Geek Babble- Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Impressions

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I was originally on the fence about picking up Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE. The original 2013 announcement of a Fire Emblem and Shin Megami Tensei crossover at E3 excited me, as the possibilities of playing two of my favorite franchises were endless. As time passed, updates for the game went dark and it finally emerged as a strange mixture of the PS2 Persona games with a few Fire Emblem characters. I didn’t know what to make of the game’s modern Tokyo setting with a focus on idols. I didn’t bother to follow news of the game, but decided to grab the special edition at the very last minute. Fortunately, pre-orders were still available at GameStop. The wait for my copy began to become unbearable as the reviews from gaming outlets poured in. The verdict was that the game was pretty good, despite the fan backlash (which I knew little about). So on the Sunday after its release I popped my copy into the Wii U and dug into the game, and I’ve been playing off and on ever since.

The first thing that caught my eye was the anime opening that quickly set the mood and tone for the overall game. This was going to be an interesting adventure about finding performers who are spirited off to another world for use by nefarious forces. Our heroes have some kind of hidden special power that keeps them safe. The power of Persona immediately came to mind. If I had played this game without much knowledge of Persona, I would have felt confused, instead I felt right at home. That isn’t to say that Fire Emblem has no influence, subtle touches from the games can be found everywhere.

 

The protagonist in battle. When a character casts a spell, they sign their name, I like this little touch.
The protagonist in battle. When a character casts a spell, they sign their name, I like this little touch.

The biggest thing I appreciated from the early hours of Tokyo Mirage Sessions is how quickly the game spirits you into the action. In Persona 3: Portable, it seemed like it took nearly an hour to see my first battle. In Persona 4, the wait to see real combat action was well over two hours. I was fighting my first Mirages in under an hour in TMS. On the surface, the battle system plays almost exactly like Persona 3/4, with the menu UI design being a near clone of Persona 3: Portable. Just like in Persona/Shin Megami Tensei all enemies have weaknesses to weapons and magic. The spells used are exactly the same as found in every modern Persona (and SMT game). The weapon strengths and weaknesses take their DNA from the Fire Emblem weapons triangle. So even if an enemy’s weakness is unknown, using a sword against an axe will be highly effective.

 

The menu in the battle system is pretty much Persona 3.
The menu in the battle system is pretty much Persona 3.

With so much of Tokyo Mirage Sessions’ DNA coming from Persona and Fire Emblem, it may seem as if the game doesn’t have any originality of its own. Fortunately, the game can blend two different franchises while retaining its own unique flavor. For example, the spells characters learn are actually acquired through the use and leveling of their weapons. The real fun from the combat system comes from Session Overkills, Special Performances, and Radiant Skills. Sessions Overkills are essentially team follow-up attacks that form a chain of attacks. Target an enemy’s weakness and each character will join in to attack, provided they have learned the skill to so. (These skills are gained automatically through gaining experience points.) Special Performances consist of a character and a Mirage team up attack that deals a lot of damage once per fight. The SP meter determines when these attacks can be used and SP must be gained through battle.  Radiant Skills are when a character incorporates some aspect of their idol/professional entertainer life into an attack. The first character in my party to gain a Radiant Skill is a part-time actor who performs as a kaiju for a TV show. He dons his bull monster costume and charges the enemy. Most Radiant Skills progress with the story and happen randomly in battle.

 

Itsuki and Tsubasa with Chrom and Caeda.
Itsuki and Tsubasa with Chrom and Caeda.

I would be doing you a disservice if I didn’t talk more about Mirages. Mirages are essentially Fire Emblem characters who don’t remember their past. In this game they are otherworldly beings who are hostile to humans. The Mirages often attack humans with latent talent (acting, singing, etc) and steal their energy, called Performa. Extremely exceptional people are taken to an alternate world called the Idolasphere, there they are used by Mirages as a physical vessel in order to attack more people to steal more Performa. Fortunately, some Mirages are actually the spirits of heroic beings and team up with some humans in order to stop other Mirages. If you’ve played Fire Emblem: Awakening you’ll be familiar with Chrom, Caeda, Tharja and a few others. (It wouldn’t be Fire Emblem without Tiki, so if course she can be found in the game posing as A vocaloid type.) When a heroic Mirage teams up with a human, the person becomes a Performer who takes on a Carnage Form (they get a cool battle costume) and the Mirage itself becomes their weapon. The execution reminds me of a magical girl transformation sequence (with guys included) more than anything. It’s a novel idea, but it also makes it kind of hard to take the story seriously.

The characters, or rather the Artists (keeping in line with the game terminology), are an interesting bunch. Our main Artist, Itsuki is the protagonist. He’s more or less a nice guy who’s on the bland side, but thankfully he isn’t a silent type. Tsubasa is your typical cheerful girl who has self-esteem issues, but wants to follow in her sister’s footsteps by becoming a singer. Touma is the fiery guy who wants to be an action hero. In a neat twist, he actually knows about the secret world of fighting Mirages before it is revealed to Itsuki (and by extension the player). I have yet to acquire all of the Artists and future performers, but the starter cast feels very forgettable—I hope this changes later in the game.

 

Touma and Itsuki in their Carnage Forms.
Touma and Itsuki in their Carnage Forms.

As of this writing, I’m about eight hours into TMS and I’m enjoying my experience. I don’t have many complaints, but I am disappointed by the fact that this game doesn’t have an English dub. The given reason was because the game takes place in modern Japan and it would feel more authentic subtitled. (Personally, I believe this game just had a low localization budget.) A dub could have reached a much larger audience. I’m also profoundly disappointed by the game’s bland background music, especially when compared the in-game song performances. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by the background music that often accompanies Atlus games. My biggest concern is that I lose interest in the game’s story. At the moment, TMS is a nice way to experience another Persona-like game while waiting for Persona 5 next year, and is also a way to shrug off my frustrations with Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest. Still, my interest in playing this game is quite high and I’ll be playing it for quite a while.

If you’re a JRPG fan and you own a Wii U, I do recommend checking out Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE. It is a neat blend of two game franchises that took everyone by surprise with its heavy focus on the entertainment industry.

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