This is absolute nonsense and that is what makes it beautiful.
I have been interested in Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE ever since it was announced. As someone who plays Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem games on a regular basis, I was wondering what the title could be like. There were many ideas floating in my head and not enough ways to properly convey them. When we saw what the game actually was, my interested shifted around. The insanity of it could be the reason to enjoy it and that ended up being the case. While the game has darker elements embedded into it, the majority is a colorful nonsense I can't get enough of.
The story of Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is better than you might think. In the beginning, you follow around Itsuki Aoi and Tsubasa Oribe, who have very regular student lives. That changes when Tsubasa enters the One of Millennium competition. Her dream is to become an idol, one that can bring smiles to people's faces. The audition she enters takes a dark turn for the worse when the MC goes insane and kidnaps the contestants, dragging them into an unknown parallel world. It seems like the place the competition was held at, the Daitama Observatory, but twisted and turned into something surreal. Itsuki, still stunned at what happened to his friend, gives chase and tries to stop whatever is going on.
Due to their increased danger, Performas awaken from within them. Performas are the essence of an artist and grows into new ones when certain steps are achieved. Without thinking, Itsuki shoves the orbs of light into the two monsters that are putting them in harm's way. Their dark robes are ripped to shreds and reveals characters that might look familiar to lovers of Fire Emblem. Caeda and Chrom appear for the two youngsters and help them transform into Carnage form. It allows them to take the power and weapon stats of these beloved heroes and stop any threats that come their way. They team up with their other school friend, Touma Akagi, and finally escape from the twisted place.
What becomes clear to both Itsuki and Tsubasa, is that they rolled into something far greater than they could have imagined. Touma explains that they are Mirage Masters now and should fight the evil Mirages that are trying to steal the creative energy from people. They are introduced to Maiko Shimazaki, former model and boss at Fortuna Entertainment. She says that both of them can join and Maiko has the amibition to make Tsubasa an idol. While Itsuki isn't sure where he wants to go, he is supportive of his friend and will help where ever he can. This just happens within the prologue and sets the stage for something that will truly stun you.
The following chapters each highlight a certain aspect of the Japanese entertainment industry. Tsubasa is after all still an amateur and needs to learn her way in this world. Take chapter one for example, which sees her learning to convey emotion in her singing. In the beginning, she doesn't seem to grasp what many people are saying. Ever since seeing her older sister (Ayaha Oribe) in action, Tsubasa wants to reach the same level. When it doesn't seem that easy, she becomes depressed and walks off. Kiria Kurono, already huge in the idol scene, suggests that Itsuki should bring Tsubasa to one of her live performances. He does and the younger Oribe gets a better understanding of what she needs to do. Before she ponders it even more, a huge Mirage attack unfolds in the middle of Shibuya. When they find the culprit and face her, it turns out to be... Tsubasa's sister.
The possessed Ayaha rushes into a weird portal at the Shibuya 106 building, and the crew naturally gives chase. Itsuki and his friends enter an Idolasphere, which is a twisted world, like the one in Daitama. Idolaspheres can be seen as the dungeons in Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE and that isn't without reason. You walk around, solve puzzles and fight against a variety of Mirages to find your way to the top. Shibuya 106 (or 109 in real-life) is a central place in the fashion industry, so this particular dungeon is decked out with gigantic headless dolls and mannequins. These mannequins rooms each have three stances and you will have to switch between them to reach new floors by using the big dolls. It starts out fairly easy, but the final moments do require more of a thinking cap.
Generally speaking, I found the dungeons in the first four chapters not too overly complicated. Each has their unique gimmicks that I won't spoil any further, but I do think that the game doesn't do the best job of explaining things. In particular later on when it becomes less obvious, the dungeons would benefit from a bit more upfront chatter. Outside of that though, I appreciate that they don't stretch themselves thin and make labyrinths that go on forever. They felt charming to play through and found the perfect spots to end on. They even keep it refreshing by implementing plot points that need to be developed outside of the Idolasphere. This usually sees you developing a new Perfoma, so that a certain obstacle can be tackled head on. In the case of chapter one, this sees Tsubasa achieving a better voice to help weaken the spell of a boss.
Speaking of bosses, let us talk about the combat, which is one of the major selling points to me. This hits the absolute sweet spot between Persona and some of the finer points in Fire Emblem. The majority is Persona – turn-based combat with players having to switch between attacking, using skills and items, guarding and a variety of other options. It is a system where you pick your attacks from a menu, see the madness unfold for your very eyes and see rounds progress as all the characters take the spotlight. Even if you aren't too familiar with Persona’s format, you will find yourself knowing what to do in no time. You will be mostly toying around in the Skills menu, considering you have full control over what you will develop in time. The names of the Skills are filled with references to various well known moves from both franchises. You take notice of ones like Elthunder, Mediarama and a whole lot more.
Skills is also where the true roots of Fire Emblem and Shin Megami Tensei start to show. You see, this game combines the weakness system and weapon triangle of both franchises and puts them right next to one another. This creates a complex system where you will have to figure out what move works for each Mirage. This becomes trickier the more you progress as the margin of error becomes slimmer. By watching their attacks and looking at the appearances, you can learn a thing or two, but that is still not a 100% guarantee. This is in particular true with the bosses, who are based on Fire Emblem baddies. The evil doers try to fully overtake a person, and you have to stop. One of the examples in chapter two is a possessed photographer, who is overtaken by Gangrel of Fire Emblem Awakening fame.
By successfully landing an attack that is strong against the opponent, it starts a streak called a Session. What this means is that your allies will join you in the attack and start to deal damage all within the same move. Your options are really limited when you start, considering that Session Skills list need to be built up first. When it grows, it creates new chances for your crew to pop in. This starts with the three characters that are on the playing field, but once you acquire enough power, the subcast can rise from the shadows and create a string that is deadly and effective. As of this writing I can create a nice slew of five hit combos, but I have the feeling that this will expand even more as I continue along.
Next to the regular Skill moves, which take Energy Points to use, there are so called Special and Ad-lib Performances. With Special Performances, you wil get extra strong attacks that have a lot of spectacle going for them. You get Chrom diving head first into a group of enemies in Raging Blast and Caeda using her pegasus to destroy everything in her path with Aerial Dance. To activate these attacks, you will need SP. SP is earned by doing and taking damage and goes into a special gauge that fills up over time. Three of these can be filled up at once and it is possible to decrease the time it takes. Ad-lib Performances are earned by taking on quests. While I will discuss those more later on, I must say that these are quite random. You don't know when these get activated and that makes the timing sometimes annoying. The attacks at least show the main characters in a range of fun scenarios, like Tsubasa going down a water slide and splashing on all the enemies.
Once you wrap up a battle, you will naturally be rewarded with Experience Points (XP) so that you can grow levels. By growing levels, you will increase your stats like Strength and Hit Points to make your position that much better. There are, however, a lot more things in play here than your regular role playing game. First of, there is the Stage Rank to keep in mind. By competing in battles and being an active member of the team, you raise this rank over the course of the game. This means that you will get access to new abilities or side quests that weren't available to you before. Another thing of importance is Mastery Points, which will level up your weapons and give you the choice to add new attacks to your line-up. Some will increase some stats even further or sharpen your skills when performing certain attacks. Next to all of this, you naturally get your regular slew of items and money.
Once you have the right amount of items, you can head to the Bloom Palace. It is here that you can make new weapons with Carnage Unity. Every weapon gives you a new set of skills and constantly increased attack power, so exploring and finding these items is critically important. If you don’t stray from the prescribed path, you’re going to miss out on a lot of important weapons. With Radiant Unity, Itsuki and his friends become better entertainers and get a variety of additional skills that can help in and out of combat. You can make enemies only appear after a certain amount of steps, get a warp to instantly return to Fortuna's office or save EP usage on other moves. Class Change is the last one, though also the one I got to explore the least. It allows you, like the Fire Emblem games, to give your Mirage massive update to their skills. The one I tried was the Great Lord on Chrom, which increased the attack bar by a lot.
Money is critically important in other areas. The place to be is the Hey Ho Mart in Shibuya, where a salesclerk (who looks and acts like Anna) allows you to buy and sell items. My advice? Go in and buy a ton of Cleansing Ooling (fixes ailments) and Fresh Spicy Curry (revives ally), as they will be your friends in combat. Next to her, there is also a masked salesclerk, who sells you more mystical items. There are attack items on offer as well as ones that raise your stats for a few turns.
Also in the area is Carabia, a shop where you can buy accessories like bracelets and rings. These will boost certain areas while weakening others, so most of them didn't really seem worth it. There is a rare one that leaves you with 1EP, but increases your strength by a huge margain as an example. The final big shop doesn't really impact stats, but it is totally worth checking out. Once you can travel to Harajuku, be sure to drop by Anzu. Here you can buy various outfits to wear in battle and increase the atmosphere of the stage. Considering you are on a stage, the characters will shout different lines depending on the costumes they wair. Sadly though, you can't understand what they are saying, as these specific lines aren't subtitled.
From the few details I have given in the shop descriptions, you may have gathered that you get to explore various Tokyo areas between chapters in the Shin Megami Tensei tradition. Shibuya is certainly the biggest place. Two of the initial Idolaspheres take place here, many of the shops are there and you will go there a lot for various smaller tasks. These hub areas aren't huge however and you won't get lost in each place. It doesn't exactly help that most people roaming the streets are nothing less than colorful shapes. That being said, it helps to clearly highlight points of interest and limits the random NPCs that you can talk to. A nice touch is that posters and music change as you visit Shibuya, so the game does keep up with the latest trends. Harajuku is even smaller and it doesn't have exactly much going for it. There is an arena mode where you can tackle loads of enemies in a row, which is at least handy for leveling up characters that didn't get much screen time.
The biggest reason why you would go back to other locations are the requests and side quests. You will find random requests at every place you visit and revisit, which allows you to get additional items that you can’t elsewhere. So when you are training in an older Idolasphere, certain Mirages may come to you and ask you to, say, destroy their competition in exchange for a key. Side quests are the bigger thing however and the game is filled to the brim with them. These trinkets will allow you to get to know the characters better and see new sides of them that you never have imagined. One early on is that Kiria lost a doll she holds dear and you will need to search for it at the Daitama Observatory. She will wonder if it is okay to like cute things and then starts to sing a new song as a result. Most of these don't focus on battling, but exploring the environments and helping your friends out with their problems. It will give them new skills and they will put more trust in Itsuki's decision making. Most of the side quests are absolutely nuts and bring you to crazy scenarios that you wouldn't expect. There were moments that caused me to laugh like I haven’t done for a long time!
Before I head off into the sunset, I want to highlight what the Wii U GamePad is being used for. If you know what the LINE (or maybe WhatsApp) application on mobile is all about, you have an idea what TOPIC is. TOPIC is the system that allows your allies to contact whenever that is needed. They will give you details on where to go next, what you are expected to do and maybe highlight the additional side missions that you want to tackle. Just like in real-life, their personalities are reflected in their text messages and it is quite silly to read sometimes. There is an app to let you know when new skills are available at Tiki's Bloom Palace. Naturally there is also a map, which gives you an idea of the area that you are in. Nothing too crazy, but certainly nice to have. While in the main menu or in battle, you get to see the stats of friends and foes alike to think even more carefully about your next moves.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE looks beautiful in motion and a pure sight to behold. It is one of the Wii U's most colorful games, if not the most colorful. The characters, world and dungeons all have a clean and crisp design that really stands out among the Wii U's greats. There are even animated cutscenes now and again that up the ante even more and make me not want to stop playing. The Japanese voice acting is, next to this, top notch. I understand why Nintendo and Atlus didn't want to change the dymanics of this game, considering the music and voices are connected with one another. The subtitles are on point at least and they don't step away from the game's general meaning. There are localisation changes when it comes to costumes and a certain part in chapter two so far, but that is about it. The music is also deserving of big praise. While I can talk about J-Pop songs for a quite a while longer, things like the themes in the streets and battles are equally impressive. Sadly, these can't be heard on any soundtrack of the game, which is sort of a shame.
As you can read, I am enjoying Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE a ton. The premise, while silly, is fantastic and gives the game a ton of character. I enjoyed sitting down and hearing the protagonists talk to one another. When I picked the controller up however, I got some great dungeons and side quests out of it. The main HUB isn't anything to really stick around for, but it helps to keep the pace going and that is welcome for a game like this. There are a few moments where I felt slightly lost and walking through some colorful blobs is just alright, but everything else feels instantly at home. There is an unique joy that this game is giving me and that joy will make me push for the end goal.