When the idea of a Shin Megami Tensei/Fire Emblem crossover was first announced, fans of both series were left drooling. Two amazing game franchises with a rich history finally coming together. It seemed like they could be an interesting, yet complimentary fit. Then it all went quiet, almost too quiet.
It was a long time before the title was mentioned again, with many thinking it had turned into vapourware. After all, the initial reveal only showed character art from each respective series. Clearly the game was barely passed the negotiation stage between Atlus and Nintendo, revealed far too early in order to mitigate worries about the Wii U’s struggling fortunes.
What was eventually revealed 2 years later was something nobody expected. It certainly wasn’t the medieval turn-based strategy many people had imagined, especially from this reviewer. Instead, we got something even more amazing. Tokyo Mirage Sessions was shown in spectacular style: Modern day anime, J-Pop, over the top action; it was bewilderingly amazing. Both SMT fans and Fire Emblem fans didn’t know what to think of it, as they were mostly in shock, but there was one set of fans who immediately gave a surprising smile and a glint in their eyes. Persona.
Yes, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is Persona, albeit in a Super Happy Nintendo-Style. Interested yet? Of course you are.
The story is absolutely bonkers. I won’t tread on too much detail as I would like everyone to experience it for themselves (It can also be overwhelming to take it all in in a couple of paragraphs, so bare with me), but let’s go into the backstory and very early game sections. 5 years ago Tsubasa witnessed the mass disappearance at a concert, including her sister who happens to be a J-Pop Idol. Fast forwarding to the present day Tsubasa is herself attempting to break into the entertainment industry but on the day of her audition things once again go awry. She is kidnapped and taken into something that seems like a highly warped parallel dimension later to be known as an Idolosphere. The main protagonist, Itsuki, who witnessed the kidnapping, recklessly pursues her into the unknown. After a rather close encounter with some shady looking demons, Itsuki’s power is awakened inside of him. His “Performa” energy or something has granted him to cleanse Mirages (the demons), the first of which is Chrom (name ring a bell?) who quickly lends you his power.
I’m exhausted just writing that and I’m sure most of you will have stopped reading. It’s full of made up words and nonsense, but it’s explained more gradually in the actual game and is more interesting than it sounds. By the end of that exercise you and your friends are now fully qualified Mirage Masters each allied with a Mirage partner that grants them their strength as you prepare to deal with the increasingly frequent incidents involving Mirages entering the real world. I thoroughly enjoyed the story despite some flaws, especially with the convenience of some things. For example (very, very early on) after you rescue Tsubasa and both of you have gained your powers, your best friend shows up and is like, “Oh yeah, I have that power too!”. There are a few cheap explanations like this, but I was happy enough to accept it because the plot overall was intriguing and characterful.
Being a turn-based JRPG, the battle system is something you’ll want to know about since it’s where the majority of gameplay is. You’ll be pleased to know it’s excellent. Having three members in your party you’ll fight battles very similarly to, yes you guessed it, Persona 4. You can choose to do a normal attack or use your special abilities which are divided into magic and physical specials.
Interestingly, this is where the Fire Emblem influence shows the most. Physical attacks use the Fire Emblem method with weapon type match-ups, where as magic attacks use the standard Shin Megami Tensei match ups. It mixes both universe’s systems seamlessly. What I also like about it is how simple or deep it can be. During standard battles you can blitz through them without thinking about it, almost like second nature especially when you know what foe you’re up against. Where as in the boss fights the system really opens up and strategy becomes a must. It’s an excellent balance.
Something you’ll encounter early on is the “Sessions” mechanic. As your characters gain weapon levels they’ll acquire new abilities, some of which allow you to perform a combo with other characters depending on which abilities they use. As an example, if Itsuki has an ability called Sword-Lunge, he will perform a lunge attack after an ally uses a sword attack. Getting all three of your fighters into a single Session is vital for winning battles, without it, you won’t make it very far in the game as your opponents can punish you heavily, even normal grunts should the situation permit. Even normal encounters can hit hard and not only that, but they can perform sessions too, which caught me off guard more times than I care to admit.
I absolutely love the battle arena in which you fight your enemies. You and your foes are on a stage surrounded by cheering crowds like some sort of amphitheater. There are large portrait displays of your characters which shows their mood. If they are ready to set up a sessions attack they will look over the moon, if they are about to cause chaos by using magic that could inadvertently heal the enemy, then they will look worried. The whole situation is completely bonkers, yet it suits the game down to the ground. The portraits especially make it a very user friendly experience.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE features your standard levelling up system for your stats. However there are numerous other systems for abilities. It’s actually a little overwhelming at first remembering what things do what, but you soon learn. Your bread and butter abilities will be gained from your weapon. You can forge new weapons with the help of another Mirage called Tiki with a technique called Carnage Unity. With resources gained from defeated monsters you can create more powerful weapons. The weapons themselves can be levelled up a handful f times, each level granting you a new (or upgraded) ability. Whether it be a magic attack, a session ability, or stat boost; levelling up and switching to a new weapon is also vital for making progress in the game.
Tiki can also perform a Radiant Unity which grants each character new abilities separate from those granted by weapons. These ones are permanent and don’t take up any ability slots and are usually of a passive nature such as increasing your health. In order to complicate things a little more for you, in order to do these Radiant Unities, you need to level up a different rank. By using a character in battle they can gain a Stage Level with allows them not only to do the Radiant Unity, but also to access side missions which I’ll cover soon.
It’s a lot to take in but it seems like a well balanced system for improving your characters. All of these systems are connected in a web-like fashion where each one plays a vital role in your development and your progress in the game. It’s not even a chore too. Most of these thing come naturally while playing the game, it’s only the players job to keep up with them, such as remembering to switch weapons once the current one is mastered, making sure you use characters equally and seeking out their side-quests.
A large part of your time will be spent exploring the dungeons of this game, known as Idolospheres. Each dungeon is heavily stylised with simple, but beautiful aesthetics and while they’re all just a little too dark on occasions, they’re very distinct from each other. What I liked the most is that they have light puzzle elements to them. Not enough to distract you or annoy you, but just enough to get you a little more involved. They’re nowhere near as complicated as, say, the dungeons of a Zelda game and that’s fine by me.
There are no ‘random’ battles in Tokyo Mirage Sessions, something which I’m sure at least half of you are cheering at. Instead, enemies will visibly spawn in front of you and chase after you. If you come into contact you will enter the battle arena with them. You can avoid them if you want, easily so too. While running around the dungeon you can press the X button to swing your sword and if you hit the enemy it will knock them away and subdue them. This gives you a huge advantage as you can either ignore them or you can touch them from behind to give a high chance of getting a preemptive strike in battle with them. I love this concept and I think it’s just about perfect as far as enemy encounters go.
Like any RPG worth their salt, Tokyo Mirage Sessions has a healthy amount of side-missions to take on. They come in two flavours. The first is of lesser importance whereby you’ll come across NPC’s either in the other world or dungeons who want to give you a task in exchange for a reward. Simple things such as defeating a certain amount of specific monsters, fetch quests, standard RPG tropes. The more important side-quests are involving the supporting cast’s side story. Between chapters of the main story there are Intermissions at which point you can have a bit of downtime and indulge in your friends’ personal lives, getting to know them better and also give them access to more abilities which is a nice reward for your endeavours.
One of the very few complaints I have with Tokyo Mirage Sessions is the combination of travelling and loading screens. Travelling around Tokyo is done via a map screen and you can select which location you want to go to from the menu. You will be doing this constantly, travelling back and forth between locations which results in you looking at the loading screen just a little too much. It’s not a major issue by any means but you definitely notice it after dozens of hours playing.
The Gamepad is used in a rather interesting way, aside from an obvious map, it functions in the same way as a messaging application. As you’re wandering around Tokyo and the dungeons you will receive constant messages from your team mates, whether about the story, side-stories or just cheers of support, it makes the game world feel more alive and dynamic. Sadly this means there is no off-TV play, but I think it’s a worthy sacrifice.
With an RPG of this scale, on an obviously limited budget (can you blame them?), it’s graphically not the best. I think this can be best seen in the environments which are small in scale and don’t look that much better than Persona 4: Golden. Aside from the scale, it’s not actually something I noticed while playing through it. It was only on reflection (note: when I read the part of my template that says ‘graphics’) did I realise they had much more potential, showing that it didn’t affect my experience at all. I think it’s graphical flaws are well hidden by the bright and colourful art style.
With a heavy focus on music and the whole entertainment industry, you’d better expect a half decent soundtrack, and thankfully it is as bonkers as the game’s concept, with a definite funky vibe, once again nodding to the glorious Persona 4. The vocal tracks that are highly prominent within the game are probably the highlight. They definitely won’t be everybody’s cup of tea due to the cheesiness and full-on Japanese-ness that oozes out of them, but for me, I adore it.
One thing that impressed me significantly is just how damn stylish Tokyo Mirage Sessions is. The first step is with the afore-mentioned music but also with its magnificent animated cut-scenes and their retro feel. The way the game pad is implemented, the overall artistic style and, although it may sound inconsequential, the HUD and menus are just so damn cool. I feel like cool just playing Tokyo Mirage Sessions (Yes, I’m well aware that I’m not).
I think the biggest complaint from most people will be the fact it’s not what they were expecting from a title tentatively named “Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem”. While Persona may have done a bait and switch with Shin Megami Tensei, Fire Emblem’s influence is surprisingly minimal, with only your allied Mirages being inspired by characters from the series rather than there being any actual connection. They could have been any old characters and it wouldn’t have made a difference. The only major influence is in the weapon match-ups, which in all honest doesn’t have that much of an effect on the game as a whole. Am I complaining? Not at all. They’ve made and amazing game regardless of whether it can be regarded as a crossover or not.
Overall, Tokyo Mirage Sessions is an excellent game. A happy-go-lucky Persona-type game that just oozes style and class. It possess a fun, intriguing story with a cast of highly likeable characters in tow and maintains the players interest with a battle system that can be both simple and involved. It’s a unique experience on the Wii U and one that everyone should at least try. I adore it. Is it my favourite game on the Wii U? Possibly.
- Fun and interesting story
- Bright, colourful
- Nicely balanced level progression
- Excellent battle system
- Stylish, so so stylish
- Travelling and loading screens