Published on January 20th, 2020 | by Ignis
REVIEW: Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore
The latest in the line of Wii U titles being given new life on the Switch, #FE (That’s sharp as in the musical notation not hashtag or hash/pound, so FE sharp or sharp FE not hashtag FE for those of you wondering how to say it) was a game that released on the Wii U back in 2015, when the console had lost all steam and most consumers had moved on from. It serves as a crossover between Shin Megami Tensei (SMT) made by Atlas and the Fire Emblem (FE) series, it is far more SMT than FE in design though that’s not necessarily a bad thing considering both series are well renowned. What does that mean for the Nintendo exclusive JRPG? Stay tuned (Get it? Because it’s a game about idols who sing)
Concept/Story: The game starts with a young girl in a theatre watching a musical, before exeryone starts to disappear, being shrowded in this dark matter, the young girl is protected by sphere of light before she can be taken by this darkness and is the only survivor… Fast forward 5 years and we get to play as Itsuki Aoi, a high school student who goes to see one of his friends (the young girl, Tsubasa from the beginning) tryout for becoming an Idol when everything starts to get weird and events very similar to what happened 5 years earlier occur, Itsuki is drawn to a sectioned off dungeon called an Idolasphere where he awakens his true power as a Mirage Master, a person with incredible creative/musical synergy called Performa who can control the power of what I suppose could be classed as “spirits”.
These Mirages are all manifestations of Fire Emblem characters, with Itsuki’s being Chrom from Fire Emblem Awakening, the Tsubasa’s being Caeda from the original Fire Emblem and so on and give the students the chance to fight other evil mirages (Bosses being based off Fire Emblem characters, minor enemies being based primarily off Shin Megami Tensei) and are recruited by Fortuna Entertainment, an entertainment agency that looks after singers, actors and idols that secretly recruits those with high Performa and nurtures their talent to make them powerful Mirage Masters.
It sets up the game as Itsuki and Tsubasa are both trained to be Idols and as they go through Tokyo leading their new lives in search of fame and fortune while taking out any dungeons (called Idolasphere’s) that may house evil Mirages. It’s an interesting concept that is very Japanese, those used to the SMT or Persona series won’t see anything too new about this though if you’re coming into this expecting a Fire Emblem story, you’ll find very little of it here and my main gripe with the story being that it feels very run-of-the-mill JRPG at times. It’s very hard for #FE to differentiate itself from the other niche JRPG titles out there when it falls into so many of the tropes that other games do and I could see someone coming from a Persona game seeing it as too cheesy.
That said, overall the story while nothing special, is solid enough with dialogue between characters treading a pretty nice line between comical and serious with the various texts and side quests doing a good job of building the cast of characters you’ll be playing with though it wasn’t able to capture me for a long period of time.
Graphics: It’s bright, very colourful and the artstyle is very reminiscent of Persona. There’s a lot to like here from a graphical perspective, the human designs are somewhat bland and standard JRPG style but the Mirages are where the game really shines. Looking at all the player Mirages and particularly the Bosses are a spectacle to behold, they’re over-the-top and look great.
The art is what really sells it for me, kudos to, toi8 for most of the character artwork throughout the game, the level-up screen’s give you a treat of the character’s 2D artwork and I only wish there was a bit more of it, it looks so good that I’m disappointed they didn’t incorporate 2D sprites or images when characters are interacting with one another, it’s something that Persona does incredibly well and the original art in this game, I think, could outshine that of Atlas OR Fire Emblem. Speaking of 2D, the animated parts of this game are awesome. Most of the time it’s for song and dance, but no matter what you’ll wish the rest of the game looked like this.
Animations for the most part range from okay to incredible, characters speaking to each other show a little emotion with head movements and basic smiles, but not much else save for an arm moving every once in a while and most of the friendly Mirages show very little at all given that their faces are almost entirely covered. Battle animations are good, though I wish they varied a little more. Many of the attacks in the game can be split into “X Character’s physical attack” “X Character’s special attack” with a little fire, ice or thunder thrown into the mix sometimes, which is a shame because you see them SO MUCH thanks to the Session mechanic (Which will be covered in more detail later). The “ad-lib” performances look great, usually taken from a character’s Idol performance with a move factored in, and are long and visually impressive. You can even skip them too when you start to get bored which is a nice touch
Idolasphere’s (This games dungeons) are unfortunately, generally quite bland. This game is at it’s best when it’s embracing it’s Idol nature with bright colours that pop everywhere you look, these areas are devoid of colour which makes sense from a narrative perspective — Evil Mirages are what make up most of these places and they steal Performa — but means that the areas are usually pretty dull with the bright greens, reds, blues being replaced with browns, blacks and dark purples.
When #FE is in it’s element embracing it’s bright pop nature, it looks wonderful. The setting from which you battle is on an Idol stage with lights and a crowd watching is awesome I just wish that they leaned a little more into it. Then I guess it would be a bit too much colour, but for a game like this I don’t think too much colour could be a bad thing, given how it loves to embrace it.
Gameplay: Your day to day gameplay involves you walking around through various parts of Tokyo speaking with other members of your party with most of it involving going from one place to another or fetch quests (Especially with the games side-quests), here you’ll spend time going to shops to upgrade your party or learning more about being an Idol. If you’ve played an SMT or Persona game before, there’s not a lot new here and you know what to expect. For those of you who haven’t, expect long periods of slice-of-life where you live your life as an Idol and long periods of trudging through dungeons. It’s a balance that the game generally gets right though Idolasphere’s feel very drawn out at times.
The main meat of the game is traversing the above Idolasphere’s where you will encounter enemy mirages and battle them in turn-based combat and there’s a lot to like here, unfortunately the same can’t be said of the actual dungeons themselves. Idolasphere’s are usually built around a puzzle which you’ll have to engage with to make your way through needing to battle through Mirages as well and these puzzles are mostly frustrating in my experience, dragging out what would be otherwise fine level design with long, arduous puzzles involving flicking of switches and the like. Basic enough that anyone can do it, complicated enough that you can’t breeze through it and frustrating enough that you simply want to be done with it.
If you’ve played any turn-based RPG before you’ll understand the basics, you can attack, guard, use specials/magic, swap out party members, run or use items. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before and is well-made for what it is, if a little generic though this game does a lot more to seperate itself from the rest of it’s RPG bretheren. At the top of the screen, you’ll get to see the turn order which gives you a nice little indicator of when Itsuki, Tsubasa or any of your other roster will get to attack, along with enemy attack order as well. If you kill an enemy, they disappear from the turn order which means you can target specific enemies if you want one of your characters to act sooner which throws a nice level of strategy into the mix.
Leveling up your characters will offer stat level-ups akin to the Fire Emblem series allowing you to deal more damage and take less – pretty standard affair for JRPG’s. Where the game differs is through the Carnage mechanic. Carnage are your weapons which your Mirages turn into, as you kill enemies throughout the various dungeons you can build new weapons for each character, with each weapon having it’s own set of skills for you to learn very similar to something like the Final Fantasy Tactics series. Once you’ve learnt all the moves on the weapon, you move on to the next and it gives you a fantastic incentive to not skip battles and try out new weapons even if you’ve found one you like. Some of these skills will allow your party members to learn new moves, others will allow them to learn Session combos.
Which leads to the Session mechanic and what is I feel, the crux of #FE’s gameplay. Each enemy in the game has a list of strengths and weaknesses, one may be resistant to Lances but weak to Swords for example (Which initially gave me some hint of Fire Emblem, but is pretty traditional to the SMT/Persona series as well) if you hit said enemy with a Sword skill you’ll allow other members to jump in afterward provided they have a Sword combo (For example, Tsubasa can attack with her Lance whenever Itsuki uses a Sword skill like Cleave, other party members will also jump in if they have a combo off a Sword move. Meanwhile Itsuki will jump in with Thunder if Tsubasa hits an enemy with Wind). It’s difficult to explain, but there’s a lot of depth here and I found myself building parties around specific moves to abuse enemy weak points and it’s a ton of fun when you start adding more party members and getting a nice number of skills in your arsenal. The only frustration here is that whenever you perform a Session, all following characters will also attack. While it’s pretty fun at first, watching 6 characters attack one after another after EVERY attack can get old, and draws out combat way longer than it should but the game is built around this. Enemies have much higher health pools which forces you to use this mechanic to take it down, it’s a minor gripe on what is otherwise a very intuitive and neat mechanic, but it is a gripe nonetheless.
The game is fun to play, the battle mechanics are well thought out and are a breath of fresh air from the standard RPG experience, and is familiar enough for anyone who has experience in these sorts of games with enough new stuff that you’ll always have something new to sink your teeth into while anyone new to the genre will find themselves being introduced in a beginner friendly way to a nifty RPG battle system.
Sound: #FE has an entirely Japanese voiced cast who all do an admirable job in their roles, anyone who has played JRPG’s or watching any sort of anime will be aware of many of the traits played here and while there isn’t too much new or any real standout performances, everyone does a solid job.
Enemy Mirages and weapons sound fine for what they are, growls, clinks and clanks, ice shattering how you’d expect it to. It’s all done well and while nothing that will blow your mind is good enough that you don’t really question it.
What REALLY steals the show here is unsurprisingly the music given that it’s a game about Idols. Anyone who is a fan of J-Pop is in for a real treat, with loads of inspired tracks performed by the games voice cast and it’s incredibly catchy. Anyone who has ever walked down Akihabara will find a lot of the music here very familar and it’s all original work.
Awesomeness: I’m a huge Fire Emblem fan, Shin Megami Tensei as a series has always been good, but never good enough to capture my attention for a long amount of time. This game immediately caught my attention for it’s introduction of Fire Emblem and while I wish it made a little more of an impact, just knowing that I’m playing around with various characters from Awakening and the original Fire Emblem is just awesome.
Even though the strength/weakness mechanic is seen in other SMT and Persona games, it also follows a general Fire Emblem rule, enemies that are wielding Axes will be weak to Swords and strong vs Lances. Enemies that are mounted will be weak to the various ‘Slayer’ moves throughout the game (Horseslayer for example), these are nods to Fire Emblem in a very positive way that I adore and even the level-up chime is straight out of the FE series which always gives a hint of nostalgia.
While there isn’t any grid based FE gameplay to speak of, there is enough of an influence in the game that you can say it’s not JUST another SMT game or a Persona clone, there’s enough there that you can see there is some Fire Emblem influence which I love.
Final Word: All up, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is an experience any fan of the RPG series shouldn’t miss, especially if you missed out because of the Wii U. There’s a lot to like here, and with 40 – 60+ hours of content should give you a lot of bang for your buck.
Now I will say from a re-release perspective, the game doesn’t have a huge amount of new content. There is a new dungeon that expands the games cast’s backstory and it does come with all nearly all the DLC released in the West but aside from this, I’m not sure I could confidently tell someone it’s worth their time if they’ve played it before on the Wii U. If you loved this game and want to give it another go or you never ended up finishing it on the Wii U, this is the time to give it a second shot. If you finished it hoping for just that little bit more, you’re probably not going to get what you want, though #FE does feel like a more ‘complete’ package now and having access to the DLC dungeons at the start of the game is a nice touch that allows you to break the game by overlevelling if that’s what you want to do.
It’s a great RPG experience, it’s colourful and bubbly and while the story can be bland and the puzzles frustrating the rest of the game is a good time. It never gets too dark, is always on the light and carefree side it’s great to listen to and most of all it’s fun. I don’t think I’ll be singing it’s praises in a years time, but I’m glad I played it and it’s certainly worth your time as well.
Out of 5 Bugs!