Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore is a quintessential Japanese role playing game. The Encore refers to this being port of a Wii U title released back in 2016. It’s great to see one of the Wii U’s forgotten gems that might not have been seen by many due to its arrival at the end of the consoles unremarkable life, thankfully given a second chance on the unstoppable Nintendo Switch.
It was developed in a collaboration between Atlus who are known for the Persona series and fellow developer Intelligent Systems, known for the Fire Emblem and Paper Mario RPG’s.
While being a crossover of two recognised series it doesn’t impact the game as much as you think. It doesn’t make any difference if you are unfamiliar with both series either as Tokyo Mirage Sessions really carves its own path and is very much its own game.
Set in modern day Tokyo our protagonist Itsuki Aoi is waiting for friends at an idol/pop star audition until otherworldly creatures called Mirages suddenly attack everyone. These monsters are the cause of several disappearances and they drain humans of their creative energy called performa.
However Itsuki shows a strange ability to convert one of the attackers into an ally. This attacking Mirage takes the form of Chrom while fellow trapped idol wannabe Tsubasa’s attacker becomes Caeda from the Fire Emblem series. All the Mirage hero’s have amnesia and it’s up to you to help them find out what’s happened to them. Together with Itsuki’s friends who also have their own Mirage counterparts they must battle these monsters and stop them invading our dimension, while of course managing their budding careers as idols in the entertainment industry.
The world of Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore is bright and colourful and takes its cues from anime. From the design of its characters and their extravagant costumes, to the source of the Mirage’s the Idolasphere dimension, everything looks surreal and extraordinary. The fighting sequences could on first glance be easily mistaken for a rhythm game when combos start to fly, with slick over the top animations and brilliant effects, explosions and confetti everywhere.
The game features beautiful animated cutscenes, which look stunning, and act as music videos to some of the songs performed by the characters. These sequences really stand out and wouldn’t look out of place as the title sequence to an anime TV show.
The music is energetic and upbeat but feels poppy and manufactured. After a while a lot of the songs did start to blur into a cotton candy mess but to my surprise didn’t become grating to listen to as I expected and some of the tracks I really started to enjoy.
I was surprised to discover TMS uses Japanese voices with English subtitles without the option to play dubbed. This really made me feel like I was watching an anime and also helped with some of the more Japanese cultural elements of the game, but it did distance me from the plot a little. It was also annoying when I had no idea what cool lines and catch phrases anyone was saying during combat.
Outside of combat you wander around Tokyo meeting friends attending gigs and going to lessons. You can also explore well-known parts like the Shibuya district which is most Japanophiles’ dream. Turn based battles take place in the Idolasphere, a parallel dimension where your characters turn into the idolised version of themselves, for example Itsuki looks like Chrom and learns moves from him.
In the Idolasphere you explore dungeons and defeat simple puzzles and while not awful they felt pretty bland compared to the bombastic fighting sequences and did involve some backtracking to get to the next objective.
The combat seems like a pretty standard turn based RPG, however there is an emphasis on exploiting foe’s weakness like in role playing series Shin Megami Tensei. However, if successful you perform Sessions. These are combos where your attacks are followed up immediately by your teammates. These attacks can stack up the damage and make you able to tackle normally insurmountable odds. The result is a well thought out attack on hostiles leading to combos that feels really satisfying.
Combat even incorporates Fire Emblem’s rock, paper, scissors like weapon triangle with the swords, axes and lances. When used in conjunction with Sessions it adds a nice layer of depth.
Thankfully the Nintendo Switch version of the game features much faster load times. Previous DLC and new content is also included in this release. These chapters are called EX Stories and give you the opportunity to level up your team and look good while doing it, in some of the new costumes.
Even those with a passing interest in anime can’t fail to notice the game does follow a lot of the typical tropes, such as ditsy, shy girl Tsubasa having to step up, cool guy Touma and cute pixie like Tiki who asks to call you big brother after meeting her for the first time.
Itsuki is vanilla, beige bland as a character, he just isn’t compelling nor does he react much to the abstract madness that surrounds him. I understand that he is a stand in for the player and serves to give the other characters a way to open up but come on Itsuki!
The Fire Emblem characters don’t really fit in to the world of Tokyo Mirage Sessions as the dark medieval games contrast heavily with the flashy pop world of sessions. This left me constantly expecting something more substantial to happen or the characters to show more depth.
This game does feature some sexualisation and lingering shots on the female characters. While that is standard in most anime it can leave you feeling uncomfortable. The western release has also featured some censorship of the female characters outfits as well as the changing of the age of the characters to 18.
Anime, J-pop, JRPG’s fans will love this game and its typical teen life balanced with saving the world. However there is also something here for role playing game fans too. Sessions is still a compelling experience with a surprisingly complex combat system, and it’s at it’s best when it leans heavily into the oddball characters and flashy, bubblegum world.
Owners of the Wii U version and those who have completed the game already will notice there isn’t quite enough to pull you back in other than the added portability of the switch.
Newcomers to the genre or those not familiar with anime might feel a bit overwhelmed and confused by Sessions but if you fancy something light and fun with some solid turn based action Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore performs like a star.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore is available on Nintendo Switch and Nintendo Switch Lite is out 17 January for £49.99