Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Review
Platform: Wii U
Release Date: June 24th, 2016
It’s been over three years since its announcement, but the Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem game we’ve been waiting for is finally here! While it’s a far cry from the initial concept (which let’s be honest was vague to being with), the game is still in the hands of some of the best JRPG developers, Atlus. How does it hold up? Does it stand as its own entity, or does it awkwardly hide in the shadows of its two pedigrees? I’m happy to say that despite its unconventional tone, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is an excellent game you should seriously consider getting if you own a Wii U.
The story of Tokyo Mirage Sessions starts out with Tsubasa Oribe, a young girl with dreams of being an idol, and her best friend Itsuki Aoi going to an audition. Shortly after, we find out that people are being possessed by creatures called Mirages. After Tsubasa is dragged into a portal with Itsuki in hot pursuit, they are attacked. However, with the power of their Performa, Itsuki and Tsubasa overpower the attacking Mirages and become Mirage Masters. That’s only the beginning, as Mirage attacks are increasing. Joining up with Fortuna Entertainment, it’s up to Itsuki and the other Mirage Masters to find the cause behind the invasion.
While it may sound a bit generic of a premise, the story mainly serves as the foundation that the characters and side stories reside on.It’s inoffensive, but it does have some narrative flaws.
Amnesia feels like it’s almost never done well, and Tokyo Mirage Sessions sure likes to use it. Practically every important character that would know anything about what was going on now can’t remember anything. If this aspect is handled well, a story can avoid the turn for the worse. To avoid spoilers I’ll leave it there, but as a side note I honestly hope that this story’s Big Bad isn’t as predicatble as it seems. It isn’t really a knock against the game, just a personal gripe.
While I have my issues with the story, the game is made so much better with its characters. Why? In short, everyone is likeable. Even characters like Yashiro and Barry (who I couldn’t stand when I first met them) are enjoyable after giving them some time. Some of the side characters aren’t as strong, but they do make an impression when on-screen.
The side stories you get with these characters make them all the better and can also grant you gameplay benefits. The only downside to this is that a lot of these stories feel like checklists. Most don’t really take advantage of the game’s mechanics, but when they do, it’s much better and makes for stronger characterization.
Another reason for such good characters is probably in the voice acting. True, Tokyo Mirage Sessions only has Japanese voices. After taking the time to listen, however, I found myself enamored with the performance and didn’t want to skip through the dialogue after I had read the subtitles. This is largely due to the great voice direction. I will say that it bugs me when English words are spoken and the subtitles don’t mesh, but the important thing is that the context isn’t lost in translation.
For the rest of the sound design, Tokyo Mirage Sessions has expectedly good music for a entertainment-industry-themed game. The main songs performed by the characters are actually industry-produced songs, but it sucks there they aren’t the full versions. I was a little worried that the regular music would be insubstantial in comparison. I’m glad to say that is definitely not the case. The overworld music only has a few variations, but the composition of these tracks make them pleasant to listen to repeatedly.. Dungeon themes also serves as a good juxtaposition in both tone and intensity. Out of all the music, though, I was most impressed by the variety and quality of the battle themes. These are really great at pumping you up!
As for the visuals, Tokyo Mirage Sessions isn’t graphically complex. The simpler style does make for memorable scenery, and the details are bumped up where they are most needed; for the player characters, their Mirages, and on the battlefield. The aesthetic of unimportant NPCs as colored silhouettes is a nice touch, though I will admit it looks weird at times. Scenes that you would expect to see some movement in can have paper cutouts for NPCs instead.
Enemy designs are also nicely done, while still being clear what class they are. Since weapon weaknesses are like Fire Emblem, readability is key. By extension, dungeons are also visually distinct, matching their respective sections of the entertainment industry.
As far as outfits, there were some changes made. Battle costumes are untouched, but some of the other side costumes have been tweaked, mostly for Tsubasa. While I have no problem with these if it is the developer’s decision to suit the broader Fire Emblem fanbase in the west, some of these tweaks just don’t look good.
When the costumes are overhauled, they look fine. The change of modeling clothes in Chapter 2 from bikini to street still works in the context of Tsubasa’s character (granted it takes away some of the impact of the scene). When they’re modified, that’s a different story. Tsubasa’s wedding-dress/pegasus costume shows more skin in the Japanese version, but the Western version decided white paint was the way to go. If it was redesigned it would be hard to notice, but this is just jarring.
The good thing about this is that the costume alterations are the only real flaw Tokyo Mirage Sessions has from a presentation standpoint. Still, the overall look of the game is not exactly AAA. Things like a still photo slide for switching characters in battle and only one character from the party on-screen in dungeons instead of all three make this really show. While it’s not hitting Persona 5 levels of presentation, it’s still commenable for its scale.
The visuals are clean and somewhat plain, but that lends itself to a smoother running game. Load times have improved when compared to the Japanese release, and there’s only one section of Shibuya with noticeable slowdown. Well, that and when Mirages materialize, though the latter could be visual flair.
With all that out of the way, you’d expect the game to be all style and no substance. On the contrary, Tokyo Mirage Sessions is an excellent JRPG that combines elements from both the SMT/Persona and Fire Emblem series. While the actual turn-based system and weapon skills lean heavy on the SMT/Persona side, things like the weapon triangle, weapon upgrades, and classes are Fire Emblem through and through.
Rather than just being copied and pasted, though, the battle system has many features to set it apart. Sessions are an integral part of the combat system. These are triggered when you hit an enemy with a skill it’s weak to and allows the other party members to follow up with free hits. Enemies can also trigger Sessions on you, so be aware of your weaknesses.
Special Performances are skills that use a separate SP gauge built up by using Sessions attacks. These can have a variety of effects from buffs and heals to weakening enemy resistancies. Ad-lib Performances fall in a similar category, but these are triggered at random. When using a skill, an Ad-lib Performance can change the effect and improve its power.
The final special attacks are Duo Arts. These are obtained when reaching certain objectives between two party members in things like side missions. After triggering a high number of Sessions, you’ll be prompted to hit L or R to use a Duo Art and are treated to the equivalent of a Final Fantasy summon in terms of animation time. Luckily (like most of the aspects of this game) these can be skipped through. On top of that, there’s a chance that your Session can be continued after this attack is complete and it’s also possible for yet another Duo Art to be triggered. In instances like this, enemies fall like dominoes.
Unlike your regular jobbers, stronger enemies and boss fights will really put you to the test. If you haven’t optimized your team as far as weaknesses goes, it’s easy to wipe. Since enemies have to be hit with a weakness before the exploit are visible, you’re forced to try out different attacks. One nice remedy to this is that Special Performances always trigger Sessions. As long as your follow-up attacks are at the very least resisted by the enemy, it’ll continue. For bosses, failing is fine because you’ve prepared. You can’t say the same about savage enemies. These are always at a higher level than you, so if you’re not ready, run.
The battle system isn’t the only carryover, as Tokyo Mirage Sessions features dungeons akin to SMT/Persona games. Coming from the randomly-generated dungeons of Persona 3 and 4, these designed dungeons are superb. Each one has their own gimmick, like moving arms of a maid costume to reach new floors or avoiding camera flashes that teleport you to the beginning of the area. The traversal through these is also nice and varied. Some have tight corridors with lots of verticality, and others are wide open with large, flat areas.
As with any RPG you need experience to level up, get stronger, and gain new abilities. Besides that, Tokyo Mirage Sessions also has a unique spin on how you inherit skills. Using drops and Performa harvested from enemies, you can make new weapons with differing strengths and weaknesses, as well as potential skills. There are some skills that repeat, but even if they’ve been learned, you can use that to boost the power of your current skill. You can also use Performa for special passive skills like the ability to survive a lethal blow or participate in Sessions when not on the battlefield.
While it may be a lot to take in, the game’s mechanical progression is easily one of its strong points. It strikes that ideal balance between burdening the player with tutorials and keep the gameplay interesting. That’s important, especially in RPGs where battles are repetitive and grinding can be a necessity.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is not perfect. The clichéd characters and story, the simple and sometimes inconsistent visual design, and the heavy Japanese tones may turn some away. Nevertheless, this game has heart, and a tight gameplay package doesn’t hurt it either. It’s not really mentioned a lot in this review outside of gameplay, but the nods to both the Fire Emblem and SMT series are appreciated. That said, the biggest takeaway from Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is that it isn’t Fire Emblem or SMT/Persona. This is its own game, and it deserves to stand on its own as an excellent JRPG. As of now, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE may be my favorite game of 2016.