Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE
This was easily one of my most awaited games of this year. I hadn't been at all interested in this game as it had been first pitched, as a rather bland-looking, by-the-book crossover between Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem, but when, after seeming to have been cancelled, it resurfaced as a bright and colourful RPG about showbusiness and hitting monsters with sharp objects, and it looked to be eyecatching, fun, and one of the most unique JRPGs coming out this year.
Well, it didn't disappoint in that regard. It disappointed in a few other ways, sure, but it was definitely eyecatching, fun, and unique.
Set in modern day Tokyo (stick with me now), Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE puts you in the shoes of a group of aspiring showbiz stars under the management of Fortuna Entertainment. Fortuna has another side to it, though: Its stars are also Mirage Masters, fighters who team up with Mirages (biomechanical warriors from another world - and all, coincidentally, actually Fire Emblem characters) to save people from evil or corrupted Mirages who wish to drain peoples' Performa. After high school student Itsuki Aoi and aspiring idol Tsubasa Oribe become Mirage Masters, they join Fortuna - which already includes Itsuki's best friend Touma and Tsubasa's hero Kiria - and attempt to discover who is controlling the evil Mirages, and how their plans involve the mysterious Shadow Dragon.
This was a very frustrating game.
Not in terms of gameplay, that was actually conspicuously designed with a lot of anti-frustration features worked in. In fact, the gameplay in general was pretty brilliant: On the surface, it was standard Shin Megami Tensei stuff, with a bonus Fire Emblem weapon triangle worked in, but the gameplay soon reveals a lot of layers of depth to it. Characters have both active skills and passive skills, which interact together in interesting ways, along with session skills.
|The game has many beautiful animated cutscenes, almost all of which are inexplicably|
full length music videos.
Session skills work by, whenever you hit an enemy with an attack its weak to, having each of your party members in turn attack with a session skill: Each session skill is composed of a lead-in word to chain it together with an attack previous, and a main word to describe what kind of skill it is - so 'Axe-Blaze' would be a fire attack that activates if the previous attack in a session was an axe-based attack. These sessions continue until either every part member has had their turn, or until the enemy gets hit with something they can block (or they miraculously dodge an attack). Most of your damage will be done through session skills, especially against bosses, so it becomes important to try and hit its weak points as often as possible.
Added to that are three strains of special attack. SP Skills, powerful attacks which consume one or two points on your SP Gauge, which charges as you deal out, heal, or take damage (and which charges up faster the more and longer sessions you have); Ad-Lib Skills, which trigger randomly when you attack; and Dual Arts, double attacks by two characters which have a chance of triggering during any sufficiently long session, then occurring after the session is over and starting a new session. Any special attack automatically hits its targets weak point and triggers a session.
All these things combine to make for a battle system which is both involved and often unpredictable. It's primed to avoid frustration as much as possible, and while the battle system is pretty complicated and involved, it never feels too complicated.
|I was kind of sad that only Itsuki and Tsubasa got full on magical girl style transformations.|
The gameplay is kind of amazing, and it bodes well for Persona 5, developed alongside this game by Atlus.
No, my frustration comes from the storyline. Don't get me wrong, I really like the idea of a showbusiness themed JRPG, and I think it's a lot more interesting than a generic (and, by definition, somewhat inaccessible - we'll talk about that in an editorial, maybe) 'let's have these two casts meet' crossover. I actually quite liked the structure, in which each chapter involves a problem facing one of the aspiring stars which they must overcome in order to defeat an evil Mirage.
My frustration, though, stems primarily from the game's weird preoccupation with Tsubasa. She's a fun enough character, don't get me wrong, but she is by far one of the less interesting party characters - only Itsuki, our everyman protagonist, is more flat. Worse, the game's preoccupation with Tsubasa means that the story has to bend logic into pretzel shapes to make the story make sense.
|The gang's all here.|
Tsubasa's an idol, but the story contorts itself to shoehorn into every possible area of showbusiness, even to the detriment of other characters whose personal storylines would tie into them much better. Professional actors Touma and Ellie get slid into supporting roles during a storyline about acting so that Tsubasa - who might I mention again is going into a career in singing - can learn about acting. Conversely, Ellie at one point ends up inexplicably becoming an idol solely so that she can have a side story about doing a double act with Tsubasa.
Despite my irritation over that part of the storyline, this is a genuinely really fun game. It's bright, colourful, interesting, and it never gets boring. Having enjoyed moderate success in Japan and somewhat better success in the US and Europe, it's entirely possible that we'll be getting a sequel to it, as well. I'd quite like to see Atlus branch out and trying crossing over with other franchises. Maybe a Shin Megami Tensei x Final Fantasy. Shin Megami Tensei x Legend of Zelda. Shin Megami Tensei x Dark Souls.