Dare to dream big with Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE as it brings together two RPG franchises in a visually superb and quirky way. Yet even with its catchy J-Pop cutscenes, the game falls from stardom with a clumsy often cringe-worthy storyline, pointless side quests and a lazy battle system.
From the developer of games such as Persona and Etrian Odyssey, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is a beautiful blend of two RPG franchises; Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem. Altus, together with Nintendo, have given players access to one of the most outlandish games yet to grace the Wii U. While the US and European releases have been plagued with the more controversial topic of heavy censorship, the turn-based RPG come J-Pop extravaganza is nevertheless a mixed bag when it comes to gameplay. There’s a peculiar haze drifting through the game; it never quite knows where to settle, sparking off awkward tension in one direction and oddball humour in another. Perhaps it is best described as a coming of age story, with awkward teens spluttering seedy jokes to one another while trying to claw their way into adulthood. For the avid fans, there are still breast jiggles and midriff showings, with colourful costumes to wiggle into, but its lack of sex appeal strangely dampens the mood.
Set in Tokyo with real places such as Shibuya and Harajuku used, Tokyo Mirage Sessions documents the journey of main protagonists Itsuki Aoi and Tsubasa Oribe as they make their way to stardom through the talent agency, Fortuna Entertainment. Weighed down by the horrors of many years ago, Tsubasa is still broken by the loss of her sister, Ayaha, who was brutally kidnapped during an attack on Tokyo, but tries to emulate her sister’s success by joining a talent show. Yet just as she’s about to sing, Tsubasa and the other girls are kidnapped by an ethereal force. Watching in the audience, Itsuki vows to find Tsubasa through the ripped fabric of time, entering the Idolosphere without a second thought. After finding Tsubasa and tackling the dungeon’s mirage enemies, Itsuki is joined by an ally mirage named Chrom. A shadow counterpart, Chrom and his other Fire Emblem associates join Itsuki and Tsubasa in their quest to rescue Ayaha, in order to quell the evil lurking inside the idolospheres.
Taking control of Itsuki, players can fast travel to sections of the map via the in-game menu, where you’ll have the ability to accept NPC requests, side stories and replenish your health via drinks machines and restaurants. In RPG spirit, there are areas to buy jewelled armour and costumes for your characters, plus you’ll also have access to the Bloom Palace; an area where you can craft and upgrade weaponry and passive skill sets.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions features several chapters and three side stories per character. Players typically spend around five to eight hours completing each chapter, with a further two to four hours spent during the intermissions on side stories and requests. Over the course of the story, up to five other characters will join your team – namely Touma, Kiria, Ellie, Mamori and Yashiro – and three supporting characters will aid from the sidelines in Fortuna Entertainment.
As expected in a RPG, there are three difficulty modes to choose from – easy, normal, hard – and characters can level up by gaining experience during battle, as well as unlock additional skills through the weapons they carry or increase their stage rank. While weapons will unlock active skills to be used during mirage encounters, stage rank is built by using the character in the battle itself. Although increasing each character’s stage rank isn’t necessary to gameplay, it is the only way to unlock special passive skills and side stories, many of which aid you in defeating certain enemies or help your progression throughout the title.
In a rather bizarre fashion, Tokyo Mirage Sessions’ battle system is unique to watch yet mundane to play. Featuring a semi-circular option on the bottom of the screen, players can attack, use a skill or item, guard, change player or try to escape. While Itsuki can never be swapped out with others in your team, players can use up to three cast members in battle at any one time, though activating a session can bring all seven members into battle if used tactically. And while the option to attack is there, it’s a redundant feature, pushed out in favour of session skills.
Activating a session requires players to hone in on the enemy’s weakness, stringing together a number of attacks based on weapon choice or magical ability. Sessions are extremely fun to watch, often taking down an enemy or performing a serious amount of damage in just one hit, eliminating the mirage. Further into the story, players will be able to activate Duo Arts, where two characters join forces to attack one or all enemies, as well as infect them with a status condition, or add buffs to allies. These attacks, alongside random Ad-Lib Performances from characters, can really ramp up the action, providing memorable sequences while varying the battles. Strategically though, Tokyo Mirage Sessions cries out for more. There’s a real lack of complexity and depth here, rendering the gameplay as nothing more than an interactive movie, particularly when dungeon bosses feel a little light on challenge during normal mode. It’s lazy and a complete side step from the meaty challenges seen in Fire Emblem.
Taking their inspiration from Shin Megami Tensei and Persona, each Idolosphere features interesting quirks through puzzles, switches, elevators, indoor mazes, quests and warp pads. With enough to explore, the dungeons present some of the best challenges within the game. While the battle visuals are stunning, the enemy mirages encountered are also all designed remarkably, with iconic cries and movements to boot.
Players will generally encounter three types of enemy within the six plus Idolospheres available, identified purely by the colour of cloak worn. Red-robed figures are standard enemies found in each dungeon, while purple present savage enemy encounters – which are much harder to defeat resulting in rarer item drops – and orange represent the rarest of all. Successfully defeating these enemies delivers items, which can be stored in your pack and used for crafting and upgrading weapons, as well as activating passive skills.
Although Tokyo Mirage Sessions cannot be played in off-TV mode, the GamePad usage within the title is excellent. Used as your personal smartphone or tablet, characters will contact you via the messaging app throughout the game, alerting you to their side quests, sending you good luck by way of emojis, or just because they need a good chat. Plus, when in battle, enemy weaknesses and their statistics can be found at your fingertips, giving you great tactical information for when a boss fight occurs. Unfortunately the GamePad doesn’t highlight your current active requests in list form, rather they are found on the in-game maps provided. It’s a small niggle at best, but can be irksome when trying to specifically locate one.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions’ clumsy and often cringe-worthy storyline is a real test of endurance, while the music offers little incentive to continue on your journey either. And, in essence, side stories are just dressed up sandwich filler. With such a promising blend of franchises, Tokyo Mirage Sessions strikes gameplay at the wrong angle, resulting in a bubbling, confusing mess. But ultimately, it’s saving grace is in its visuals, dungeon exploration and superb array of weapons and skills. Chrom, your legacy deserved better.