Many moons ago, I heard of a mysterious crossover that mashed the surreal world of Shin Megami Tensei, with the fantasy inspired Fire Emblem series. Being a fan of both, my then young brain imploded. Unfortunately by the time it released, the Wii U was dead, I had moved on and so the crossover faded into obscurity. Until now of course, because Atlus slapped ‘Encore’ on the end and ported it to the Switch. Huzzah!
The game focuses on the story of childhood friends, Itsuki and Tsubasa, and their quest to become Idols. Multi-talented performers who are meant to inspire and sexually stimulate the horny masses of Japan. Unfortunately they manage to get abducted by Mirages, Demons who feed on performers, before being dragged into an Idolasphere, or Dungeon. All is not lost however, as Fire Emblem veterans Chrom and Caeda appear to save the day. As if destiny ordained it, Itsuki and Tsubasa know to pull a very specific pose and say the magic words and are thrust into a ‘Sailor Moon’ transformation sequence, becoming warriors of truth and justice. With their new found powers, they hook up with a group of like minded heroes and go out to save the world by defeating Mirages and all that jazz.
Despite being a bit on the corny, and wordy, side, this is a great introduction to the game and really cements the games identity. This may be a crossover, but Atlus took many steps to ensure this game could stand on its own two feet. The heavy focus on ‘Magic Girl/Boy’ and Idols may be polarising to some, but it certainly builds an interesting world full of J-Pop and happiness. As Idols, Itsuki and Tsubasa need to train to be Singers, Dancers, Models etc. during the day to fulfil their Idol obligations. Whilst at night, they will don their alternate ‘persona’ and fight crime. Each chapter begins with a new lesson, and ends once the monster of the week has been vanquished. It is incredibly formulaic…for a TV show. Which makes it somewhat refreshing for a video game.
Touching once more on the concept of the SMT x FE crossover, Tokyo Mirage Sessions really does fall flat on its face in its execution on that promise. I am not exagerating when I say there is no Fire Emblem in this when it comes to gameplay, plot or theming. You get a few name drops when it comes to your companion Mirages, a few musical beats and that is about it. There is a very good reason they do not advertise this as a Fire Emblem experience, instead resorting to a ‘#FE’, because that would almost be false advertising at this point. Whilst I enjoyed the cooky Idol nonsense they went with, it would have been nice if they had at least incorporated something substantial from the Fire Emblem series.
Niggling gripes aside, Tokyo Mirage Sessions plays beautifully, which is in no small part to the combat system. Battles are incredibly quick and flashy with a heavy emphasis on offence over defence. Enemies can deal massive, game ending damage without much persuasion. Therefore killing them first, is highly beneficial for your prolonged health. Each enemy has a number of weaknesses, and exploiting them not only deals massive damage, but initiates a ‘Session’. Sessions allow the rest of your team to make free attacks, providing they have the correct skills equipped. Utilising this, along with super attacks and party switching, will ensure you see that flashy victory screen, not the dreaded Game Over.
Combat mostly occurs in one of the games many dungeons, which are slowly opened up to you as you progress through the games story. Each dungeon is jam packed with hidden treasures, quests, alternate paths and enemies meaning you have to constantly scout, explore and fight if you want to bop that boss. Additionally each dungeon has a unique mechanic that helps keep them fresh and varied. One could be moving the arms of giant mannequins so you can advance to different parts of a level, another could be running errands for a demonic director. It is entertaining stuff at first, but these dungeons are not exactly small, which often means the unique mechanic becomes a tedious gimmick by the end.
This length also hinders other aspects of the game too. For example, regaining health and magic is somewhat restricted, meaning you will rarely have enough resources to run through a dungeon in one go. This often results in the tedious exercise of ‘noping’ out of the dungeon, healing up and making the trekk to where you left off. Sure it only takes a few minutes, but it kills the games pacing every single time. This is made even worse when you factor in weapons. Each weapon requires very specific materials found by killing enemies. Each weapon grants new resistances, damage and skills which means you need to constantly acquire new weapons to grow in versatility and power. Crafting new weapons requires you to leave the dungeon, talk to a floating pixie, skip a few cutscenes and then return to the dungeon, probably healing along the way for good measure. The game does not respect your time, and that is not ok in my book.
Outside of mainline quest escapades, you can delve into the vast number of sidequests that are on offer. Character specific quests offer the most intrigue, with numerous cutscenes delving into the backstories and motivations of your cheery cast. These unlock additional abilities, skills and cosmetics, so it is certainly worth doing. More generic quests appear from time to time, and these are more often than not fetch quests. You can do them, but the rewards on offer are usually quite poor. Beyond interacting via these sidequests, there is very little else to do, which is a bit strange if you are coming fresh off the heels of a game like Persona.
When it comes to graphics, Tokyo Mirage Sessions is certainly a mixed bag. Stylistically it is eye catching, but technically – it can look quite dated. Jagged edges are practically everywhere, textures are quite poor as a whole. Despite its limitations, the world itself looks incredibly bright and vibrant, which ties into the games theme quite nicely, and in terms of animation, it is top notch. The biggest benefit of playing this on the Switch over the Wii U however, is the incredibly short loading times.
Interestingly enough, the sound design follows a very similar ‘mixed’ path. The soundtrack is fittingly top notch given the games theme, with sound effects as a whole supporting the design quite nicely. The issue I have is the lack of an English dub. I don’t mind have Japanese voice-overs, but a complete lack of a dub screams laziness to me. That being said, the Japanese voice actors do seem incredibly competent and it did not hamper my enjoyment of the game.
What did was the incredibly poor dialogue, and the often embarrassing pandering that plagues the game. If you have ever watched a badly subbed anime, you will have noticed character don’t really talk in a way that accurately represents actual conversation. Tokyo Mirage Sessions is full of this, which seems to be down to a fairly average localisation job. Again, a dub would have likely ironed those issues out, since a native English speaker would be able to point out these issue (I assume?). In terms of pandering, this game is chock full of cringe. From the “look at me senpai”-esque lines of Tsubasa, to the embarrassingly rapey pickup strat of Istuki and Touma, to the scantily clad ladies…it is just so…Japanese. This will not bother everyone, but I don’t need fanservice to enjoy my games. This game was enjoyable enough without it.
This has the knock on effect of cheapening the characters for me. Tsubasa was never a particularly interesting character to begin with, but having quests dedicated to making her pose sexier, and her practically gushing at the concept of Itsuki watching her made me like her less. Touma is a generic, kindhearted, low IQ kind of character, who mostly stays unmolested. But as I mentioned, even he has a quest here and there. It is a real shame, because these characters are not bad, even Tsubasa. They are just used as cheap boner-fodder one too many times, and that nonsense is just not needed.
Despite its Japanese-ishness, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE: Encore is a solid RPG. Its mechanics are enjoyably indepth, it looks and sounds great, and there is plenty of content to sink your teeth into. Even the unique theme pulled me in, despite the questionable nature of Idol culture. It is purely held back by unnecessary fan service, with a dash of time wasting. If you are willing to look past, or enjoy these flaws, then this is worth a look. If these are a turn off, or you wanted more Fire Emblem, then maybe give it a miss.
For me though, I managed to skip most of the nonsense and enjoy the game for what it was. I am hoping they make a less creepy sequel and abandon the Fire Emblem tag. Let me know in the comments below if you agree with my thoughts on this game.
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