A Familiar Feel
I was about half an hour into a lengthy boss fight. The boss was nearly defeated, with just a little bit of red remaining on its health bar. Out of my three-member party, two had already died. My last living party member faced a choice. She could either revive one of the other party members and face another onslaught of enemy attacks, or she could take a risk and attack the enemy. If she got in a good attack, the boss would surely be vanquished. If she died, however, the fight would start over – a half hour of fighting lost.
After an experience like this, it is hard to deny Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE the title of a Persona game. The game may have the skin and story of a niche Japanese anime, but the actual moment-to-moment gameplay is an improved version of the regular Persona gameplay we are used to.
The Complexity of Battle
The battle mechanics in Tokyo Mirage Sessions are similar, in a way, to Pokemon. Each enemy and character has certain types of strengths and weaknesses. As is standard fare for Shin Megami Tensei, there are four primary move types – fire, ice, wind, and electricity – as well as two supplemental types. However, Tokyo Mirage Sessions has four new types taken straight out of Fire Emblem’s weapon triangle – each character has strengths and weaknesses against swords, lances, axes, and bows.
Whenever a player lands an attack that is “super effective,” the game begins a “Session.” A Session is a combo sequence where each of the other party members will also attack the enemy without using up any EP (the magic meter). Landing these combos in succession is not only integral in battle, but also a delight. It just feels good, and the gameplay inside battles is not only complex, but incredibly addicting.
There is another strategic element in the way that the party is organized. As the story progresses, the player gains new members of their party, but only three of them can be used in battle at any given time. At any point in battle you can switch out your party members; so, if one member is weak due to a type weakness you can tag team them out for someone who may be better for that specific battle.
The weapon system was excellent and further added to the game’s depth. Each weapon levels up as it is used, which grants the user a new skill, attack, or ability. There is a catch, though. Each party member has a set limit for how many abilities they can learn. Players must choose which moves and skills to keep, as well as which to get rid of. It is hard to juggle which abilities will be more useful than others, but this ultimately only added to the strategy of the game.
Other dungeon crawlers often suffer from repetition; the gameplay may get tiresome and the actual dungeon design may fail to keep players engaged. Tokyo Mirage Sessions does not suffer from either of these problems. Not only is the gameplay engaging and unique, but each dungeon introduces subtle puzzle elements and variations to keep things interesting. At no point did I become tired of the gameplay, and I often found myself playing for long stretches of time without even noticing.
The Painful Story
Although the gameplay is spectacularly addicting, the same could not be said about the story. The narrative revolves around Japanese popstars and their ambitions to become the best in the entertainment industry. Oh, and there’s some sort of dark force trying to destroy the world. Somehow, through the lessons of singing, dancing, and acting, this colossal threat can be defeated and the world can be saved.
The story is not gripping in the slightest, and to make matters worse the localization dialogue is ridiculously out of touch. The vernacular employed by the characters includes terms like: “bruh,” “slammin,” and “dawwwg.” One of the wonderfully cringe-worthy lines is: “Yo, homeslice! What’s groovin’? What are the haps?” Although in this specific case the cringe was intended, in many other lines of dialogue it was almost like the localizers tried too hard to make it modern; it was too casual for my liking. Most of the time, I was just skipping through the story to get into the next meaty dungeon.
The Emblem in the Room
Those looking for Fire Emblem gameplay will find none of that here. There are some Fire Emblem trademarks dropped in here and there. For example, fan favorite characters like Chrom are in the game and are important to the story. The game also features Fire Emblem items, like weapons and the Master Seal – which allows characters to change to an advanced class. There are also Fire Emblem sound effects sprinkled in here and there, but they are never integral to the gameplay. Fire Emblem seems like an afterthought in Tokyo Mirage Sessions, but these elements will still be appreciated by Fire Emblem fans.
Unfortunately, Tokyo Mirage Sessions shows the age of the Wii U. Sometimes there are pauses in battles before a character executes one of the special moves. Other times the frame right noticeably slows down, although this does not impact the gameplay in any way. The loading screens are also a bit too long for my liking at times. Fortunately, the game was just as fun to play with these issues; they never got in the way of my enjoyment.
The launch of Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is a bit sad; it is disappointing that such a wonderful game was launched by Nintendo to die. With gameplay mechanics that are so riveting, it is a shame that the game’s title and localization will leave it forever left out of the mainstream. However, those that decide to pick up the latest Shin Megami Tensei title will be pleasantly delighted by its gameplay and dungeon deisgn. With a near barren summer release schedule this year, Tokyo Mirage Session is the perfect game to sink hours and hours into.