Status: Completed, true ending
Most Intriguing Idea: All the world’s a stage
Best Design Decision: Sessions
Worst Design Decision: Sessions
The first read on the concept for Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE sounds simultaneously intriguing and absurd. The notoriously difficult Shin Megami Tensei approach to turn-based RPGs will combine with Fire Emblem, a classically tough strategy game with permadeath that has also recently become the newest iteration of making dolls kiss, as a turn-based RPG about #teens becoming pop idols in the Tokyo showbiz scene. One suspects that the whole thing was created on a napkin during the consumption of a hundred liters of sake, yet it turns out surprisingly well.
That’s not to say that I loved the story. The protagonist is overwhelmingly bland to the point that the other characters’ insistence that he’s important to their success feels like mockery. Localization aged up the characters, thankfully, but it also excised a plot point concerning gravure photography in a way that made a core character seem extremely stupid. The increased character ages were inadequate to disguise the fact that the sole white character is a fat jackass pedophile, but I can’t complain too much about this because I can find a positive white male character almost anywhere else I look. Even the coolest characters in this game are consistently dumb (the coolest, most standoffish character doesn’t know to eat, he faints because he forgets to eat, I can’t even). The story built around these characters mostly resonates, however, and if they seem to take the performing arts way too seriously, at least this makes sense in the context of the game.
The Fire Emblem contribution to the game mostly comes in terms of characters and lore: “mirages” that give the main characters their battle powers are characters drawn from the series and the backstory involves even more of the series’ history. The MegaTen influence is obvious in the names of most spells and yet another take on the Press Turn concept, the Session. Attacking an enemy’s elemental or weapon vulnerability allows other characters to jump in and add a free attack. Each character has certain kinds of attacks they can link to, and while this initially maxes out at two or three hits in a series, as the game goes on special attacks and the ability of the backup roster to join in mean that strings of 12 total hits or more are quite possible.
This is really cool but it also makes battles tend towards the boring. Most of the time, the player has nothing to do during a Session, and increasingly elaborate animations for these attacks can give late-game sessions a real “go make yourself a sandwich” feeling. Each character has a single weapon style, but up to three elemental attacks, and TMS allows the backups to swap into the on-field team cost free like in Final Fantasy X. This means that unless an enemy has no vulnerabilities or ones that are very hard to figure out, a Session is imminent on every turn. This leads to a lot of butt-kicking but very little tactical challenge. I got a game over exactly twice, once against the game’s only really tricky boss and once against a pack of “savage enemies” that were 10 levels above most of my party. This is pretty low for MegaTen. Slow battles that didn’t pose any risk turned combat into an irritant obstructing progress through the game’s tricksy dungeons, and it forced bosses towards “huge life bars and adds” rather than “strategically interesting”.
That said, I mostly enjoyed my time with this game and if you’ve got a WiiU you’re not going to see anything better this year.