The EGM staff has one big Shin Megami Tensei fan. It has one big Fire Emblem fan. And then, it has me—a JRPG fan with a little knowledge of Fire Emblem, a little less knowledge of SMT, and therefore the least-informed but also least-biased perspective for diving into the crazy Mirage-haunted, J-Pop infused world of Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE in order to judge it on its own merits.
Like many of the SMT games, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE takes place in Tokyo, and like SMT, the world’s been invaded by supernatural creatures. The traditional demons, though, have been replaced with Mirages—corrupted entities straight out of the various Fire Emblem games. Some, like Aversa, reprise their roles as villains, while others—including Chrom, Caeda, Cain, and Tiki—quickly team up with the main characters in order to share power and save the world.
At the heart of the conflict is Performa, a power generated by the strength of a human’s creativity and artistry. Naturally, the world of pop idols—full of catchy songs, cheering audiences waving glowsticks, lights, and spectacle—is the perfect bait to attract tons of Mirages, and the industry falls under attack. It’s up to the artists at Fortuna Entertainment to become Mirage Masters and turn their skills at the performing arts into flashy performances capable of fighting back.
It’s more than just singing that’s on display, though. The fully animated, anime-style music videos that occasionally pop up are definitely a visual and audible treat. The game explores a surprisingly wide range of performing arts, including photography, modeling, acting, directing, composing, advertising, comedy, and even producing (the art of helping other people shine). While the big stage performances may steal the show, the game validates all types of performance, right down to one minor character who only goes by an online username and writes music through the fictional equivalent of a Vocaloid program. The Performa from her fan-made music is no less important or powerful than the Performa generated by a world-famous Hollywood movie director.
Exploring the game’s many sidequests unlocks character arcs and more in-depth performances, which can be used in combat. In any other game, this would be a completely normal form of progression not even worth mentioning, but the sheer absurdity of some of the performances makes it worth it. This is not “level up and learn a new sword attack”—this is “find new depths of sisterly emotion in your soul, express it through cooking, and heal your allies through the sheer power of your skill at using a microwave” or “blast enemies back in the turn order with the refreshing ocean waves summoned by a soda commercial.” Some of these abilities can be triggered on purpose in combat, while others only have a chance of activating at random—but all of them lead to long, flashy chains of combat moves that I never got tired of watching. The game talks up the importance of performing, and it doesn’t fail to deliver on the spectacle.
Outside of combat, however, the game suffers from some major issues in level design that would have made it feel outdated in 2006, let alone 2016. Every single time you walk into a new area, you’ll be looking at a loading screen for anywhere from five to twenty seconds—a problem which would not be nearly so bad if each section of the map was not so ridiculously tiny. It takes less time to walk across a newly-loaded area than it does to load the next area. Particularly egregious is the downtown Shibuya area, a major hub with shops and a café. There are a couple of small alleyways, most of which are blocked off with invisible walls—fine, whatever—but every attempt to cross a street or enter a shop results in a new loading screen. It’s possible to fast-travel to spots downtown, but even that’s inefficient—sit through one long loading screen to fast-travel and you’ll be deposited on the street directly outside the shop. Actually going into the shop triggers another loading screen to sit through, so you get two for the price of one—and then, of course, more loading when you try and leave.
Worst of all is the Bloom Palace, an area that must be repeatedly visited to upgrade equipment and skills. This is, by far, the most tedious part of the game. Characters can learn all of their weapon skills in just a few fights, at which point it’s best to switch to a different weapon in order to keep improving. However, this means stopping mid-dungeon, finding a teleportation pad to the entrance (loading screen!), exiting the dungeon (loading screen!), exiting whatever room or area the dungeon’s in to get back to the main map (loading screen!), fast-traveling to the Fortuna Office (loading screen!), walking for two seconds across the floor of the office to another door (loading screen!), to finally get to the place where you can upgrade. At that point it’s a lot of back and forth between menus to figure out exactly what needs upgrading and what you can afford, then it’s a long walk all the way back through all of those loading screens again just to resume exploring. Since this has to be done so often in order to keep gear maximized and stay ahead of the enemies, it’s a huge pain.
The game has a few other flaws that are minor, but still impact enjoyment. Character stats are spread out over several different pages in the menu, making it impossible to see, say, a character’s currently-equipped weapon and a character’s current HP on the same page. Weapon skills level up a bit too fast—I’m all for fast progression, but when every single battle is followed by five minutes of re-evaluating the moves and skills of all seven characters, it gets old quickly (not to mention that maxing everything out means yet another trip to the Bloom Palace or a total stall on progression, yay!). There are some segments of revisiting old dungeons to kill a set number of monsters or hunt for items that get tiresome fast, especially since the enemies pose no threat at later levels. And for some reason, there are no English translations for anything that happens in battle—I heard the same Japanese lines enough that I’m sure most are just stock battle phrases, but missing out on the final words of a boss I just worked hard to defeat is a bit demoralizing.
Overall, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is a mixed bag. The dungeon exploration’s a little less than impressive, but maybe the flashy fight sequences inside make up for it. The music videos that are occasionally unlocked are a lot of fun, but you’ll have to walk through a few dozen loading screens to get to that point. As the game goes on, the plot ties in more and more with Fire Emblem, and getting to see the characters interact in new ways may be a big selling point for Fire Emblem fans. For myself, I enjoyed bringing the individual arcs of the characters to fruition and may add some of the catchier songs to my music collection, but once the credits rolled I was happy enough to set the game down and bring my time with Fortuna Entertainment to an end.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE promises spectacle, and boy does it deliver—but all the flashy scenes, Fire Emblem cameos, and J-Pop in the world can't cover up cramped world design and loads and loads of loading.
T – Teen
|Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is available on Wii U. Primary version played was for Wii U. Product was provided by Nintendo for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.|
Emma’s early gaming was mostly done in secret, as the only gamer in a family of normal people. She still retains skills from this dark period in her life, such as the ability to teleport instantly across the house away from the computer, and holds a gold medal in the Olympic sport of “Hide the Gameboy.” Sorry, Mom, now you know.