Fun little anecdote : Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE has been stuck in my gaming backlog for years now and I never had the proper time to play it… Even though I bought it full price litterally 4 days before it sold for 20€… Yeah, I’m still totally not upset by that !
And what better way to make me play a game than by making me work on it ? In a way, I’m grateful for Atlus and Nintendo for giving this game a second chance by porting it to the Switch with a few extra bells and whistles ! As for the game itself, this new version is a true blessing, as… Well, I’m not going to shy away by saying it wasn’t really a commercial success when it came out on Wii U, barely selling more than 300 000 copies worldwide. Moreover, the game’s development seem to have been quite a mess, being teased in January 2013 as this dark and moody Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem crossover, only to be crawling back in the shadows for two and a half years, coming back out as this… Pop-infused and colorful J-RPG set in modern Tokyo and whose central theme is the J-Pop and idol industry ? Okay ! Let’s just say people expecting an M-Rated Fire Emblem were kinda disappointed.
In the end, the game came out as Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE and critics were fairly enthusiastic. People who got the chance to play it even said it was a fun and funny RPG.
And so now that I’ve had the chance of playing the definitive edition in full, what do I think about it ?
Weeell, it sure was the most gloriously stupid RPG I’ve played in years and I kinda hope it does well this time !
Sin Megami Dancay
You might think this review’s off to a bad start when I’ll confess I kinda forgot most of the second third of the game’s plot despite me writing this review barely 24h after completing it… Then again, I still have the ending in mind (of which I can’t talk about because obvious spoilers) and I perfectly remember the slightly dark beginning, but the middle part… Slipped right out of me mind outside from a few beats.
But anyway, you play as Itsuki Aoi, a sweet and dumb-as-a-sack-of-rocks cinnamon roll who hasn’t figured what he’ll do of his life yet and who suddenly is at the head of a special occult forces squad after saving his best friend Tsubasa. At night, they go to spooky parallel dimensions to save people from Performa-sucking demons (it’s like a spiritual energy linked to the arts) and by day they work at an artist agency.
If this dynamic reminds you of a certain group of adolescents, it’s not really surprising : Persona is a Shin Megami Tensei spin-off after all and I guess Atlus decided to tap into it rather than it’s darker counterpart to make it nicely cross-over with the more family-friendly Fire Emblem serie. Thinking about it, I feel that Atlus felt somewhat obligated to play it safer and used this assumption to make this project a sort of entry point to the Shin Megami Tensei series.
And yeah, I see you coming with your “Yeah, but Persona 5 already fills these shoes quite nicely and got so mainstream it sold gangbusters !”, to which I’d argue that Tokyo Mirage Sessions came out on an underperforming Wii U in 2016, whereas Persona 5 got the chance to release on the juggernauts that are the PS4 and PS3 in 2017.
As is, Tokyo Mirage Sessions still gets the job done as an entry point, as it targets a slightly younger demographic than Persona 5. Because despite its cutesy aspect and its colourful world, TMS also has a few darker areas and interesting character-driven conflict… Though it’s also more a surface-level dive into darkness than Persona. Persona can make a case out of school bullying and its tragic consequences, but in TMS, the darkest the game gets is with a character wanting the main bad guy dealt with for a revenge subplot that’s barely explored and never really shown.
Is this an issue ? Not at all ! The main story might be a bit too predictable, but where the game shines is with its fun cast of characters, as they’re all dumb in endearing ways and live fun little adventures ! This mostly happens in side quests we unlock by spending time with specific characters in battle and these storylines are so satisfying and character-driven that some of their endings could’ve legitimately been a better ending to the main quest’s. And that’s not even talking about the fact each sidequest leads to a musical show at the end, but more on that later.
And before delving into gameplay, one quick word about Tsubasa, one of the best RPG characters I’ve seen in a while. She’s so believable as a teenager, it’s uncanny ! Whether it’s her attitude or the texts she sends, it all feels so real ! Well, she’s still clumsier than the norm for writing purposes, but I found within her so many of my real world friends, which is a rare occurrence in JRPG, where characters are usually just there to fill a narrative purpose. And I’m not even talking about that one scene that had me bursting out loud for five straight minutes ! My only gripe about her is that she’s just a tad oversexualized for someone her age, even though most characters in the group have it easier or it’s somewhat justified by them being older… But hey, it’s a game about the Japanese Idol industry, a place where Humanity can sometimes be found at its worst, so is that really surprising at the end of the day ?
As far as gameplay and structure go, Tokyo Mirage Sessions is one of the most by-the-numbers JRPGs out there : it’s divided into chapters mixed in with interludes where you can do the sidequest stuff. Every chapter opens with a slew of cutscenes leading to the next dungeon that’ll last a while until you find the boss at the end, beat’em up and proceed towards the end of the chapter, blablabla… You’ll gain levels and weapon mastery while battling monsters, unlock new skills and if you beat more monsters you get materials to craft new more powerful weapons that unlock new skills blablabla… Pretty standard stuff so far.
But where TMS really shines is with its dungeon design and battle system. As it’s a game financed by Nintendo, the budget must’ve been pretty huge and Atlus made sure none of that money went to waste. The dungeons are all unique and quite complex, offering new mechanics that make them different from the last. One of them will have you toy with the floor accesses with a unique way of transportation, while another might be a labyrinth where passing in front of a certain something makes you go back to its beginning and make you aware of your surroundings. There’s one main dungeon per chapter and a few smaller one with unique mechanics and I found them very enjoybale and inventive.
The battle system, meanwhile, is an interesting beast. A slightlhy flawed, yet fun one. Similar to a Shin Megami Tensei battle system, the goal here is to find the ennemy’s weakness and exploit the ever loving crap out of it to start off Sessions.
They’re basically combos and their length depends on the affinities each character in the party has towards the attack you first launched. In the beginning, the Sessions will only summon one or two allies, but the more you’ll play, the more options you’ll unlock, meaning that characters even outside your main party might chime in ! Add to some some non-playable characters joining in on the fun and duo attacks that reset the counter and you can have a string of 15 attacks in one single Session ! Pulling that feat off is super satisfying and it’s also rewarding as you’ll get a bonus item or money for every attack in the Session past the third, meaning you can get up to 12 bonus items in one attack ! In fairness, this happens very late in the game and like with any Shin Megami Tensei, the ennemies can do the same to you and beat you to a pulp in seconds if you’re not careful… Or if you don’t exploit a particular mechanic the game very much allows, but verbally discourages as it destroys the battle system entirely !
This Encore version packs in all the Wii U version’s DLC, including a special dungeon you can access from your base. This dungeon lets you get your hands on the game-breaking item : the tomes. Use two of those bad boys on a character and they’ll automatically level-up in the following battle ! And remember when I said doing a Session with more than three characters nets you a bonus item per attack ? Well in this dungeon, these bonus items are only tomes ! Use the spell that makes ennemies pop-up every three steps and you’ll be so jacked in barely minutes people will call you the new One Punch Man !
And you want the funniest part ? This dungeon can be accessed starting from the middle of the first chapter ! Basically, at the end of this chapter and after an hour and a half of power-grinding watching a documentary, Itsuki was level 80 and the other two in my party were level 40 ! The character that joined soon after was barely level 15, which made the whole situation hilarious.
Now you might legitimately think pummeling this game so hard might’ve stopped making it fun, but you couldn’t be more wrong ! Dungeons would then last about two hours each, meaning I could leasurely enjoy the story at a more interesting pace. Then again, note that even with this god-like status I still got my fair share of beating, as some ennemies pop up randomly in the map and their level scale automatically to be 5 levels higher than yours. Considering my equipment was never fitting my godly status, those ennemies could basically kill me in one go by exploiting my weakness and my heart skipped many beats anytime I saw one pop up, sooo… Yeah, it’s still a Shin Megami Tensei game alright !
In any case, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore is one of the most accessible RPG out there. You can make it a fairly challenging experience if you decide to play by its rules or just break it if normal grinding isn’t your thing and you want just to live through this jolly bunch’s shenanigans.
And finally, this game’s biggest strength lies without a doubt within its presentation ! The sights are varied, the menus have this Atlus flair and the music is pretty good ! Shoutout to the musical shows you unlock at the end of each sidequest. There’s quite a lot of them and they all have a distinct style. I felt that the ones who made them knew exactly what a J-Pop music video looked like and either work for the J-Pop industry or watched a metric ton for reference, as the ones in-game are both ambitious and inventive ! They’re really cool and I’m glad they’re a reward for completing the side stories as they feel like true rewards you always want to look forward to !
Not only that, but the game is so generous overall. The many dungeons, the music videos and the many side quests go alongside a hefty amount of costumes for the game’s characters, from the really cool to the most ridiculous and even a few nods to other Atlus titles !
It took me about 25 hours to complete the story and most of its side content, and I think you can crank up that number to 35 or 40 if you decide to do it the normal way, which is a fairly decent number of hours to sink into a JRPG in my mind… Especially considering we just came out of a pretty intense Holiday season and are heading towards an equally intense Winter and Spring season.
In the end, I think you’ve guessed I liked Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore quite a lot ! It might not be the JRPG with the most complex or darkest narrative, but its adorable cast of characters and its silly writing made it quite the enjoyable and feel-good RPG. I felt happy playing this game and I was smiling for most of it, so I greatly appreciate it for that. Not only that, but the fact I could obliterate it with the tome system made it quite the stress-free experience I was longing for.
If you want a simple, yet lovingly-crafted RPG, I think this game’s a good pick ! Bonus points if you’re into J-Pop, as it’s a love-letter to this genre. Now obviously, if you hate that sort of thing, it’s a hard pass, but if you’re remotely curious, it can also be a nice gateway.
For a first game in 2020, I couldn’t have gotten a better game and I think you’ll have a fun time if you’re not looking for the perfect JRPG experience (I mean… Dragon Quest XI is already available on Switch and Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition is not too far off). And that’s why I can only strongly recommend Tokyo Mirage Sessions instead of making it an Essential.