This superficial hybrid JRPG is a toe-tapping good time.
Imagine someone pouring pop rocks into a soda can, shaking it up as hard as they can, then digitizing the explosive results. That’s Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE: a zany, effervescent blend of beloved JRPG series Fire Emblem and Shin Megami Tensei that lacks story depth but puts on a good show.
Tokyo Mirage unapologetically embraces the goofier side of the Japanese entertainment industry by squeezing out every bit of silliness it can find and then dialing it up to 11. Throughout the nearly 60 hours of gameplay I was treated to a parade of razzle-dazzle vignettes that include flashy music videos, a snicker-inducing commercial where a girl rides a wave of nuclear-colored soda, and a goofy reenactment of a costume hero show. Usually all at once, since these over-the-top animations are part of Tokyo Mirage’s enormously fun combat.
Battles take place on a circular stage, where flamboyantly dressed teens call upon otherworldly beings known as Mirages to help them fight ghoulish versions of Fire Emblem enemies like Dark Clerics and Bloodwing Knights. On the surface, the combat mechanics are a straightforward mix of Fire Emblem’s rock-paper-scissors weapons triangle and Shin Megami Tensei spinoff Persona’s fusion system that lets you swap out upgradable skills and spells.That’s fine and dandy, but it’s hardly original. In fact, it’s not even the first time Persona’s combat mechanics have been crossbred with another franchise (check out my Persona Q review).
Each battle feels like a pop culture extravaganza.
The secret ingredient to Tokyo Mirage’s success are the wacky combo attacks known as Sessions. Sessions are triggered by exploiting an enemy’s weakness to spells or weapon types, and can be strung together by learning passive skills that allow characters to do a follow-up attack based on the type of attack that preceded it. In other words, if the adorable ax-wielding Mamorin knows an ice-affiliated session skill, she can follow up grumpy Kiria’s ice spells with a flashy takedown of her own. This causes a chain reaction where any character with an ax-affiliated Session can jump into the fray. Every Session skill has its own unique character animation, so I never got tired of watching my heroes wail on enemies one after another after another.
Adding to the crazy shenanigans are randomly triggered buff attacks called Ad-Libs and finishing moves called Special Performances, both of which come with plenty of visual flourishes. Combining all these special attacks makes each battle feel like a pop culture extravaganza, especially when a cheering audience showers you with extra loot every time you successfully pull off a flashy move. It’s all part of a deliberately in-your-face presentation, and I love it. More importantly, they come in handy against tough bosses like a trio of strange-looking creatures that will continuously revive themselves unless you manage to defeat them all in the same round.
Combat is fun, but the drawn-out exploration and arduous puzzle-solving that accompany it aren’t.
Combat is fun, but unfortunately the drawn-out exploration and arduous puzzle-solving that accompany it aren’t as enjoyable. It’s not that flipping switches to move a giant mannequin’s arms or navigating LCD panels in the right order was too challenging, it’s that these environmental puzzles didn’t feel very original and require copious amounts of backtracking.
What makes dungeons an even bigger slog is having to warp out of them at the halfway point just to watch a superfluous cutscene before resuming the story. (Seriously, does cheerful tomboy Ellie really need a change of venue just to advise sugary-sweet Tsubasa on how to act?) Even on the overworld map of Tokyo, the humorous character quests had me ping-ponging between areas separated by tedious loading screens just to fetch a donut or a doll. This stop-and-start approach to gameplay felt completely unnecessary and hurts Tokyo Mirage’s pacing.
I might have been able to overlook the constant interruption to gameplay if the story was a little more compelling, but the breezy plot about fledgling pop stars investigating supernatural events in Tokyo never evolves into anything meaningful. Even the happy-go-lucky cast feels a bit too generic – we’ve seen characters like the bland “everyman” Itsuki and the ditzy Tsubasa a million times before. I was also pretty bummed that the Fire Emblem cast felt so ancillary; Chrom and his fellow Mirages felt completely out of place in the bubblegum antics of the teens they’re sworn to protect.
Luckily, these otherworldly allies serve more of a purpose on the battlefield. By turning into things like swords or axes, they can lend powerful weapon-based skills like the armor-shattering Diamond Crusher sword attack to their pop idol masters. I also like that you can use the Master Seals feature from Fire Emblem to change a Mirage’s class into a more powerful warrior type that can learn new skills and abilities. The roleplaying mechanics that allow you to strengthen and upgrade weapons using enemy and ally drops known as Performa are pretty standard RPG fare, but I enjoyed being able to graft different combat skills onto these beautifully designed battle instruments however I saw fit.