Originally announced way back in January of 2013 (a mere two months after the Wii U’s launch), the crossover role-playing game featuring aspects from Atlus’s Shin Megami Tensei series and Nintendo’s Fire Emblem series would eventually become known as Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE. The Sharp FE gives a nod to the game’s musical storyline as well as the Fire Emblem connection, whereas the abbreviation, TMS, is SMT spelled backward, which of course is a reference to Shin Megami Tensei. So, although the name may sound awkward as hell to most people, a lot of thought went into the title. After three and a half years of waiting, the game has finally been released across the world and while it’s definitely something special, it’s not a game that will appeal to everyone. For the gamers out there who enjoy Japanese RPGs set in current times with a focus on engaging turn-based battles and heavy animé and J-Pop influences, this could be a near-perfect game.
Leading up to the release of Tokyo Mirage Sessions, Nintendo really struggled when it came to explaining exactly what this game was about until about a month before launch. Prior to that, the game was on my radar as a potential purchase, but most of the footage I had seen showed off a bunch of animé girls belting out songs. It would be understandable if most people thought this game was some sort of rhythm game instead of a full-on RPG. I was modestly interested mainly due to my love of Fire Emblem games. At the same time, I hadn’t ever played anything in the Shin Megami series, including the popular Persona games. Once I heard the game was being localized by Atlus and that the voices would retain their original Japanese audio with subtitles, my interest waned slightly. That’s right, I’m one of “those guys” who prefers dubbing to subbing. So, it was at the last moment that I decided to keep my preorder and just jump in. After getting sucked into the story and the amazing battle system, I’m very happy I took the chance.
I’m not going to dive too deep into the game’s story because it’s rather complicated and it’s so much better for you to experience it firsthand. The premise is that one of the main characters, Tsubasa, is an aspiring singer and wants to become an idol. She asks Itsuki to come see her audition for a show. He shows up and soon something strange happens when the host of the event, possessed by an evil Mirage, steals the audience’s soul power, or Performa, and Tsubasa is sucked into a portal. Itsuki runs after her and once inside this other realm, called the Idolosphere, both have an awakening and their own Mirages appear. These are characters from the Fire Emblem series and become the weapons that your characters will wield. It may sound a bit confusing at first, but it becomes easy to understand as the game progresses.
Battles systems can often make or break a role-playing game, and that’s why it’s important to have one that’s fast, fun, and entertaining. This is the case here and the game wisely shows the enemies roaming the world as you move about. If an adversary gets close and spots you, it will hover toward you at a fast clip. Simply slashing it with your weapon will bring it to its knees and you can make the decision to run into it and do battle (with an increased chance of earning a first strike), or simply run around it and keep on exploring the environment.
Once in the battle a turn-based system kicks in that allows you as much time as you need to make decisions. The battles take place on a stage with a crowd of characters cheering you on. Shining the spotlight on an enemy will select your target and you can then inspect it to see its weaknesses, assuming you’ve learned them. As you come across a monster for the first time, you won’t know anything about it. Only by experimenting with attacks or spells will you then find out if they are weak against that type. So, if you try a sword attack it will register it as weak, indifferent, or resistant. Trying different elemental spells like lightning, ice, or fire, will fill in more of the data so that you can truly hone in on what kinds of attacks should be used. Now every time you encounter this Mirage you’ll have a record of what it’s weaknesses are, and when you select it and are highlighting different skills and attacks, a green exclamation point will appear above its head signifying which one is the best choice to do the most damage.
Now, where the combat system really gets fun is when your party members start learning combination attacks, called Sessions. For example, one of your characters may learn a skill that allows him or her to strike after a lightning spell is cast, providing that the enemy is weak against lightning. The game informs you that a Session will take place as you highlight an enemy and pick the attack. If a party member’s portrait lights up green and you go ahead with the attack, he or she will hop right in after your attack to deal some more damage, and that doesn’t even count as their turn. The key to attaining successful battles is to target the Mirages’ weaknesses while at the same time triggering Sessions for maximum damage each round. This isn’t a one-way street however, as enemies can also target your characters’ weaknesses and pull off Sessions as well, which can lead to dire consequences.
Successfully pulling off Sessions will slowly fill up a meter called SP. It can fill up to Level 1, then 2, and then max out at 3. Each character will learn new SP moves as the game progresses. If the meter meets the required number of SP points, you can execute this special performance that will result in a small cut scene and it is often one of the most powerful moves in the game. These have turned the tides of battle on more than one occasion for me, especially during epic boss fights, so you’ll want to use them wisely.
While the game shines when it comes to the combat system, it also excels with characters and their development. I found myself really enjoying all of the various party members in the game and learning more about them through side-quests. I will caution that the story is very Japanese and the concept of becoming an idol may be lost on some. In addition, the way the characters react to things tend to be very over-the-top in a way many animés are. Still, there’s such an endearing quality to the characters that I couldn’t help but root for them to succeed.
A couple of things did bother me while playing the game. First up, the lack of an overworld in a JRPG usually bums me out, and it’s no different here. Like many games these days, you simply select where you want to go on the map and the loading screen pops up. Speaking of, the loading is a little on the long side in this game, which can be slightly annoying since you often need to warp back and forth between locations. And that leads me to my final issue: the constant need to exit the dungeons and come back to them. Not only are there story elements that often mandate you leave and come back, but also oftentimes you’ll defeat new monsters and obtain new Performa, which will unlock new weapons for you to create, which are needed to learn new skills. The only way to do this is to leave the area (loading), warp back to your home base, run across the screen, open a door (loading), and then run a bit to talk to a character and have her create the weapon (boring cut scene that can thankfully be skipped), and then exit the area (loading) and then exit the building (loading), select the dungeon (loading), and then go into the dungeon (loading). As you can see, this process can become increasingly annoying the longer you play. Plus, many dungeons have plenty of puzzles to solve and these often require you to backtrack, which sometimes really feel like padding.
Graphically the game is gorgeous and beautiful to look at. It’s super bright and colorful with intricate animations on the characters. The menu system is especially cool at as it is highly stylized and cleverly named. The user interface and maps all work well and I really enjoy the use of the GamePad as it serves as your map as well as your cell phone. You’ll receive texts from your party members that will offer up new quests and more storyline points.
The music in the game is also on-point. Each dungeon has its own theme music, as does each area of the city. The battles have great music that really gets you pumped to kick some ass. I already mentioned that all of the vocals are in Japanese. Although I would have preferred a dub, they sound great and seem to fit the characters perfectly. It also makes sense that a game set in Japan would have Japanese-speaking characters.
I am quite pleased with Tokyo Mirage Sessions. The story is very unique and the battle system is engaging and fun. The characters are likable and the game has just the right amount of crazy plotlines to keep you guessing. The difficulty may be a bit high for some people, but luckily you can change that anytime you like. If you have it set on normal or higher, be prepared to have to grind a bit here and there and to really pay attention to the enemies’ weaknesses. I would have liked a bit more Fire Emblem integrated into this game, but as it stands it’s still a fun experience. If you’re a fan of turn-based RPGs and don’t mind J-Pop animé sprinkled throughout, this game is a safe bet. Just don’t go in expecting a Fire Emblem experience, as this is not that game.