When Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE was first announced it carried the unwieldy elevator-pitch styled title Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem. The change has fortunately allowed the game some breathing room from what would have been a weighty legacy, as well as clearly making a stand on its own two feet. While there are distinct elements from both of the heavyweight franchises to be found here, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE makes them its own.
The central protagonists Itsuki Aoi and Tsubasa Oribe are Japanese high-school students who find themselves embroiled in an unseen world of demonic creatures and dark intent. The game’s system and setting revolve around the music and performance of the Japanese Idol scene, with the Fortuna Entertainment agency – which you become an employee of – serving as a front for a team of demon-slayers.
The demonic creatures in this case are known as Mirages, entities that look to steal Performa – a person’s creative energy – in order to ultimately destroy the world. Your team is made up of Mirage Masters, people capable of bonding with a particular Mirage who grant you their strength, and take the form of your character’s armour and weaponry.
This is where the majority of the Fire Emblem content comes into play, as the Mirages that you link with are all drawn from the Fire Emblem universe. Itsuki is tied to Chrom, known to players as the lead from Fire Emblem: Awakening, and his recognisable armour encases you when you head into battle, while Tsubasa is paired to the warrior princess Caeda who’s appeared throughout the series.
Combat is drawn directly from the Shin Megami Tensei and Persona series, with turn-based encounters being the order of the day. As with the mainline entries your aim is to focus on your opponent’s elemental weaknesses, and exploiting them is the key to victory. As you progress your characters unlock additional combination attacks that kick in when a weakness is found, with combos steadily expanding as you progress, even so far as to include teammates that aren’t even in your active party. The combo system is clear and straightforward, and once you find an enemy’s weakness you’ll get an immense kick out of your whole team wading in.
Largely the game feels like a Persona title, and its youthful cast, entertainment based setting and oppressive demonic otherworld share a distinct amount of DNA with Persona 4. It’s a shame that the Fire Emblem elements ultimately amount to window-dressing, as I’m sure there could have been a more satisfying marriage of the two franchise’s combat beyond adding the rock-paper-scissors weapon weaknesses to Shin Megami’s elemental ones. Ultimately that FE hashtag tells you how little the Fire Emblem franchise really contributes.
It’s fortunate that combat is as much fun as it is as you’ll be grinding for experience throughout the game. Watching your team in action is bright and flashy, and while the turn-based system isn’t really anything we haven’t seen before in a raft of titles, it’s certainly well implemented.
It’s a shame then that there isn’t the option for off-TV play as the necessity for grinding would have really suited a gamepad-only option. Instead the gamepad is home to your Topic app, a social messaging system that keeps you in touch with all of the key characters, who will often expand the narrative somewhat, albeit with added emojis, but it isn’t anything that couldn’t have been hidden behind a menu.
The storyline itself progresses at a reasonable lick, with plenty of humour from characters like the idol instructor Barry Goodman that’ll raise a wry smile, though there can be a few uncomfortable moments from Fortuna Entertainment head Maiko Shimazaki, thanks in part to the camera angles used and some amped-up jiggle animations. What slows your progression down is the essential grinding for exp and losing your way.
Despite the Topic app on your gamepad you’re often left wondering where on earth you need to go next, and once you’re in the Idolasphere – the game’s dungeon areas – you have to contend with horribly awkward puzzles that sap all of the fun out of your exploration. There are some nice additions to the JRPG format, such as an automatic setting for all of the cutscene text which makes it much easier to sit back and take the story in, but overall this is a title that’s firmly grounded in the past.
While the game is overall exceptionally solid, aurally things are something of a mixed bag. The Yoshiaki Fujisawa-penned J-Pop entries to the soundtrack are outstanding and if you’re a fan of artists such as fripSide or LiSA – who shares her last name with lead Tsubasa – then you’ll be overjoyed every time you reach a point in the narrative for a new one and the frankly incredible choreographed cutscenes that accompany them. Unfortunately this is tempered by the repetitive and often oppressive themes used in the Idolasphere and Tokyo overworld, which may have you reaching for the remote, especially as they take the lion’s share of the aural landscape.
Besides the fantastic cutscenes, the visuals capture the action really well, with the lightly cel-shaded characters looking particularly good during combat. The various locations from around Tokyo however do little to inspire, with simplistic textures and level furniture cheapening the package while the Idolasphere riffs on repetitive abstractions and indiscernible corridors. The Shibuya hub is a particular disappointment, cut off by an array of pedestrian crossings that make navigating a chore, especially when you’re likely just there for a quick spot of item shopping.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is a good JRPG that sadly falls short of greatness due to missteps that you wouldn’t expect to see in a modern game. In all likelihood this will be amongst the final major releases for the Wii U, and in many ways Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE’s moments of pure joy sandwiched between poorly thought out elements mirror the lifecycle of its host console.