Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE (2015/2016)


Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE (2015/2016)

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Atlus
Director: Mitsuru Hirata, Eiji Ishida, Kaori Ando
Platform: WiiU

Ordinary high school students are drawn into the entertainment industry after they awaken to powers that put them in the middle of a interdimensional war where entertainers from our world are the target.

At its core, this is a turn-based JRPG. You have several overworld locations with their respective battlezones (Idolaspheres to use the game's parlance). I've never played any of the games in the Shin Megami Tensei series or its Persona spinoffs, but the battle system appear to hybridize elements of both it and Fire Emblem, in keeping with the crossover nature of the game. You have four physical and four magical alignments (plus two extra magical alignments that I never found particularly useful). These alignments factor into attacks and a character's individual attributes. By attacking a weakness, you can activate Session attacks, much like the double-teaming you see in the most recent Fire Emblem games. For instance, let's say Itsuki uses a lightning attack against an enemy weak to lightning. If Tsubasa has a Session attack that follows lightning, it would then activate. It gets really cool when you can string together combos involving not only active members of your party but those on the sidelines as well. Add in duo specials that can set up a new combo string and you can land quite a few hits in. You learn attacks from your weapons, which are crafted from materials dropped by enemies, which can later be upgraded to unlock new abilities. You only have six (later seven) slots respectively for active, passive and Session abilities, so you have to think strategically about what kind of build you want for your character. (Upgrading weapons gives you the opportunity to relearn abilities you forgot or skipped.) It sounds a bit complicated at first, but the game eases you into the new systems as you go. I played on normal difficulty, which wasn't too hard so long as you kept your head on straight and avoided battles with enemies more than four levels above you. Besides the main story missions, you also have side stories that let you unlock extra abilities for the characters as well as requests from random NPCs. There are some light puzzle elements when it comes to navigating some of the Idolasphere, but nothing that should stump you too much.

I'll count myself among the many whose hype evaporated when the fabled Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem revealed that it was going to be centered on teenage idol singers in modern Japan. It would appear that most fans of either series didn't look back after that point, resulting in miserable sales. It's a shame, because what's here is actually pretty good, and I say that as someone with no particular interest in music. This really is a love letter to the Japanese entertainment industry and while it's a little disturbing that the more toxic elements are glossed over, the story goes a ways toward crediting the many forms of creative endeavors, though singing and acting get the primary emphasis.

I really liked the characters as well. Everyone has their layers even though they do play some tropes rather hard. I like how Itsuki isn't like most generic anime protagonists. He's got some backbone to him and doesn't become a stammering mess just because a girl tries to put the moves on him. A great example is when their boss, a busty former gravure model tries flirting with him, cupping her breasts and asking Itsuki if he wants to touch. How does our boy Itsuki respond? "I'm leaving." Total no sell. It's awesome. While you've got that aversion, he does become the center of the females' (and arguably some of the males') universe, the harem aspect that seems to show up just about everywhere these days. It'd be nice to see some platonic relationships for a change, but I guess it allows you to ship Itsuki however you see fit.

As for the FE characters, amnesia keeps them from having too many callbacks to past continuity, but their personalities are largely intact. Most of them hail from the first game (which by extension includes the third, eleventh and twelfth games), but we get a few from Awakening, most prominently Chrom, Sallya and Viaur as Itsuki, Kiria and Elly's Mirages. It would've been nice to see a little more representation across the board, but it makes sense that they'd choose the original and the most recent (at the time of development) entry in the series. It's interesting watching the FE characters try to adapt to modern-day Japan and there's great camaraderie that forms between the Mirages and their Masters.

This is a good-looking game. The aesthetics draw more from SMT than FE, but that doesn't really hurt it. I'll admit, seeing Chrom's Mirage form is one of the main things that convinced me to give the game a chance after I found out the premise. Most of the enemies are mechanical corruptions of FE character classes. It's definitely an interesting look. The Carnage Form costumes are a bit on the hit-or-miss side, but you can change costumes freely.

For the in-game models, facial animations can be a bit wonky at times, but it's a fairly minor quibble. Besides in-game cutscenes, you have traditional anime and cel-shaded CG like the most recent FE games for special occasions. It's pretty good stuff.

Well, a game about idol singers better deliver on the music front, shouldn't it? I wouldn't call myself a J-pop aficionado, but you get a good variety of songs, which include a number of subgenres, so a bit of something for everyone. I particularly like Mamori's "Amaoto no Memory", an example of kayoukyoku, a Shouwa Era style ironically sung by the youngest member of the main cast. BGM tracks are also quite good. The main battle theme has a lot of good energy to it.

Voice acting is solid and there are some familiar sounds from FE, particularly when character's level up. It's a nice touch.

The current DLC doesn't really seem worth it and given the poor sales in Japan, we may not have much reason to expect anything in the future. If something changes, I'll make the necessary adjustment to this entry.

When I first wrote this review, I wasn't sure the game was going to even get a Western release, but now that is, perhaps it can make a better showing overseas. Despite initial reservations, it managed to surprise me with how good it was. I was mostly banking on the FE connection, but now I'm wanting to look into the SMT and Persona games. I put in nearly 100 hours into it and I feel I got my money's worth. If the opportunity comes your way, it's worth getting.

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