It's been a long road, but it looks like the Fire Emblem and Shin Megami Tensei crossover, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE, which Nintendo announced back in 2013, is almost here. The Japanese role-playing game, developed by Atlus and coming stateside courtesy of Nintendo for the Wii U, is a mix of two once-obscure series—Fire Emblem and Shin Megami Tensei. If you're a fan of Persona's candy-colored visuals and J-pop soundtrack, and Fire Emblem's dense weapon-based systems, you should find a lot to like in Tokyo Mirage Sessions, an original adventure that uses motifs and systems from both franchises to form a unique, yet familiar, whole.
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Hee-Ho, What's It All About?
Based on my short time with a demo, I only got a taste of Tokyo Mirage Sessions' story, which centers around Itsuki Aoi, a teen involved with a talent agency that's really a front for pop idols, or Mirage Masters, who merged with the souls of Fire Emblem characters (such as Chrom or Tharja from Fire Emblem Awakening). Their objective? To become successful pop stars and battle evil Mirages.
As you may have figured, the plot is anime as hell, so if you don't mind that (and if you do, check out Net Nanny), you may be thrilled to hear the dialogue is all spoken in Japanese—no English dubs here, which is fitting considering that the J-pop-infused soundtrack would probably sound awkward when translated. A Japanese language track is also fitting, since, true to the title, the game takes place in Tokyo.
Fans of Splatoon, Yakuza, and The World Ends With You ought to enjoy walking around Tokyo Mirage Sessions' hyper-colorful version of Shibuya and Harajuku. As Itsuki, you explore the crosswalk-laden cityscape, talk to NPCs, learn about the city, and gather side quests that you can keep track of on the Wii U's GamePad. The Wii U's screen-equipped controller is a central part of the game; it's where you can view various maps, quests, and messages from other characters. Unfortunately, that means there's no off-TV play.
Based on my brief glimpse into the world of Mirage Masters and pop idols, I can say the story's tone is lighthearted, if a bit familiar. Will the overprotective big brother type get over, er, all his worrying? Will the young girl succeed as a pop songstress? Will the older former idol with big glasses and bigger assets whip everyone into shape? I don't know yet, but if those descriptions sound a little cliché, that's because they are, especially if you've played any Persona game or regularly browse Crunchyroll. Hopefully, Tokyo Mirage Sessions adds new wrinkles to the same old archetypes.
Baby, Baby, Baby!
Battles against evil Mirages play out similarly to Persona titles, or Shin Megami Tensei IV. In fact, the experience is nearly the same. As Itsuki, you run around a bizarre dungeon and hack at on-screen enemies with a weapon. If whacked, the enemies weaken in battle. If you miss, and the enemy touches you first, then they have the initiative.
In battle, you control Itsuki and two other characters (that you can swap out if you have more than three party members; Itsuki always stays in-group) against weird-looking monsters in turn-based combat. A timeline at the top of the screen details who, enemy or friend, receives the upcoming turns. You can attack, use magic or elemental-based skills, buff, debuff, guard, use healing items, and flee battles. Similar to Fire Emblem Fates, Tokyo Mirage Sessions has certain weapons that are strong or weak against each other, similar to rock-paper-scissors. And like in Persona, Tokyo Mirage Sessions' enemy and player characters are weak to certain elemental or physical attacks.
While battles look similar to those found in the Persona games, there are a few elements unique to Tokyo Mirage Sessions. For instance, if you successfully strike a mook with the right spell, that triggers a combo attack, or Session Attack, where all three characters chain together skills and gang up on the enemy. This can quickly end skrimishes, but the tide of the battle could turn in enemies' favor in the same manner. Apparently (I didn't get to check this out in the demo), the creation and evolution of weapons, which you create by crafting them from items, can strengthen Session Attacks and grant weapons new abilities. Good performance in battle can also reward you with more powerful weapon unlocks.
My one gripe with the battle system is that, while they're fun, the Session Attacks can go on for a while. They're basically short J-pop performances, complete with the pop idol protagonists dancing and singing. It'd be nice if you could skip the lengthy, Final Fantasy VIII-like summon animations after you get used to them.
Reach Out to the Future
I had a brief time with Tokyo Mirage Sessions, but I liked what I played, even though it's more Persona than Fire Emblem. As far as I can tell, Fire Emblem is represented by the Persona/Stand-like Mirages, the weapon strength-weakness system, and little else—perhaps there's a late-game twist where the two worlds combine further. The battle system is rather same-y, especially after a line of Shin Megami Tensei games (Persona 4 Golden, Soul Hackers, and Shin Megami Tensei IV) that all basically played the same, so hopefully the Session Attacks and weapon-crafting will shake things up. The J-pop pageantry is fun, but could easily wear out its welcome, especially if you're not tolerant of anime and, uh, its many nuances.
What I can't abide is the DLC. There are five downloadable packs available at launch that will add costumes, dungeons, and items to help strengthen your weapons. Some packs will be bundled at a reduced price. Ideally, all of this stuff would be included in the base game and not locked behind paywalls.
A JRPG like Tokyo Mirage Sessions takes time to unfold, so an hour of playtime is just the tip of the Bufu-berg. Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE will come out exclusively for Wii U on June 24th. Look for the full review later this month.