Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore Review — A Standing Ovation
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore is a one-of-a-kind JRPG that has found a new home on the Nintendo Switch.
When it comes to the Wii U, a majority of people found it to be the ugly stepsister of Nintendo’s hardware lineup, but it cannot be denied that the system boasted a great number of exclusive titles, one of which included the criminally underplayed Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE. In my opinion, the JRPG was the best title on the platform in addition to being one of the best I have ever played in the genre.
With Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore now coming to Nintendo Switch, it gives the game a new life along with many great, updated features for players old and new to love. The concept of the game may seem weird on paper with it being a collaboration between the Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem franchises, but at the end of the day, it is a beautiful love letter to the Fire Emblem series that you can feel throughout its 50-hour journey, especially during its final hours.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions stars a cast of Japanese idols who become Mirage Masters. These Masters have a high amount of performa, a life energy of sorts that makes up that person’s creativity. By using their performa, they create a bond with a mirage (which happens to be a Fire Emblem character) and use their power to defeat evil mirages that try and steal performa from humans. As the star in this cast of characters, Itsuki Aoi, instead of trying to be the hero of this story, unintentionally helps raise up others unlocking their full potential as an idol whether it be via singing, acting, or modeling. You quickly learn that Chrom (from Fire Emblem: Awakening) along with his allies were transported to Shibuya with most of their memories lost. Learning this, Itsuki and his best friend Tsubasa work to help find out what led their new companions to their world and how to potentially send them back home while becoming famous idols at the same time.
I’m sure by this point you’re asking, “What the hell is this game?” or, “This is supposed to be a JRPG?” The answer to the latter is yes, and it’s a damn good one at that. Each idol that joins your group works for Fortuna Entertainment, a talent agency that is also a secret base for the Mirage Masters and the mirages that give them their powers. Here is where you can view your achievements, check on side quests, and visit the Bloom Palace.
In the Bloom Palace, you can participate in rituals that will help you create new weapons to level up which will reward you with new skills and abilities. There are also Radiant Skills, which can be unlocked giving a character passive abilities that will help in and outside of battle. As a dungeon crawler, the main adversaries you face are well-known artists across Japan like a film director and a famous photographer that have each been corrupted by mirages. What makes Tokyo Mirage Sessions so charming is that the dungeons (known as Idolaspheres) you explore are all themed by which artist you’re trying to stop. I puzzled my way through a television studio, a photography museum, and even a modeling room, each of which had interesting challenges to solve. The collection of them all is probably my favorite of any JRPG.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions is equipped with a traditional turn-based battle system from the Shin Megami Tensei games along with the introduction of Sessions. If you hit an enemy’s weakness, it will lead to a chain attack where members both in and outside of your party will gang up on the enemy one by one. It is a stylish and satisfying mechanic that always kept me invested during combat. Whenever I ran into new enemies it forced me to strategize and test out different skills to learn their weaknesses. As I progressed through I became familiar with the different enemy types that typically had similar weaknesses. This allowed me to skip a lot of trial and error when engaging with new enemies making me feel rewarded for paying attention to those details in battle.
When you’re fighting mirages, the battlefield is more like a stage as if you’re executing a performance. As the game progresses, new ways of fighting are introduced. Each party member has special and ad-lib performances. Special performances are powerful moves that the player can directly choose to use on an ally or enemy while ad-lib comes up randomly and is comparative to an improvisation.
With a colorful cast of characters, not every member is particularly compelling, however, each of them has goals that they want to achieve as you progress through the game. Some being broader like becoming a better idol in general with others having specific goals in mind such as becoming a Hollywood star. These motivations are fleshed out through side quests which normally take the form of a fetch quest or battle against a boss that is housed in a previous Idolasphere. Normally, fetch quests aren’t very enticing, but whenever it was required in Tokyo Mirage Sessions, it made sense to me and it was enjoyable seeing them learn new things about themselves that in turn unlocked new abilities making the quest worth it.
The implementation of the Fire Emblem IP isn’t something that I think fans of the franchise wanted at first, but by the time you reach the end, it shows that Atlus wanted to do right by the series and its characters while putting their own spin on things. The end result makes for a fitting tribute to the franchise. I still vividly remember tearing up at a point when I played through the original game on Wii U and those similar feelings returned the second time around here on Switch.
Atlus brought new additions in Encore, including a new dungeon known as the Area of Aspiration. Instead of a traditional dungeon where there is an evil threat to defeat at the end, it focuses more on character development and progressing as artists. You’re still rewarded for your efforts by getting new costumes (among other things) like Joker from Persona 5, which I assure you ended up being my go-to outfit for the rest of the game. In all honesty, there isn’t much new content in Encore compared to other Atlus titles like Persona 5 Royal or Catherine: Full Body. Still, Tokyo Mirage Sessions is great just how it is and knowing how the story develops, I don’t think a litany of changes would have made sense.
There are numerous difficulties that the game can be played through including Lunatic, which Fire Emblem veterans should be familiar with. If you’re concerned about starting on a harder difficulty and not being able to beat it, there is no need to worry. The difficulty can be moved down at any point during your playthrough so you don’t have to restart from scratch. However, once you move down you cannot move back up. Additionally, there is New Game Plus which will give you access to new quests, bosses, and weapons.
On the technical side, Encore looks great. Whether it be on a TV or in handheld mode and load times are hardly existent now on Switch, which is always welcoming. The only new feature I was hoping to see brought to Switch was English VO. During battle sequences, there are no subtitles given while characters are speaking and since I don’t know Japanese, I don’t know what’s being said. That in mind, I’m still ok with the game being voiced in Japanese because I think it adds to the charm. It is one of the biggest reasons why I think Tokyo Mirage Sessions shines so brightly.
For many, they may not approach Tokyo Mirage Sessions with a ten-foot pole because of how out of the ordinary or silly it seems. While it is silly at times, the game commits to what it is doing across the board. There are concert performances, commercials, and TV shows brought on in cutscenes which all sound ridiculous before experiencing it yourself. All of these things just fit naturally into the world that Atlus has created. You could view Tokyo Mirage Sessions as one large performance. Every lesson learned and every battle fought is represented by a performance.
For those who I’ve spoken with that have heard of Tokyo Mirage Sessions before, they usually say something along the lines of, “Oh, it’s Persona with Fire Emblem characters,” which is a simplification that does the game a disservice. The aesthetic, charm and gameplay Tokyo Mirage Sessions brings make it worthy to stand on its own and I hope that those who end up playing the game see it this way as well. Nintendo seemed to think that Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE was worthy of an encore here on Switch, and I find it to be a worthy encore, indeed.