In early 2013, I found myself anxiously awaiting the release of Shin Megami Tensei x Fire Emblem when it was announced in a Nintendo Direct. I've been a huge fan of Atlus for quite a while, and the proposition of combining two franchises of such a high caliber was utterly enticing. Three and a half long years later, the time has finally come for it to launch in the West as Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE. It may seem like a niche title on the surface—given the role the Japanese entertainment industry plays—but underneath this outer layer is a fun, engaging RPG that is certainly one of the Wii U's highlight games of the summer, if not the entire year.
Much of the gameplay consists of running around various dungeons, fighting the monsters and solving the puzzles within to progress to the inevitable boss fight. Each of the dungeons has a different theme and further distinguishes itself by the tasks you must accomplish to progress further. During these dungeon segments, you control main protagonist Itsuki directly, though you are limited to movement and a basic sword attack. As you traverse these labyrinthine dungeons, monsters randomly appear. You can hit the creatures with your sword to attempt to get a first strike bonus, but touching them in any way initiates the battle phase. Here, Itsuki and two other interchangeable party members can attack and use skills in order to defeat their opponents.
As powerful as any one person may be, battles truly are a team effort and to this effect, Tokyo Mirage Sessions encourages strategic team management and skill planning. Every team member and enemy follows a simple weapon and magic triangle (based off of Fire Emblem and Shin Megami Tensei, respectively), giving each a unique set of strengths and weaknesses. While attacking with a skill the opponent has a resistance to will reduce—if not completely nullify—the damage it receives, attacking with an effective skill will increase damage dealt and open up the opportunity for combination attacks. These combos will be your best friend throughout the duration of the game, so get used to using them.
In addition to these skills, your party members also have unique special attacks that you can use to ravage your enemies into submission. These abilities are hard-hitting and have a wide range of effects, making them extremely useful when you find yourself in a bind. Whereas your skills are limited by the amount of EP you have, these special attacks run off of SP, a special resource garnered by exploiting enemy weaknesses. The combat system is simple to pick up, yet can be challenging to master. It can be easy to get comfortable with these mechanics, but one or two mistakes can cost you the match.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions is an RPG through and through, and as such, your characters level up in various ways as a result of battling. The most basic level system dictates your party members' stats. Defeating monsters earns experience points for all the available party members, though non-active characters will earn a reduced amount. Earn enough of these points and that character gains a combat level, along with a few stat increases.
Participating in battles also contributes to a character's Star Rank—a numeric representation of one's ability as a performer. Increasing this value paves the way for more powerful abilities, whether directly or by opening up side stories which then lead to new abilities. Tokyo Mirage Sessions throws a lot of specific terminology such as this around at you, which can be a little overwhelming. Though you'll quickly get used to it, I'd recommend thinking of these mechanics in terms of other games to start out. For instance, I compared this Star Rank to the Social Link system in Persona 4, until I got used to the new terminology.
In addition to character levels, your weapons level up with use as well. The weapons have their own attack stat but mostly act as a skill tree of sorts. Each weapon in the game has a series of four skills that can be learned from using it. Upon reaching a new level, you may learn the next skill by adding it to an empty spot on your list or by replacing a move you already know, much like in Pokémon. New weapons can be crafted by collecting materials dropped by the enemies you defeat.
Though the gameplay is squarely rooted in Shin Megami Tensei, the story draws more from the Fire Emblem universe. Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE opens five years prior to the events of the actual game. A young Tsubasa Oribe sits in the crowd watching her elder sister Ayaha perform on stage, when all of a sudden, everyone vanishes, leaving only Tsubasa behind.
Five years later, Tsubasa is attempting to break into the entertainment industry as an idol in order to search for clues regarding her beloved sister. During her audition, however, she gets kidnapped by ghostly apparitions. Itsuki Aoi, the game's protagonist and Tsubasa's best friend, follows the cloaked figures through a mysterious gate into another dimension and rescues her. The duo then take on the roles of Mirage Masters, a special designation that enables them to see, hear, and otherwise interact with interdimensional beings known as Mirages.
The story from here is well crafted, but it is ultimately somewhat predictable. Together with their friends, Itsuki and Tsubasa must fight to protect the world they know from a group of evil Mirages hellbent on taking over. It isn't too apparent at first, but in the last couple of chapters, the story becomes deeply ingrained in the lore of Fire Emblem. Despite this, Tokyo Mirage Sessions provides all the background information that's relevant to the story, so even those who haven't played the early Fire Emblem games can still easily follow what's going on. It's a small gesture that ultimately goes a long way to helping the game be more accessible, a nice touch given the lack of other accessibility options such as Off-TV Play and English voice acting.
One of the most unique aspects of the Tokyo Mirage Sessions is its placement in the world of entertainment, and Atlus has tied the theme into the story quite nicely. This stems from a long history of using performing arts in rituals to summon powerful beings. Even those you can't control have strong connections to the industry. As such, every one of the Mirage Masters you can control is a star of some sort. As the new kids on the block, Itsuki and Tsubasa have a lot to learn when it comes to being a part of this world. Throughout the game, both kids grow significantly as artists with the help of their friends and teammates.
Unfortunately, this is where most of the character development takes place. Aside from Itsuki and Tsubasa, everyone else is already well-known as an entertainment icon, and thus they don't change significantly throughout. Graphically, though, the characters are beautifully designed in a 3D anime style. This is most noticeable during animated cutscenes, when the characters seem to pop out of the colorful backgrounds.
In addition to the pop stars, all of the party members are paired with Mirages from the Fire Emblem universe, mostly from Fire Emblem Awakening and Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light. I can't speak much for the characterizations of the Shadow Dragon Mirages, but those from the Awakening universe are excitingly accurate to the characters I already know and love. These Mirages turn into your characters' weapons, allowing you to utilize their powers in battle. Not all Fire Emblem characters are on your side, however, as all of the major bosses in Tokyo Mirage Sessions are pulled from the franchise as well, albeit with some drastic design changes. In fact, this difference is so great, the boss Mirages are almost unrecognizable. This is a nice touch as it mirrors the evil nature of their deeds, as opposed to the clean, recognizable designs for the good Mirages.
The Verdict: A Musical Duo For the Ages
Often, when a company decides to create a crossover title, it's set in the universe of one game, while the other comes in to interact with it. Tokyo Mirage Sessions, however, brings the strongest elements of its respective franchises together to create a whole new adventure, which in the long run helps it stand on its own. Tokyo Mirage Sessions isn't without a few small problems—namely, the predictability of the story, a general lack of character development, and few accessibility options—but these are small blemishes on an otherwise fantastic title. The engaging combat coupled with a unique setting makes Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE nothing short the letter of love fans of the Shin Megami Tensei or Fire Emblem franchises deserve. Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE launches this Friday, June 24th for Wii U.
A copy of Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE was provided to Gamnesia by Nintendo for purposes of this review.