Developer: Atlus, Intelligent Systems Publisher: Nintendo Platform: Wii U Release Date: June 24, 2016 Copy purchased
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is a colorful, stylish Japanese role-playing game that attempts to blend the beloved Fire Emblem and Shin Megami Tensei franchises in a unique experiment revolving around the Japanese entertainment industry. Despite a somewhat thin story and a few dragged out dungeons, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is a game that deserves a moment to shine in the lime light and be talked about. Stranded on a dead console, caught within a niche of a niche, and finally censored for western audiences, I think it’s safe to say TSM#FE is a game most will overlook. At its core, however, it’s a polished, fun experience for all fans of JRPGs that keeps itself engaging through intricate character building systems, flashy combat, and appropriately spaced-out “otaku” pandering (if you’re into that sort of thing… like me).
You play as Itsuki Aoi, an average high school student who finds himself thrusted into the into the Japanese show business and the mysterious world of Mirages. Charging into an unknown world called the “Idolsphere” to save one of his close friends from a villainous-looking TV show host, he discovers he is one of the rare few known as Mirage Masters, those who are able to wield the power of “performa” and bind with Mirages to combat the evils that await. Using his performa, the manifestation of creative energy, Itsuki allies with the mirage named Chrom, known to most as one the main character of the game Fire Emblem: Awakening, and begins his journey on the road to stardom with his friends.
Developed by Atlus, the creators behind the Shin Megami Tensei franchise, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE maintains the studio’s signature flare, known best in the popular Persona 4 and soon Persona 5, and well-designed JRPG gameplay. The battles play out as performances, each character onstage wielding a flurry of classic Shin Megami spells or Fire Emblem weapons to create “sessions”. Sessions are the apex of the turn-based combat system. By striking an opponent’s weakness, the player’s party begins a follow-up of “session” attacks, learned on an individual basis as you improve your characters, each taking a turn to strike at the opponent. Sessions have the power to turn to tide of battle for either side, inflicting punishing amounts of damage at higher levels. Between Sessions, Special Performance moves, Ad-lip Performances, and Dual Arts, there’s always something going on to spice up the flavor of battle. And, don’t worry if this all seems confusing on paper, the game does a pretty good job of teaching you it’s multiple systems piece by piece to never overwhelm you.
TIP: It’s recommended to get each character in your party to Stage Rank 7 and learn the “Open Audition” Radiant Unity, allowing you to perform sessions from the sub-cast (your remaining allies outside of your primary three may trigger sessions, increasing your damage output and leveling their weapons without ever needing to have them as a “main cast member”). Do not ignore this extremely useful ability.
Along with the turn-based combat and standard dungeon crawl, halfway through the game you will find yourself caught in the exciting yet overwhelming (if you have OCD like me) loop of returning back to old dungeons, or “Idolspheres”, in search for valuable crafting materials. Skills in TSM#FE come, not from character leveling but, from leveling your various crafted weapons. Each weapon has four skills available to it with a fifth skill unlocked after “reforging” it. Reforging allows you to increase the power of your weapon and relevel it, improving your current skills or allowing you to learn a skill you may previously passed on. There’s something satisfying about playing this “numbers” game of watching your weapon damage and ability strength continue to rise as you reforge weapon after weapon. This intricate system adds a whole new level of depth to the game that you, like me, can easily get lost in.
Where the game can lose its traction is in its loose story. The narrative of TSM#FE never really takes off into something grand but, instead, gives you small stories about life among rising stars. It keeps itself fairly segmented, the first four of six chapters each revolving around the different party members and sub-sections of the entertainment industry, be it idols, models, or actors. You get used to the predictable pattern of focusing on a character and their past or on the childhood friend Tsubasa as she struggles through her next adventure in the Idol industry. The story plays it safe, which ends up perfectly fine in my opinion, and takes you along for a ride through the bustling streets of Tokyo, while overcoming hardships along the way (with your friends, of course).
What’s absent from over half of the game, however, is the direct connection to Fire Emblem. Outside of character appearances, sound effects, and some inspired mechanics, the game makes little reference to its Fire Emblem heritage until late in the game. It isn’t until we overcome our personal hardships that we see the grand scheme of the collaboration and importance of the entertainment industry. Even then, the world-threatening story elements are light in their reasoning and abruptly come to a close. Luckily, the narrative of Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE serves its purpose enough to pace out gameplay and dungeons while giving bubbly, energetic moments to keep you smiling.
Similar, in a sense, to past Persona games, TSM#FE feeling more akin to Persona than a mainline TSM installment, you can partake in side quests for each of your party members as you improve their “Stage Rank” and progress through the main story. While not as weighty and deep as the “Social Link” system of Persona, performing side quests allows you learn more about your party members and improve their combat abilities. You’re not deepening your relationship within the game but it gives you a sense of comradery you wouldn’t otherwise have. As we eagerly await the release of Persona 5, early 2017 in the west, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE provides a nice distraction to stave off our hunger with it definite ques in style and gameplay, even if it’s just a light substitute.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is one of my bigger surprises of this year. I never imagined spending a whole month with a JRPG (that wasn’t Persona 5), getting lost its unique premise and deep gameplay mechanics. There’s plenty of layers to keep you busy over this 40+ hour game. While the story never makes it big, the game still manages to hit its stride with smaller light-hearted narratives of friendship and the Japanese entertainment industry, between the large gameplay sections. By the end, I’ll admit the game is still a weird collaboration that I’m not sure ever fully justifies it’s need to mix the franchises. That being said, Atlus has, once again, shown us they are modern-masters of the JRPG genre, turning the confusing collaboration into an all-around entertaining experience. TSM#FE is a game worth keep an eye on so consider brushing off that dusty Wii U, if you’re one of the few who have one. With all that, I’m happy to award Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE a score of 4 out 5. Oh right, and the music’s not too bad either.
PSA: Let’s Talk Personally About Censorship
Originally, I was against buying Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE due to what seemed like silly and unnecessary censorship. I canceled my preorder of the limited edition because I felt Nintendo of America was treating us like children, changing the age of the main characters to 18, covering up cleavage, and completely altering the Chapter 2 dungeon. But, after two weeks of its release and reading discussion threads about the game, I finally caved, threw my beloved principles aside, and picked up a copy. I am a gamer after all and we’re definitely a fickle breed. But, after playing through the game to completion, I can say I don’t regret caving in. A good amount of the censorship is still silly and we deserve more respect as fans but… Chapter 2 really needed to be changed. The prior version gives a false idea that, in order to be successful in the entertainment industry, it’s okay to dress up in scandalous, revealing clothing because that’s what it means to be a model. Now, it’s actually supposed to be convey themes about confidence but I felt the original version of chapter 2 did a poor job in its telling and was actually quite demeaning. For once, I saw an actual reason something needed to “censored” (but really just changed in general, I’m not sure how something like that passed through in 2016). If you were on the fence about the game because of the censorship debacle, I’d say don’t worry too much about it, I think the bulk of it is justified.
Image Source: Offical Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Art and Screenshots