
I Am Setsuna - Part Seven
The party stocked up in a town called Gatherington and then headed north into the Fridging Caves to continue the journey... except there was a magical dead end there blocking the way. What's worse, nobody in the town seemed to be aware it wasn't a normal dead end. There was a suspiciously aggressive old lady back in the town though, so the party went back to talk to her and see if they could figure things out. Good thing they headed back to, because on arrival Julienne passed out and was in need of further treatment. Conveniently, the grumpy old lady, Sayagi, was also the towns best healer.

Sayagi put Julienne right with ease, and we soon thereafter learned she had been intended to be a sacrifice. A combination of a shipwreck and a dangerous monster in the caves took out all of her guard bar two and herself, but she was also too wounded to continue. In the aftermath, one of the guards, her sister, took her place as sacrifice and fulfilled the pilgrimage. The other remaining guard sacrificed themself in a different way, giving their life to create the barrier, leaving Sayagi alone to grow old and bitter. She was moved by the resolve of the party though, giving them the means to break the barrier and face the monster beyond.

As the party once more made their way through the caves, they encountered Reaper again... but he was too wounded to fight. Most of the party was on board with offing him then and there, but Setsuna intervened since he wasn't posing a threat to them and leaving him alive meant he retained the possibility to change for the better. Reluctantly the party agreed, even though Repaer was still planning to murder them all. Interestingly he was particularly murderous towards Endir and questioned whether any of them were on the right side. The party were quick to put him out of mind though. They continued on to the barrier with a job to do.

The party broke through the barrier and soon found themselves face-to-face with the Aurorean Tiger, the source of the spatial distortions blocking off parts of the overworld (oh yeah, that's been a thing) and a creature that Aeterna somehow seemed to recognise, although it had been a long time since she last saw it. It was time for a boss fight. This thing hit like a freight train and often but it couldn't outheal Endir's Aura and it was soon defeated by a relentless onslaught of attacks. It seemed like it was going to get up and try again, but Julienne had another fit of the crazies and took it out before it got a chance to try again, removing the barriers blocking off the Last Lands. The party was a little concerned, but Julienne was quick to return to normal.

The party then made their way out of the caves and into the Fridging Heights beyond. Aeterna was apparently starting to look a little off, but nobody pushed the issue so it was time to continue. The monster along the way paled in comparison to the Auroreal Tiger, so the party carved a path for themselves through and soon reached the Last Lands.... ish. They got to the end of the Fridging Heights to find that the land around the Ancient City was eradicated for miles, leaving the city on a floating island. Then, out of nowhere Aeterna straight up vanished and, immediately after that, Julienne had another moment of psychosis and nearly stabbed Setsuna. She barely managed to control herself and fled before she could do any more harm. Confused and suddenly missing two of their own, the party returned to Gatherington (Airship time I assume. No idea what to do about Aeterna who noticeably has "time" as her element or whatever the fuck is living in Julienne's head).

Luckily enough, the locals had apparently seen Akash in the area (airship time). So the party set off towards Magna Valley to find him.

So, the game is going hard on its more mysterious elements during this segment and I'm here for it. Reaper, Aeterna, Julienne, Endir, Corelius and the Last Lands themselves are all sources of big mysteries that I am eager to get to the bottom of. I have some vague ideas as to some of it, but nothing concrete. Hopefully tomorrow will bring me some answers.
I Am Setsuna - Part Eight
The party entered Magna Valley where they soon encountered Akash. He told the party that if they headed north through the valley and secured some new spritnite for the airship he was rebuilding from the ruins there, he'd fly them across the Vanished Lands (as they're being called) to the Last Lands. Naturally, the party didn't hesitate to agree. Unfortunately, the party couldn't open the gate to the ruins (they'll need Julienne for that). They continued back through the valley and soon came back to Roryburg where they first met Julienne.

Things were not going well in Roryburg. Julienne was gone and Cornelius and a bunch of other knights had left the village to deal with monsters further out leaving only a skeleton crew to defend the place... which the monsters were capitalising on in a disturbing show of increasing intelligence and strategy. The monsters were attacking in waves too, meaning the few guards didn't get any rest and were worn out, making their job harder. The party decided to help out for a while while they figured out the situation with the royal family crest blocking the ruins.

The party fought through waves of monsters, but there didn't seem to be an end to them. Luckily, Aeterna mysteriously showed up and cleared out the rest of the small fry so Nidr, Setsuna and Kir could take on the incredibly annoying boss, Stout Sheep. Annoying why? Because not only did it hit hard but it had a huge HP with multiple ways to recover its health. Luckily, Setsuna and Kir had ways to render one of them moot. Hibernate though, they couldn't stop, allowing it to recover 999 HP at times. Still, it was eventually defeated.

The party turned to Aeterna for answers, but she claimed she couldn't give them yet and asked for trust on the matter. Nidr was reluctant, but at Setsuna's behest the rest of the party agreed to trust Aeterna until she could explain. Shortly after, Lilus (the villager who was originally going to help them over the ice) showed up. He confirmed that Julienne would be needed to open the ruins. They then listened to some kids sing an old nursery rhyme and were struck with inspiration. They talked to a familiar researcher and came to the conclusion that the ruins might actually house an airship already. Reinvigorated, the party set out to find Julienne and get into the ruins. A task made easier by the fact she attacked Cornelius and Akash who arrived at the village just as the party were leaving. So they knew where to go.

Cornelius explained that Julienne was in Magna Valley, but stuck in a binding spell temporarily. The reason for her insanity? She had been forced by circumstance to consume monster blood to survive once upon a time and was slowly turning into a monster. Luckily, the party knew a very skilled healer and headed back to Gatherington to ask Sayagi for help curing Julienne once and for all. Sayagi was happy to help, much less grumpy these days. It was work, but she and Setsuna crafted the Spritnite for the spell Luminaire, which simultaneously does boatloads of damage to enemies and healing to allies. It would have the power needed to save Julienne, so the party headed back for the Valley and the ruins. There Setsuna cast the spell and saved Julienne, allowing her to return the favour right away by opening the gate to the ruins.

Fuck the ruins. The enemies aren't exactly strong but it's a mix of enemies that spawn more enemies, enemies that can become invulnerable for random amounts of time (that already have high evasion to start) and enemies that can inflict freeze and fuck you completely. Yes, I had to redo the ruins. Anyway. The party made their way through, Julienne answering the questions of a mysterious voice who wished to test her - letting the party learn the interesting tidbit that Aeterna has no human energy as a result. Still, the party decided to trust her and that was enough to pass that question and allow them to move forwards.

The party continued on, passing through one last test to come face-to-face with the source of the voice: Rhydderch, the ancient royal guardian and defender of the ship. He would not let Julienne take the airship without first proving herself to him directly... so basically boss fight time.

He was a tough bastard. Not only did he have pretty high health and defences, but he could damage/heal with Drain like Kir does and summon monsters constantly through the fight. Worst of all though, once his HP was low enough he started doublecasting some really nasty spells like Stop, Flare and Holy Light. If you know Square Enix/Final Fantasy, you can probably guess what those are. Still, Endir, Setsuna and Julienne faced him down and were able to emerge victorious, gaining access to the airship, the Diange.

Next step, the Last Lands where the last few mysteries shall finally be revealed.
I Am Setsuna - Part Nine
So, I started off very Chrono Trigger. There's a bunch of special sealed chests that you can't open until after getting the airship, so I went around and collected the stuff from those and found some interesting/weird optional areas while I was at it. From there though, it was time to head into the Last Lands. The first part of which was a frozen city of village.

The party fought through the village to reach a giant icy castle, the next step of their journey, vowing to stay with Setsuna to the end as they carried on. The party progressed through the castle, bonding during the last hours of their journey. Of course, it wasn't all chill (albeit sombre) conversation, there were monsters to lsay and loot to collect along the way as well. Then, the party found themselves face-to-face with Reaper once more. Unfortunately, he wasn't interested in talking. He wanted only to bring about destruction for his mysterious master.

Reaper wouldn't be too big of an issue... except he's got a nasty new second phase where he gets swamped with monster magic and turns into a big fuck off dragon. He then proceeded to murder me because there's no healing in the middle and I wasn't using a party comp with Setsuna for his fight. For round two, I went in with Setsuna, Aeterna and Nidr instead of Endir, Kir and Julienne. Setsuna's ability to damage and heal at once consistently would be invaluable going forward as would Aeterna's excellent support options and her and Nidr's combination of solid damage and stun/paralysis infliction. Using this party, Reaper in both his forms was quickly and thoroughly defeated.

What followed was a surprising bittersweet victory as Reaper revealed he was created to interact with the world on behalf of his master. He felt his master's emotions and he lamented that he would not see the world anymore. In this moment Aeterna also let slip that she was created. Hearing that, Nidr wanted answers and Aeterna agreed to give them as the party proceeded into the final leg of their journey.

As the party traversed the last dungeon, Aeterna explained that the Last Lands were protected by a barrier containing a powerful monster called the Dark Samsara, a creature that had been created by humanity long ago. The Samsara was the source of the monsters and would end the world if left unchecked. But the barrier surrounding the Last Lands was apparently still maintained by the guardian who created it. The sacrifice's job is to give their life energy to the guardian so the guardian can keep the Samsara contained. Unfortunately though, this process was becoming less and less effective over time.

Through the last portal, the part encountered this guardian - the Time Judge, her human name long forgotten. She not only kept the Dark Samsara sealed, but created Aeterna as a clone of herself who could interact with the world outside in her stead, bringing the Sacrifice to her to provide her with the energy she needed. However, with that ritual losing effectiveness, she proposed another option. She said she would potentially be willing to stake everything on Setsuna and have the party attempt to destroy the Samsara and end the cycle for good instead of sealing it away. Setsuna and the party decided to face the Samsara and fight to end the cycle.

It was there than the Judge revealed the party had been existing in a loop. They had reached the Time Judge and the Samsara many times before and had always decided to take the less risky impermanent option. Always, the Judge had used her power to turn back time and give them another chance with only she and Aeterna remembering. This was the first they had chosen to fight. This time had been very different. The Vanished Land and Reaper were new, as was Endir, supposedly the deciding factor in changing things.

Of course, she wouldn't risk everything lightly. First the party would have to prove once and for all they had the strength and resolve needed by defeating the Judge herself. Endir, Setsuna and Kir stepped up to the plate to take her on. They then got bodied because this was not the right team comp for this fight. Setsuna and Kir were right since they provided much needed mass healing and the ability to remove her Haste, but Endir was mostly dead weight. I decided to try Nidr instead. This went much better even with the Judge pulling out every kind of time fuckery and mass damage she had available. Nidr was a much better fit than Endir since he was tankier and could also use Diffuse to replenish both Setsuna and Kir's MP at once.

Defeated, the judge used her power to bring back Repaer, now Fides, as an ally free from the Samsara's power and disappeared having gotten back her own name, Eutess as well. Unfortunately, Fides has good stats and nothing else when the game gives him to you and I was not backtracking to get new spritnites and stuff. So I mostly went with a team of Setsuna, Julienne and Aeterna going forwards which is probably my most powerful combo.

The party entered the realm of the Dark Samsara. There, they had to defeat four mini-bosses that took their forms based on the experiences of the party to weaken the Samsara before being able to face it directly. Thanks to how cracked the team I was using was, this was a walk in the park. Then came the Samsara fight. The Samsara could do damage like nobody's business, but that was all it really had going for it. With Aeterna Hasting the party and keeping them Hasted, Setsuna was easily able to outheal its DPS while also hitting it hard herself. Aeterna also provided decent damage herself, especially when teaming up to do combo moves with Julienne. Julienne was able to help keep MP up with ethers when needed but spent most of her time delivering the hurt to the Samsara with Meteor Thrust or by teaming up with Aeterna or Setsuna to perform Astral Bloom or Intervention respectively. All in all, this was actually a much easier fight than the Reaper dragon. But still a lot of fun.

In its final moments, the Samsara connected with Setsuna and she felt very human emotions behind it. Aeterna was forced to explain that experimentation to prevent the gradual loss of human magical power had resulted in the monster's creation, a horrifying realisation for the party. The Samsara had once been a powerful human who was subjected to experiments so the old kingdom could maintain their power. At that moment, what was left of the Samsara surged with power and then vanished... shunting itself back in time to rewrite history to its liking.

Hope wasn't quite lost though. Endir and Setsuna could sense the trail back through time just as the Samsara did. With Aeterna's own power being rooted in time, she could help push them back along the trail, although it would likely be her final act.

Endir and Setsuna followed the trail back to the time of the previous pilgrimage, following the Samsara's remnants to the Falling Snow Monument where Endir first met Setsuna. There, they tried to reason with it, but it was too far gone and suffering too much. It tried to attack Setsuna, forcing Endir to step in. However, it wasn't quite done there. Setsuna took the soul of the Samsara into herself, choosing to die with it so it would no longer have to be alone and truly ending the cycle.

So, that was that.

I liked this game a lot. Story-wise, the idea was always for the game to be melancholy and deal with themes of sadness, grief and sacrifice as well as to pay homage to fantastic games like Final Fantasy I-X and Chrono Trigger. I think it managed to live up those themes and tell a compelling enough story, with compelling characters to live up to the legacy it was a love letter to. I Am Setsuna does stand on its own. The writing isn't perfect. There's some pacing issues midway through and the amount of importance the story gives Endir never really feels earned - much like the hero of Chrono Trigger honestly. Kir kind of felt like a lesser Vivi and the inspirations behind the other characters could be felt to varying degrees as well (bar Aeterna unless there's something in FFI, II or VIII I don't know about). I think other than Endir and Kir though, the other characters still stood on their own two feet and were plenty compelling, although more time to explore Fides would have been appreciated.

Mechanically the game was really good, although it does have some issues. The gameplay is mostly the same as Chrono Trigger with nice little things inspired by Final Fantasy VI, VII and IX (maybe VIII idk) that added some interesting twists and originality to it. The combat mostly felt pretty balanced, but I'm not a fan of the Spritnite enemies which are clearly meant to be post-game fights unless you've grinded a ridiculous amount (which would make everything else too easy). It would have been better to leave them off the map and made them 100% post game. There were a handful of enemies who weren't difficult but were really fucking annoying too. Certain lines of enemies that could constantly call for more monsters or that had stupidly high evasion and the ability to become invulnerable for random amounts of time in particular were frustrating to deal with at times. The only gameplay thing beyond that which was a bit bothersome was the talking up and hype of getting Fides in the final hour (another Chrono Trigger reference) only to have him be basically useless unless you're willing to backtrack all the way to Gatherington or something. I really doubt most people want to do that. I definitely didn't.

Visually the game is stunning. Everything looks beautiful and there's a lot of attention to detail with character's appearances changing in the overworld to show changes to weapons and characters of different sizes leaving different sized trails in deep snow. My only note might be that given the grim and sombre tone of the game, making more of the monsters look intimidating instead of cute might have added something to the atmosphere. Granted, the bosses generally had that down.

Musically I have no notes. The minimalist piano soundtrack perfectly fits the mood and there's some beautiful music to be heard.

So, I Am Setsuna. Is it a perfect game? No. Is it a masterpiece? Probably not, but I could see why others might disagree there. It is however a homage to a lot of games that I really loved that is executed very well. Well enough to stand on its own to feet and be counted among them instead of just thought of as a reference. I recommend this one to anyone, but especially fans of classic Square Enix RPGs. It's a good way to get those vibes in a much shorter amount of time. A good way to close out the year.

Writing: 8/10
Visuals: 9/10
Soundtrack: 8/10
Gameplay: 7/10
Total Score: 32/40