There is something special that helps to define JRPGs as different from their Western counterparts. Perhaps it’s the uniquely colored hair that their protagonists can have, or perhaps it’s certain tropes that are sure to appear (Masamune sword references or the fact that final bosses take numerous forms, for example), but mainly it’s about the journey of self discovery for the protagonist(s). This game might not include a mom waking you up, or the need to rebel against an evil organization, but it’s still a very typical JRPG, and a great one at that.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE centers on a lovable cast of characters, all young idols who are either looking to make it big in the performing arts, or who have already made a name for themselves. However, it’s not as simple as that. There’s an evil force out there that is invading our world, bringing darkness and robbing people of their “performa”, their unique creative or performing spark. Your characters are each mirage masters, meaning that they have a mirage or partner who does the actual fighting through them. These mirages can teach them new skills as they get stronger and progress through the game.
As far as the story goes, it’s pretty standard fare. You need to discover your talents or your friends’ talents, getting stronger in order to take on more powerful enemies. It’s often unclear if the evil forces are a parable for the performing arts or vice versa, but either way the characters are encouraged to put themselves on the line, be confident and express their true selves. While there are moments of lighthearted romance or awkward Japanese humor, it really is quite charming especially as you learn what really drives each character – my favorite was Kiria, the tough cool girl who wanted to learn how to be cute.
Truly, the story is not the reason to play Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE, though. It simply serves as an interesting enough backdrop for the true star of the game – the combat. When you enter each dungeon, enemies appear and if you strike them with your sword before they touch you, you can choose whether or not to fight, getting first strike if you opt in. Once in combat, the most fulfilling aspect is sessions; these are unique combos created by exploiting an enemy’s weakness, allowing your party members to continue in the flurry of attacks without spending their action points, dealing a ton of damage. There are even upgrades as you progress through the game to allow members in your sub-cast (non-party members) to take part in the sessions, leading to bigger and better combos.
As you progress through the story, you can also unlock unique ad lib skills which activate somewhat randomly, although there are triggers to make them a bit more frequent. These also boost damage and can also create weaknesses in enemies where there might not otherwise be such opportunities.
As a crossover title combining Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem, there are aspects that fans of either (or both) Atlus titles will be excited by. I was pleased to see Chrom and Tharja appear as mirages in this world, even if they lost their memories, fighting with them to overcome the apparent demon outbreak in Tokyo. Still, while building relationships can help you in the game, it’s not as simple as fighting alongside each other. Instead, you must undertake the various side missions, following set paths towards relationship building that unlock other randomly occurring abilities that can expand your combos and deal enormous damage or help to heal your party. While I enjoyed the side missions, I would have preferred a greater emphasis on playing together to build better affinities. Certain characters were such glass canons or useless in main combat that I almost never included them in my main party, instead letting them chime in from the sub-cast with extra combo hits and the occasional Dual Action. It would have been nice to see greater rewards for using a more varied party, growing character affinities and unlocking side stories or combos that way.
Beyond the main story and the characters’ side missions, there are also requests scattered around the world. These ranged from picking up items to killing specific enemies or recruiting specific mirages for an arena. They were a lot of fun and sometimes yielded interesting rewards. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a way to track these in the main menus, instead requiring players to keep track for themselves or return to the requesting character to find out what they wanted. I would have preferred some form of list for these activities, especially as some of them gave rewards but could only be fulfilled at strange intervals in the gameplay.
The game looks a lot like an anime, a style which feels fitting for the design. However, the animation styles often change between gameplay, cut scenes and performance videos. It can get a bit jarring, although the performance videos are generally a lot of fun to watch – I particularly enjoyed the one character who was famous for her microwave-based cooking show.
Customization plays a big role in Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE. As you progress through the game, you unlock unique “performa” in your characters, these can be combined with enemies’ components or stars that you receive based on your performances (encounters with enemies) to craft new weapons or unlock new skills. As you level up each weapon, you unlock new abilities that can be used in combat. These can be command abilities, like lighting magic or sword slashes, or session abilities that activate when another party member exploits an enemy weakness. There are only a set number of slots for abilities of each kind, though, so it requires quite a bit of strategy to specialize your characters in ways that make them useful on the battlefield and set your full party up for the greatest and most powerful combos in sessions.
I truly did not expect to enjoy Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE as much as I did. At first, it seemed like a clichéd entertainment story revolving around teen idols – I’m far too much of an adult to be entertained by that, right? But the deep combat strategy and impressive RPG customization meant that I kept wanting to crawl through the next dungeon, defeat the next batch of enemies, craft the newest weapon to go back in and kill the next enemies, generate new abilities so I could kill even more enemies… and the next thing I knew, 63 hours of my life were spent completing the game. With a new game plus mode and plenty of achievements that I didn’t manage to snag this time (although I did complete all the side missions), Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE offers a ton of value to JRPG fans. It’s fun and silly, but still captivating and challenging. Plus, it has a really catchy pop-idol soundtrack.