Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE, previously known as Shin Megami Tensei x Fire Emblem, is not a game for everyone, and in fact, it’s pretty tough to nail just who it is for. The world, and the characters revolve around Japanese idol culture. Idol culture involves young, teenage boys and girls who sing, dance, model, or do any other number things revolving around the entertainment industry. For the most part, it’s very cutesy and colorful, but in heading in this direction, it immediately cuts off all but a very niche group of people who enjoy that sort of content. It doesn’t feel like a game made for Shin Megami Tensei fans, and it doesn’t feel like a game made for Fire Emblem fans either. However, if you can get past that, you’ll find an incredible battle system that just may make up for it.
I’ll start with this immediately: I am very much the person this game is aimed for. I’m a huge fan of anime, and listen to a lot of Japanese music, and this game is, for lack of a better term, “an anime game.” So the overly cutesy themes, and the music of this game don’t bother me much at all. I will say that even for me, some of the side stories, and some of the scenes can still be cringe inducing. There are lots of nonsensical logic like defeating your enemies through the power of song, and friendship, and other ridiculous things such as that. If you play Tokyo Mirage Sessions, you have to be prepared to endure that. I believe it’s important to know that before making your decision as to whether or not this game is for you.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions starts when Tsubasa Oribe, your long time friend, secretly auditions to become an idol. You play as Itsuki Aoi, who stumbles onto the audition when waiting to meet with another friend. Soon, things go wrong. The host of the audition starts to act suspiciously, and soon everybody in the room is completely sapped of energy. The host then drags Tsubasa into a mysterious portal, and Itsuki follows him in. When you enter, you soon discover a new power, in the form of beings called Mirages. Mirages are sentient beings from another world, and in teaming up with one, you become a Mirage Master. These mirages have the ability to turn into weapons called carnages. This is where some of the Fire Emblem influence comes in. These mirages have the same name, and a similar look to characters from all across the Fire Emblem series. However, they still do look different. Their designs fit their characters well though, but for some reason each character has something covering their face. The character cameos range from all over the Fire Emblem series, but if you haven’t played Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon, you will have a much harder time recognizing some characters, as that’s where a majority of them come from. However, the first one Itsuki meets, and subsequently teams up with is Chrom, from Fire Emblem Awakening.
Itsuki and Chrom then proceed to save Tsubasa. They find out that the host that kidnapped her was having his mind controlled by another mirage. Upon leaving, the friend Itsuki was initially waiting for is revealed to be a mirage master as well, who works for Maiko Shimazaki, president of Fortuna Entertainment. Fortuna Entertainment is an entertainment agency that houses and represents idols of all kinds. However, it is also a front for a group of people who fight against mirages. Soon, Itsuki and Tsubasa are brought into the fight, to stop more incidents like this one from happening, and to free anybody else who might be controlled by mirages. At the same time, they’re tasked with unraveling the mystery of what mirages are, their new partners included, where they come from, and who the mastermind who’s behind the attacks that are supposedly occurring all over Tokyo, is. On top of all that, Itsuki and Tsubasa also join the entertainment industry, with Tsubasa training to become an idol herself.
Across the course of the game, more people join Fortuna entertainment. Either people who just became mirage masters, or people who have already been one. These people become your party members, and your friends. However, these characters are a tricky subject. On one hand, these characters are pretty cliché, cookie cutter characters that if you watch a lot of anime, or play a lot of “anime games”, you’ve probably seen a ton of by now. Itsuki is the perfect leader type, who somehow always knows the perfect thing to say, yet is somehow dense when it comes to romantic feelings, and Tsubasa is the childhood friend who secretly, yet not so secretly has a crush on him. On top of that, you have the girl who hides her true feelings by keeping a wall of her temper available at all times, the girl who tries to act really cool, and serious, but secretly adores cute things, and the pompous rich jerk guy, who has a troubled past. These, among several other archetypes. On the other hand though, even though the characters are nothing new, the game does a surprisingly good job of handling them. The situations they are put in provide some actually hilarious moments, and the side stories with them provide depth to their characters that make you care about them regardless of how trope-y they are. One character in particular who I initially hated eventually grew on me through the moments I shared with her. So, while there’s two sides, and I’m sure some people out there won’t like these unoriginal characters at all, the writers did a fantastic job making them shine regardless.
Most of Tokyo Mirage Sessions follows a similar pattern. Itsuki, Tsubasa, or one of their friends that join them along the way receive a job in the entertainment industry, disaster strikes, somebody is revealed to be controlled by a mirage, and they escape into the idolasphere, the world that Tsubasa was brought into earlier. Because of this, a majority of the game’s main story is unfortunately predictable. Throughout the entire story there aren’t many surprises, other than a few. Even the big “twist” at the end is pretty easy to figure out. For all these reasons, the plot falls short, especially from what’s expected from a Fire Emblem game, and even more so from what’s expected from a Shin Megami Tensei game.
What makes both of those series shine however, are their battle systems, and Tokyo Mirage sessions delivers what is expected and more. When a battle begins, you’re transported to a circular stage where the battle takes place. Here, you have many options. Attack is a simple attack using that character’s weapon. Here, Fire Emblem battle strategy comes into play. Swords beat axes. Axes beat Lances. Lances beat swords. On top of those there are many types of weapons and attacks, and almost all of them have a weakness. However, not long into the game, you’ll realize the standard attack is pretty useless compared to your skills, which is your next option. These are much stronger moves that give you more variety as well. This also includes stat buff and debuff moves. Many of the magic attacks have their names taken directly from the Shin Megami Tensei games, and the rest of the moves’ titles are split between Shin Megami Tensei games, and the Fire Emblem games. The difference however, between a regular attack and a skill attack, is that skills take skill points. However, replenishing your skill points is fairly easy to do, so you’ll find this being your main, and probably only attack option. After that you have a place to use your items, which is standard fare for JRPGs, and then guard, which is a bit more interesting here than in most JRPGs because guarding also raises skill points. However, it’s to such a minuscule amount that it doesn’t feel very useful. The next option is change, which allows you to change the character in your party at any time. The best part of this being that it doesn’t waste a turn, so you can freely change to your heart’s content until you have the right character for your current situation. The final option is escape, which allows you to escape from battles.
The most interesting aspect of Tokyo Mirage Session’s battle system is the sessions system. When you use skills, and skills only, landing a hit on an enemy’s weakness triggers a session. A session skill links regular skills with another attack from a member in your party. When a character levels up their weapon they can gain new skills specific to sessions. If say, a character has an ice – fire session skill, an ice skill or ice session skill would activate it, and the character who has that session skill will attack with a fire skill. Then, if somebody else has a session skill activated by a fire skill, then they will follow up with their own attack. Finding weak points is easy, as every time you choose your skill, and choose an enemy, the game shows whether that attack will trigger a session on that monster, and how many session attacks it will activate. When a session kills an enemy, you go into overkill. Every session done in overkill ignores all attack resistances, so that even if an enemy normally repels fire attacks, it will still take regular damage from a fire attack while you are in overkill. On top of that, every attack in overkill also can get you performa, which I’ll talk about later, and money you can use to buy various things, so the more overkill strikes you get, the more rewards you get. This is the crux of what makes Tokyo Mirage Sessions’ battle system so great. Deciding which character’s session would be most effective and target’s an enemy’s weak point most efficiently is all part of the strategy. If an enemy repels ice, and the third party member that hits in a session uses an ice attack, it’s up to you to make the call as to whether that enemy will be defeated before the third hit strikes, so that it can move on to the next enemy through overkill. There’s a lot of thought that goes into every move, and seeing your strategy either succeed or fail is what makes it so fun.
But that’s not even all. The game does more to add variables to each battle. As the game’s story progresses, and as you complete side stories, you unlock dual arts, and ad lib attacks. Ad lib attacks are tied to specific types of attacks, and randomly activate if that attack type is used. During an ad lib attack, a small cut scene plays of a much of flashier version of said attack. Normally, the attack relates to a specific job in the idol industry that the character has done. And of course, the attack is more powerful than a regular attack, and normally effects more enemies as well. A dual art is similar. This one randomly occurs during a session, and similarly plays a cut scene much like that of an Ad lib attack. The difference is that it involves two characters, and that you can choose from two different dual arts that are presented to you during the session. Each session has a side effect such as causing a status ailment for all enemies, or healing your party. On top of that, a dual art extends your session, so that combos as high as 12 hits are possible. However, while these attacks are powerful and fun to watch, the probability of them hitting is a bit too unlikely. They happen quite often, but they rarely occur when it matters most, which is disappointing.
Outside of battle, you can use vending machines to revive your health and skill points with a minuscule portion of your money. You can leave any dungeon any time you want, and when you return, it’s pretty easy for the most part to get back to where you were. Because of this, you’re rarely in danger of dying, or running out of skill points throughout multiple battles. It’s more likely you’ll get wiped out in a single fight. That said, Tokyo Mirage Sessions is an incredibly difficult game especially during boss fights. You’ll need to take advantage of every strategy at your disposal, and unless you play on the lowest difficulty. (Only unlocked when you die once.) you’ll need to do a lot of grinding. If you’re not a fan of grinding, I recommend playing on the lowest difficulty. Almost zero grinding required.
Another thing you can only do outside of battle is get new carnages. When you battle, you get items called performa. You can use different kinds of performa to create new weapons. Each enemy drops a specific kind of performa, so as you continue fighting new kinds of enemies, you’ll get new kinds of performa, so you can make new kinds of carnages. Each new carnage can be leveled, and at each level, you gain a new skill, whether it be a regular skill, a session skill, or a passive skill which raises things like speed, or strength. This system is interesting, and I like the idea of leveling different weapons to get new skills, but every time you max out a carnage, you have to leave the dungeon to create a new one. You can make a bunch of them at a time, and just switch when one is maxed, but you can only make as many carnages as your performa allows, and since you’ll always be pretty limited in that, you’ll find yourself making trips very frequently, which can be frustrating at times. This is especially true towards the end of the game, when a certain performa that you need a lot of, becomes hard to acquire in the quantity that you need. It might have been better to allow you to do this on the fly from inside the dungeons, or if the game just had a regular system of acquiring weapons from chests or enemy encounters.
In the end, most of Tokyo Mirage Sessions isn’t very special, other than its incredible battle system. It doesn’t do much with either of the two properties it associates itself with, and doesn’t live up to the expectations of either franchise. However, it does manage well with what it has, and still brings some genuinely enjoyable moments. If you are not a huge fan of anime, anime inspired creations, or Japanese culture, tread cautiously. You might still find some enjoyment here, but you also might cringe your way through the whole thing. If you are a fan of all of the above, then definitely give this game a shot. It’s not perfect, but there is definitely a lot to love.