In January of 2013, Atlus and Nintendo announced a partnership for an upcoming game that was only known as SMTxFE or Shin Megami Tensei x Fire Emblem. The alignment was exciting, and there was limitless potential as for what it could be, but what we finally saw, was something nobody expected. For the longest time, I had a very hard time determining what kind of game Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is. Is it Persona? Is it Fire Emblem? It's an interesting combination to be sure, but one side definitely outshines the other.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE (it's the acronym for SMT backward if you haven't put it together) plays like a standard JRPG or Shin Megami Tensei game. The story follows two teens who are aspiring pop idols in Japan. When they're attacked by an evil being known as a Mirage, they awaken to their power of Performa (I'm not even making this up) and join with the Fire Emblem characters Chrom and Caeda, in order to fight off the evil Mirages. Awakened to their power, Itsuki and Tsubasa have become Mirage Masters, and they are recruited by a talent agency who in addition to managing popular idols, also fights off Mirage attacks.
I'm not going to beat around the bush. The story is not very good. There are six chapters to the game, and the first four chapters all play out exactly the same. There's some performance or art feature going on, it's attacked by Mirages, the main boss possesses the newest person that's been introduced, go through a dungeon, beat them up, get a new party member at the end. Does that sound familiar? Because it should sound like Persona. As a long time Persona player, it's hard not to see the parallels in Tokyo Mirage Sessions. From the traditional SMT battle system (Agi, Zio, Bufu, the works) to the Fire Emblem Mirages themselves, it's all incredibly derivative of Persona, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Combat is about what you would expect for an SMT JRPG, Different elemental attacks, various physical attacks and exploiting weaknesses. You fight in a party of three and switch our your two supporting fighter- I mean Performers as needed. A unique aspect of the combat is the Sessions mechanic. If one character, say Tsubasa has a session skill along the lines of [Elec-Spear], if Itsuki uses an Electric move, a session will be performed with Tsubasa, and she'll do a follow-up spear attack. Then if another teammate has [Spear-Fire], they'll perform yet another follow-up attack afterward. It's not the most in-depth fighting mechanic, but it's also dangerous because your opponents can use Sessions as well.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is legitimately challenging, and for a couple of different reasons. The first of which is because the bosses are designed to take advantage of the Session mechanic, as well as having their unique gimmick or ability to add difficulty. I often had to think about who I wanted to lead into battle and switch accordingly, especially when the bosses change their weaknesses or attacks. The second aspect that makes the game challenging is that the dungeon design and the enemy encounters don't work well together. The dungeons themselves are fairly clever puzzles, and they never repeat themselves from dungeon to dungeon, but it's a slow process, and when you get interrupted by enemies constantly, it becomes very frustrating and tedious. Now you can avoid combat entirely, which allows for a lot more time trying to navigate the dungeons, but it also leaves you under leveled very quickly. Even on the easiest difficulty, I struggled with many of the bosses, and the final boss took me five hours to beat, partially because I was under leveled and partially because the boss had a challenging set of abilities that I had to work around.
If this was all that there was to Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE, I'd say it was a very average game, but it's not. The place where Tokyo Mirage Sessions shines the most is in the side quests. As you level up your party members and play through the story, you can unlock side stories for every one of your party members. Not only are these side stories entertaining, but they're also incredibly worth the time and effort, as most of the side stories unlock new battle mechanics for you to use. By doing the side stories, I found two new battle mechanics, Ad-Libs which randomly proc powerful attacks and Duets, which can provide massive damage, healing and restarts your Session count. Through Duets, I was able to reach a Session chain of fourteen consecutive hits! I only made it through about half of them, but if I had more time to go through each and every side story, I definitely would have.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is a solid JRPG, but with the themes surrounding Idol culture in Japan, it's going to have a very niche audience. It's not gritty enough that traditional SMT players will likely enjoy it, and it only has just enough Fire Emblem in it to satisfy that audience. But for casual JRPG fans, this game is not a bad choice at all. The presentation, of Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is stunning. The music, the animated cutscenes, everything aesthetically about Tokyo Mirage Sessions has so much polish to it, and it shows. It's not an easy game, and the story can be lacking, but the love that went into everything else is outstanding.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE was reviewed on the Nintendo Wii U with a disc that was provided by Nintendo of America.