Shin Megami Tensei returns in this spin-off JRPG complete with a new world and cast of characters unlike any in the series. But how engaged will it keep loyal fans and does it do enough to set itself apart from the main franchise?
The protagonist of Tokyo Mirage Sessions FE is Itsuki Aoi. He finds himself in an Idolasphere (dungeon) pretty early on in his adventure after arriving to the scene of a mass crime that takes place at a big concert in Shibuya. In the Idolasphere, Itsuki and his friend Tsubasa find their destined Mirages (summons) and pair with them to ultimately exit the dungeon after meeting their mutual pal Touma with his Mirage along the way. Upon exiting, they encounter Maiko (the manager of a Talent Agency in Shibuya) and she hires them to join her agency on the spot. They soon find out that Fortuna Entertainment doubles as a business that takes down hostile Mirages in between organising many concerts and plays and training their staff in the arts of singing, acting and modelling. So sets the tone of the entire journey - fighting bad guys while perfecting your vocal and dramatic skills.
The colourful plot really comes to life in the graphics. Tokyo Mirage Sessions FE is the best looking Wii U game that I have ever played. It has the most lively and exciting art style out of any JRPG in my library. The menus, characters, Mirages, battles, dungeons and cut scenes are all bursting with energy and fun. I haven't found myself this excited to enter a new area or meet a new character before. Each Mirage has its own distinctive look and weapon that you will often switch out (though I tried to hang on to the axe with a cute elephant for a head as long as possible). The first dungeon you enter has you moving mannequins to climb up their arms and reach higher floors. In a later one, you traverse the landscape while avoiding cameras that will flash at you and return you to the beginning. Further on, you find yourself in a pretty Japanese garden helping the hostile Mirages set up for their concert. Seeing as this is on Wii U, I did eventually get annoyed at the loading times, but it's well worth it for such a feast for the eyes. The J-pop music is quite a treat, too.
Though the graphics are simply awesome to look at, unfortunately there is no English voice acting in this western release. The majority of the dialogue is subtitled well, but it isn't during battles. The entire battle is in Japanese and considering how often the characters talk during the fight, you'll feel like you're missing out on some of the action. The Japanese voice actors do a good job and their tone definitely fits each character's unique personality. Enemies' sound clips can become annoying because they tend to repeat the same noises over again. When you have a lot of the same enemy and every time they get hit they make the same scream, it makes me want to mute the battle. This is especially true considering I'm not getting anything from the characters anyway.
Party members are introduced slowly throughout the first half of the story and each one joins Fortuna Entertainment to perfect an art of their choosing and train a Mirage. Tsubasa is Itsuki's childhood friend and she always doubts herself but quickly realises that she doesn't need to be so shy when she has so much talent. Touma is also a friend of Itsuki's and he has a dream to be on the stage of a kid's show and play as the hero who fights the Mirages on stage. The trio soon meet Kiria, a well known pop star that always remains calm and collected, except when she sees something cute. Eleonora joins the group next with a dream of moving to Hollywood and a history of dealing with rejection due to her half-Japanese, half-Scandinavian heritage. The last two party members are revealed later in the game and I don't want to give it away, but you won't be disappointed (and they couldn't be more opposite). With this diverse cast, whether you're in the heat of battle or chilling at the agency, get ready for plenty of silly moments and fun times.
Fighting hostile Mirages brings you to a stage with screaming fans where you take them down while being cheered on. The battle system is very similar to the Shin Megami Tensei series but with many new gameplay elements that always keep it interesting. When your Mirage equips a Performa (weapon), they learn the abilities of that weapon which include elemental spells and attacks, defense abilities, healing arts and the odd character-specific one. These abilities are learned either as a command skill or a passive skill. Command skills are used directly in battles through a menu. Passive skills are triggered when a character hits the weak spot of an enemy and a session (chain) takes place. Each passive skill has the ability to link with another. When a session starts, your teammates will start to attack the enemy one at a time as long as they can keep the chain of linking attacks. You'll start with a chain of one or two but by the end of the journey, I managed a chain of nineteen. Characters also learn special performances to use in battle as you level up their star ranking through side quests and conversations with them. These are triggered by chance and can become really helpful when you're in a boss fight and initiate a performance that heals your whole party and their status ailments.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions FE doesn't just have the best graphics out of its Wii U peers; it also uses the GamePad in a unique way. Throughout the story, you receive texts from various characters who comment on current plot points. You also get notifications when there is a new side quest available and when you should return to base to level up your Mirage and learn some new abilities. These messages never repeat and are written well in the style of each character. They range from informative to reflective and even hilarious on some occasions. You'll also use your GamePad to look at dungeon maps. The dungeons are quite large and sometimes you'll find yourself staring at the map to get your bearings and figure out how to progress to the next area. You can see the maps from all dungeons and overworld locations at any time which helps in finding waypoints when you begin a new side quest.
This has been a fantastic year for JRPGs with so many titles coming out that regularly make me change which one is my current favourite. Tokyo Mirage Sessions FE is a worthy contender for that title with its beautifully energetic art style, colourful cast of characters (in more ways than one), interesting dungeons and rewarding combat system. I'm simply blown away by this gem of a game and it deserves all of the praise that it can get.
- + Beautiful, colourful and unique art style
- + Interesting and lovable cast of characters
- + Large dungeons to explore with enjoyable and intuitive GamePad integration
- - No English voices or subtitles during battles
- - Too many loading screens