That’s a “Sharp,” not a “Hashtag,” kids
Originally unveiled in 2013, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE (Shortened to TMS for the remainder of the review) was a massive surprise to many, myself included. For quite a few people, the idea of combining Nintendo’s Fire Emblem and Atlus’s Shin Megami Tensei series into one game was baffling. Later trailers confused even more people, as the game was shown off to be a standard RPG focusing on Japanese Pop idols, with the Fire Emblem characters being the weapons to fight with. It was a premise that startled many people, as none of the trailers really showed off either of the franchises. Now that the game has come out to the West, how does the game play up to either franchise, and can it hold itself on its own merit? Let me start out by saying that TMS is one of the best RPGs that I have played on the Wii U, period. From the complex, yet coherent fighting, to the pop-inspired music, to the vibrant colors: TMS succeeds in almost every way.
Battling in TMS feels extremely close to the battle mechanics of standard Shin Megami Tensei games. Spells follow the naming convention of the SMT games (Fire attacks called “Agi” for example) with the added bonus of throwing in the Weapon Triangle that the Fire Emblem series is known for. Pretty much every enemy has one or two weaknesses that can be exploited in either attack method. Is your foe holding a sword, but also weak to fire? Then you have the options to either use a sword like in Fire Emblem, or blow out a blast of ice as in the Shin Megami Tensei games. What’s more, is that if you attack the opponent’s weak points, you can have other party members go and attack afterwords. These attacks are called Sessions, and they do much more damage than usual. Depending on story elements, some characters will unlock special attacks that will randomly come out after doing a standard attack. They are all extremely flashy and can do tons of damage, though when they come out one after another, you’ll probably skip the animations. In addition, once you do enough turns in battle, characters can do special Performances, turning the tide of battle with extremely useful effects. Battles are also decently hard, with the Normal difficulty not being as hard as either Fire Emblem, nor Shin Megami Tensei, but will still make you plan strategically.
I mentioned previously that the Fire Emblem characters are used as your weapons, and that is taken literally. The main character turns Fire Emblem Awakening’s Chrom into a sword to use in battle. Called Mirages in this game – the Fire Emblem characters come from either the aforementioned Awakening or the original Fire Emblem. In addition; in order to gain additional skills and spells in battle, the Mirages level up alongside you, and when you have specific drops from enemies – they can evolve into different weapon forms, unlocking both more damaging capabilities and new skills. While not terrible grind-happy like some of the Shin Megami Tensei games turn out to be, TMS does need a few hours to go and unlock everything. However, unlocking that final attack that you’ve been longing for makes it all worthwhile.
The dungeons in TMS are all relatively large, and all have different assets that make them stand out from one another. These dungeons range from a creepy photographer’s basement-looking arena filled with pin-up pics, to a giant store, with dresses that you must manipulate to go from place to place. The dungeons also have a wide variety of enemies for you to hunt down and attack before they grab you. The main problem with the dungeons is that inevitably something happens in the story that takes you out of the dungeon partway – and make you have to slog your way back up. Fortunately, there are a few teleport pads which you can use to skip at least some of the backtracking.
The music in TMS is fantastic, even if you are not a fan of J-Pop music. The battle themes are intense; the cities and areas you go around sound peppy, and the handful of vocal songs fit perfectly within the whole theme of the game. It got to the point where basically every song has gotten stuck in my head at some point and I wasn’t annoyed by it. In addition, the level-up music is the same as Fire Emblem – as are a couple other muscial cues – which was a very nice touch to the whole ambiance.
Really, the only disappointing part about TMS is the story. The game was extremely inspired by the Japanese entertainment industry, and TMS refuses to allow you to forget it. Each of the main party members come from a field in the industry, with pop stars, managers, handymen, and more showing up from time to time. Alongside the industry talk is the main backbone of the story: Evil Mirages are taking away people’s talents called “Performas” (really Atlus?) and you and your crew must find out the reason why this is occurring. Its not a bad story by any means, though it feels extremely weak for what Atlus – the developer of TMS – generally does. I’ve jokingly said it before, but TMS feels like if Rise Kujikawa from Persona 4 decided to create a video game; excellent music and battles, but a bland story that just chugs along.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is a must-own for anyone who owns a Wii U and is wanting to play a great RPG. Everything blends well, and though the story may be only passable; the J-pop music, the thoughtful design to combat, and good dungeon designs all flow out to be a great combination between two long-running franchises.
Final Verdict 4.5/5
Available on: Wii U(reviewed) Publisher: Nintendo; Developer: Atlus; Players: 1 ; Released: June 24, 2016 ; ESRB: T for Teen ; MSRP: $59.99